In Defense of Madonna
You know you struck a cultural and political nerve when a week after a stirring and defiant speech at the historic Women’s March on Washington January 21, people are still talking, debating, and pissed off about it. Love it or hate it, Madonna’s speech was a rousing success.
As a gay man in my 40s, I have followed (sometimes rabidly) Madonna’s career since its immaculate conception. I’m not embarrassed to admit I once had my entire teenage bedroom plastered with floor-to-ceiling Madonna pictures and posters. There is no pre-Madonna era in my memories. Her songs have scored each decade of my life, and her provocative antics have joyfully titillated and shocked me.
I’m a fan of not just her music, not just her talent, but of the person. I love that she challenges unrighteous authority, takes risks in expressing views contrary to unjust social norms, and is unapologetically herself. She is a rebel in the best sense of the word.
Madonna being under fire for her language, her music, her videos, her imagery, her performances, you name it, really, is nothing new. This is a woman whose career has always ridden the precarious wave of both critique and praise. What is new, however, is how Madonna is now using her legendary status as an entertainment icon to boldly lead a newly founded rebellion against President Trump and his administration.
Madonna’s address at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., has moved well beyond that one triumphant moment. Her speech has now seeped into our cultural divide; it has become more than just the words she uttered. It has transcended just that one protest on that one Saturday in front of hundreds of thousands of protesters. It’s now become a global taking point, a direct reflection of two political schools of thought.
Because if there is one thing misogynistic men in power hate most — men who minimize and dehumanize women by summing up their entire worth based on their genitals and one’s ability to grab said genitals at will — is a woman who dares to stand up and speak out.
We need a mouthpiece strong enough to offend and inspire, uplift and challenge, and excite and energize a movement still in its infancy. Because of these very reasons, I’d like to assign Madonna a title, as homage to the late, great, never forgotten Princess Leia. A title that is not linked to her Queen of Pop or Material Girl monikers, but one that is more that reflective of the Madonna today: General Madonna, Voice of the Trump Resistance.
I realize she was not and is not the only voice at the protest worthy of assuming the title, but in the interest of this essay, it fits.
To the various dissenters, I offer the following defense on behalf of my new general. To former 1980s pop rival Cyndi Lauper, who took to the airwavess to critize Madonna, I say, girl, couldn’t you have discussed your issues diva to diva rather than through the media?
I mean, I get and agree that “clarity and humanity” is usually better than anger any day, as Cyndi put it. Thoughtful discussion is always a better way than screaming and yelling. Except, you know, in a budding movement meant to fire up the participants. In this instance a more measured and gentle approach would probably not have generated the attention Madonna’s f bomb-laden “rebellion of love” did. In this moment, at this rally, a rousing, angry speech, crass as it was, is totally acceptable.
Also, the last thing we need, Cyndi dear, is infighting. Now is the time for unity and support, for backing each other and bringing our forces together as one. Now is not the time for disagreements and backbiting in the press. Privately, sure. Hash it out singer to singer, but don’t give the opposition a sound bite in their attempt to burn our general at the stake. As America’s Popular President declared, we are “Stronger Together.”
To the radio station in Texas banning all Madonna music and calling her unpatriotic, I say, um, isn’t freedom of speech the very First Amendment of the Constitution? What can be more patriotic than speaking up when you disagree with where the county is headed?
Rejecting the president is something that right-wing voters championed every single moment of every single day in all eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency. I know this very well because I had to endure my entire extended family rant and rave against Obama for eight years. Their constant anger was exhausting. I do find it odd how conservative opposition and speaking out against a president was an example of their patriotism and yet somehow Madonna doing the same is not. I find the lack of logic and self-awareness alarming.
Also, haven’t we been down this road before? The Dixie Chicks circa 2003, anyone? “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” right? If history is a guide, I for one am excited for a possible Madonna CD that addresses this moment, ends up racking up Grammys, and becomes a pop music mission statement a la the Chicks’ genre-busting song of defiance, “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
To Newt Gringrich, I will concede that I reluctantly agree that the “blowing up the White House” part of Madonna’s speech was probably not her best use of metaphor — you really shouldn’t ever openly say you want to murder the leader of the free world, even in jest. Taken out of context, it sounds horrible and dangerous. However, within the context of her entire statement, it isn’t as incendiary as conservatives are making it out to be. “Blowing up the White House” was meant to contrast an act of violence in a deadly uprising versus her true goal, which is the creation of a rebellion of love. Context here is key.
Also, the desire to arrest her and throw her in jail, which seems to be the answer for any woman with power who defies the Trump political machine, isn’t as threatening as it sounds. I mean, what could be more rebellious than going to jail for standing up to tyranny? Madonna in prison? Dare I say yes to this? If only because I would love to see how much stronger and more fierce she’d be post-jail. And the music to come from such an experience? I shudder in excitement.
And finally, to the ridiculous meme generators spreading like a disease around social media ridiculously showcasing various images of Madonna’s career with various crotch-grabbing — both hers and others — in a ridiculous attempt to justify Donald Trumps nefarious hot-mike pussy-grabbing remarks, I say, you’re ridiculous.
The two, Madonna’s crotch fondles versus Trump’s, aren’t even logically comparable. First of all, Madonna wasn’t and isn’t running for political office, nor is she our current sitting president. She’s an entertainer. Not an elected official that’s mean to represent all Americans, regardless if you support him or not.
Secondly, a key factor missing in these meme detractors’ desperate and lame attempt to justify crotch-grabbing in their president is the very notion of consent. Madonna’s genital groping was with consenting adults — people whom voluntarily and willingly welcomed her hands on their body. Trump’s remarks are boasts grossly highlighting his privilege as a rich white male, being able to ignore a woman’s basic right to her body by manhandling it at will. It is assault. Plain and simple. Assault is wrong.
As a fan of Madonna and of our democracy, watching the amazing coverage unfold of all the inspirational women’s marches throughout America (and the entire world), witnessing the throngs of peaceful protesters — let’s emphasize peaceful — gathering together as one felt like the most uplifting American thing I’ve been in years.
For the first time in months, if not years, my various social media feeds were a thing of joy. I thrilled at the millions of determined Americans standing up for a better tomorrow. I wept, I cheered, I celebrated.
To have Madonna sum up the efforts of millions of people the world over — men, women, children — in a rousing speech that is still is being addressed, nitpicked, and argued over today, a week later, keeps the experience alive.
She, as our newly dubbed General Madonna, leader of the Rebellion of Love, is the right leader at the right time for the right movement. So, if you missed the point of Madonna’s speech, if you didn’t understand why people gathered in support of women, minorities, civil liberties, LGBT equal rights, and more, that’s OK. Because, perhaps, this momentous march wasn’t for you. But it was for us.