May 25th, 2004


In which I convince myself that Madonna will establish peace upon Earth

Following comments from MGHN, I must point out that I am in no way responsible for Mrs Guy Ritchie cancelling her performances in Israel. People who have known me for long enough (or even too long, perhaps) will be aware that I have been a fan of Madonna since her very first album. Of course, I am now a lapsed fan, but that doesn't mean I've thrown out the records. I was wondering this morning when this disenchantment began exactly, or exactly began, or exactly when...

One aspect that I don't consider sufficiently addressed is Madge's great debt to continental philosophy. Ideas and concepts can take a while to filter through academia into the everyday world. In the UK, the music press (okay, the NME) began foisting this stuff on us from the early 80's onwards. Paul Morley, Biba Kopf, Ian Penman, err, some other people. I can remember writing a letter to the NME, subsequently published, putting down their review of Material Girl since they'd ignored the entirely Marxist basis of the song. Madonna's rise to power coincided with the filtering of post-modernism into the mainstream. With all its talk of simulacra and the hyperreal, the 80's was the perfect time for it. The philosophy provided a sufficient ironic distance for young British hack-intelligentsia to distance themselves from the Thatcherite war on class and the lumpen left whilst also making gnomically constructed comments about the post-cthonic imagination. Post-modernism, in this very loose description, meant you didn't have to get your hands dirty. The proles were going down, but you didn't have to fall with them, you could make a tactical veer. Ting...the sound of one martini glass clapping. So, if this is making sense, Madonna was perfect for the popularisation of post-modernism. She would reinvent herself (err, change her hair, get a new producer and stylist). She was an icon. Whatever people thought of her music, her marketing strategy meshed perfectly with pop-post-modernism as well as the growth of video culture in the UK. Madonna was a phenomenon that could be recuperated into these high-faluting arguments as they trickled into the mainstream and it enabled her to penetrate something more than the Top 40 alone. The conversion of the broadsheet media to her cause was a coup that enabled the Madgememe to propagate that much more successfully. There were papers and then books, even conferences. It was a healthy symbiotic relationship that worked to the advantage of both. The thing about the Madonna dialogue in Reservoir Dogs is that people really were having these conversations, and with longer and vaguer terminology. Hmmm, none of the above is really saying what I'm trying to, but you might get the idea. I'm not talking one of those theories that, James Burke or AJP Taylor style, links the development of the blini with a breakthrough in warship design or the rise of fascism. It seems obvious to me that the post-modernism/Madonna relationship is substantial. I don't doubt you could make many other connections as well for her that worked to everyone's advantage. More or less.

Now, post-modernism looks like the reactionary vanguard of the academic world. It's tired. I think Madonna's tired as well. I don't doubt she's putting the work in on her new tour, but it looks ever more like Emperor's New Clothes. So at what point was I seized with this crise de foi? Probably about the time of the Søcks book and Erotica. To me, this seemed to be when Madge herself probably got po-mo savvy staff in her entourage. This awareness wrecked the nature of the experiment. It didn't stop her being more successful, it just seemed ever less natural to me. Now, she does laden her songs with meaning, whereas when they had no obvious meaning, they were all the more malleable to your own purpose. My godfather and I had a few happy years seeing all kinds of deep meaning in these songs and made t-shirts and altars. I know it sounds blasé, but at first I really was about the only person I encountered on the gay club scene in London who would demonstratively exhibit their admiration for Madonna, sometimes even suffering physical attack for it. Even if I did look more Sue Pollard than anyone else. Maybe the attacks were because I looked like Sue Pollard. Anyway, getting rid of Stephen Bray and then Patrick Leonard was a bad move for sure...

The last album I bought was Ray of Light. It's not bad, but it's the William Orbit-production touches that impress me rather than the Madonna content. It's also the first album on which the new-found Kabbalah teaching starts to make itself heard. Now, it's not as if she starts canting in Hebrew, it just sounds like bland New Age admonishments about blah, there's nothing particularly offensive about it. Compare and contrast Ray of Light (1998) with Open Your Heart (1986). Then, have a look at X-Static Process (2003). For me, it becomes ever less believable. Hunger is replaced by hubris.

After I'd written that Madonna entry yesterday, I wondered whether the KC thing could work in a number of ways. You can see that it could be swung as an exposure of the vacuity of fame and celebrity. In Madgeworld, you spend all these years fighting and clawing your way to this summit and then, what, nothing. Dissatified. Empty. Searching. Whatever... Is the KC addressing this hunger or is it being used by adherents as just one more chance for exposure and publicity? Difficult though it is, celebrities still deserve our sympathies. I come out in hives trying to do it though. One, of many, takes is that the Madonna/KC nexus shows that the whole 21st century celebrity cult is worthless. If, despite all that material wealth and advantage, you still seek solace in something that intimates it is the expression of a tradition with actual content rather than this meta-world you've helped bring about where meaning is friable. Something like that. I'm just thinking aloud! Lazily! It's not impossible that Berg is using the Kabbalah side of things to get people to convert properly to Judaism. A trojan horse of sorts. It is however improbable. Well, I'm going to go for a short walk. I have to say I find this idea to credit, but it would be good for the current take on celebrity to be supplement. It's very hard for me to consider Madge these days in positive terms. All I see is hungry vampires and demons. Enough already!

Nice day outside. As I was ranting/droning... The Israel leg has been cancelled. MGHN suggested this might be because of threats from ultra-Orthodox opposed to the KC branding of Jewish mysticism, or, crucially, the KC break with tradition and law [Mmm, the distinction/relationship between those two is an intriguing area...]. It now seems it's because of threats from Palestinian groups. Poor old Madge. She must have pissed off every religion in the world by now.

In The Independent yesterday, I was very bored by this article that rehashed all the now-tired arguments about her prowess. Face it, this is pop music. She has to go. We've learned all we can from her. Nevertheless, if Madonna was to actually tour Israel, it could be one issue over which there might be some ecumenical agreement between Jews, Moslems and Christians of the country. If she played it right, and I don't doubt she has the talent still, she could actually engineer a substantial concord. It's a shame that concord would be largely established on misogynist and fundamentalist grounds, but it's a start. There's dang else going on that is encouraging dialogue, even of the "May God punish you for your immorality, you vile harpy" variety.

Hey, all of a sudden, I'm almost back where I started with Madonna, believing that she would reinvent the world, rather than herself.