The Underlying Message in Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Video.

About a month ago, I posted a quick revision of a presentation I did at uni on Madonna’s most controversial videos. In it, I wished to go into further detail on “Madonna’s influence on the music video and religion in pop culture”. Here I attempt to do so.

Another pop culture icon who’s had a big influence on modern religion is Oprah, who pushes her brand of “pick and mix religion” to her millions of followers. Funnily enough, Shmoop comes to a similar conclusion about the “Like a Prayer” video:

“The blending of Italian American and African American traditions and cultures should also be considered a postmodern choice. It resists interpretation. Where a critic might try to understand the video as an endorsement of Catholicism, the blending of Catholicism with the African Methodist Episcopal choir Madonna meets in her dream prevents such a simple interpretation. The video is neither here nor there on particular religions, only communicating the power of some force of faith to empower her.”

But when the video was released in 1989, that was the least of its critics’ problems. Perhaps it was the rape scene at the beginning, the depicition of a “black Christ”, who was in actuality the black Saint Martin de Porres, to critique racism, or—my pick—the burning crosses in the field behind Madonna, who prances around in black negligee. It could have been any combination of these factors that made Pepsi back out of its $5 million deal with the star in the aftermath of the video’s release.

Granted, the film clip was made more than twenty years ago, and it was groundbreaking for its time. However, fast-forward to 2011, and what we’ve seen since then makes “Like a Prayer” seem positively tame.

Madonna herself has been responsible for some of these, like her clip the following year for “Justify My Love”, her Sex book or, on the tamer side of things, kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003, which seems to be an enduring image of ranch culture in this day and age.

But you don’t go about these things without thinking of them seriously, and that’s why Madonna’s legacy has persisted all these years. She knew exactly what she was doing in that clip, and all other clips that followed. The fact that at the end of the song the events of the clip are revealed to be a performance indicates that “we all play a part in this little scenario”. What part, exactly?

While religious groups trying to get the video banned could be interpreted as the Church being unwilling to accept square pegs that don’t fit into round holes, Pepsi backing out of their deal with the star is an example of big conglomerates being scared to buck the system and take a risk less they lose customers.

Someone who isn’t afraid to buck the system and is accepting of all walks of life (except, perhaps, those whose body parts were used in the assembling of her meat dress) is Lady Gaga, who is a huge Madonna fan, if some of her recent videos are anything to go by. Last year I blogged about Gaga’s film clip for “Alejandro” and how it emulated “Like a Prayer” and other Madonna videos almost to a tee.

While we would like to think that we have grown as a society and have become more accepting of different people in the twenty years since “Like a Prayer” was banned, “Alejandro”’s critical reception from religious and parenting groups may indicate otherwise…

Related: More Madonna.

Katy P. VS. Lady G.

Madonna (and Her Brand of “Feminism”) On the Rocks.

Elsewhere: [Shmoop] Like a Prayer Meaning.

Images via YouTube.

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