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.
Elsewhere: [Shmoop] Like a Prayer Meaning.
Images via YouTube.
A revised version of a third year media studies group presentation on obscenity and race in Madonna’s music, and more specifically, her music videos:
Our topic is “Pop Music, Obscenity and Race”, and we chose to speak about Madonna, and her controversial career in music and as a pop culture icon. While the reading, “Expert Witnesses and the Case of Rap” by Houston A. Baker, Jr., is more about rap music and the 1990s rap group 2 Live Crew, we have taken some aspects of the article and applied them to Madonna’s works.
Firstly, we chose to analyse some music videos by Madonna, namely “Like a Prayer” (1989), “Justify My Love” (1990) and “What it Feels Like for a Girl” (2001), for their controversial nature.
“Like a Prayer” depicts images such as an attack on a woman in an alley, burning crosses, stigmata, Madonna’s revealing outfit as she sings in a church, and her love affair with the black Saint Martin de Porres, who some have interpreted as being a black Jesus Christ. Here she deals not only with race, but also religion.
One of Madonna’s most controversial and heavily censored videos is “Justify My Love”, in which Madonna and the actors in the clip engage in sadomasochism, bondage, domination, voyeurism, same-sex and group-sex relations, cross-dressing and possibly prostitution. Baker, Jr. speaks of voyeurism in the reading, and relates it to the fact that such taboo subject matter in videos by 2 Live Crew, and also Madonna, doesn’t allow viewers to critically and objectively view them. This leads to our focus question: “If religious groups, conservatives, feminists etc. weren’t condemning and censoring Madonna’s videos, would the public find them shocking and controversial, or at least as shocking and controversial?”
Finally, we briefly discussed Madonna’s video for “What it Feels Like for a Girl”. We personally didn’t find the video offensive or overly violent, however that was the reason given for banning it. In the video, Madonna kidnaps an old woman and goes on a crime spree with her, robbing banks and stealing cars. Madonna openly defended the video, saying that if she were a man, the violence wouldn’t be an issue, because they get away with the same or worse in their videos. Similarly, she defended the “Justify My Love” video’s content, even though the banning of it made her more money than if it was aired freely. This once again relates back to our focus question and what Baker, Jr. contends about 2 Live Crew.
Funnily enough, in an interview with Adam Lambert about his controversial same-sex kiss on-stage at the American Music Awards whilst performing “For Your Entertainment”, he got fired up how his actions were vilified because he was a man, while female pop stars have been behaving sexily since the dawn of time the music video. Hello, “Like a Virgin” at both the inaugural MTV VMAs in 1984 and with Britney and Christina in 2003!
I intended to elaborate more in this post on the points briefly mentioned here, however due to time constraints, I thought maybe I could use this post as a sort of “jumping off point to start negotiations”, as fellow Madonna-lover Cher Horowitz would say. I hope to put up more posts in the future on Madonna’s influence on the music video and religion in pop culture.
After my Mick Foley rant last week, I’ve started reading his blog, Countdown to Lockdown, and I’m loving it. Here are some choice articles:
Remembering female pro-wrestling pioneer, Luna Vachon, who passed away on August 27 this year.
“That Time I Met… President William Jefferson Clinton!” (I really love this one; some heart-warming stuff.)
“Mick’s Favourite Things: Top Ten Matches”, three of which—Cactus Jack VS. Randy Orton at Backlash 2004 (above), Mankind VS. The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell in June, 1998, and Mick Foley VS. Edge in a Hardcore Match at WrestleMania XXII (that’s WrestleMania 22 in 2006 for you wrestling laymen)—I 100% agree with.
In defence of Buffy’s whining.
“An important thing to remember is that girls are not from a different planet, nor are they even a different species. They’re just people, they’re just like boys, except with vulvas instead of penises.
“Mainly you need to remember this when you’re trying to figure out what a girl is thinking. See, if you didn’t know what a BOY was thinking, how would you go about finding out? You might ask him, right? The same goes for girls.”
I’m a bit behind the eight-ball on this one, as No Make-Up Week was a month ago, but Alle Malice’s guest post on Rabbit Write goes over the reasons “Why We Wear Make-Up”. I especially like this one:
“It makes me look good in photos. Almost everything we do now is documented by someone and posted in Facebook albums for the world to see, because if you aren’t having fun on Facebook, you aren’t really having fun. And if you aren’t pretty on the internet, you aren’t pretty in real life. Enter makeup.”
Nick Sylvester, on Riff City, discusses “How Kanye West’s Online Triumphs Have Eclipsed Kanye West”:
“Maybe there are people working with him… but I get the sense that Kanye is generating the [sic] lot of these ideas. I imagine he likes being in control of every aspect of the production, the medium being the message and so on. Online he is a wise fool, first playing into people’s perceptions of ‘Kanye West’, then off those very perceptions, sending himself up, pulling back his own veil… Despite many attempts, Kanye West is incapable of being parodied, largely because Kanye West has already figured out a way to be a parody of Kanye West.”
Much like Megan Fox in this New York Times Magazine article. Could I even go as far as to say that blonde bombshell Pamela Anderson has employed this strategy? I believe I could. And for that matter, Lindsay Lohan sending herself up on Funny or Die and promos for the MTV VMAs are along the same lines.
Sylvester goes on to say that “artists like Kanye West have to be ‘good at Twitter’ in order to put a dent in the zeitgeist.”
“‘Nowadays rappers, they like bloggers,’ is what Swizz Beatz says… Slowly the work itself becomes secondary, less ambitious; slowly people becomes ‘really proud of their tweets’.”
Is it “The End of Men”?
Disney’s latest offering, Tangled, based on the story of Rapunzel, takes us back to a time when the Disney Princess reigned supreme, according to io9.
“… the objectification, glamorising of lesbian fetishism, and excessive girl-on-girl violence… [are aspects of the video that] feminist Gaga fans can try to justify… as another example of how she subversively turns what we usually find hot into something that leaves a nasty taste in our mouths and therefore makes a statement, but if any other artist (particularly any male artist) incorporated this much objectification and violence against women we would be outraged. Is it any different just because it’s a woman, or because it’s specifically Gaga?
“… What sets Gaga apart from other sexpot pop stars for me is that I just can’t imagine men being honestly turned on by her—not because she isn’t gorgeous (she is), but because she is so avant-garde, aggressive and self-driven which takes that arousal and turns it into something atypical, uncomfortable, and threatening.”
Also at Feminist Themes, the cause of the she-blogger in “Why I Blog”.
In other Gaga news, The Cavalier Daily reports that the University of Virginia is now running Lady Gaga classes! This sooo makes me want to re-enrol in university in a post-grad, transfer to UV, and take this kick-ass class!
The Daily Beast puts forth two differing opinions on Glee’s stereotypes: Andy Dehnart discusses the show’s “Harmful Simplicity”, while Thaddeus Russell applauds the walking stereotype that is Kurt Hummel, as “history tells us that those unafraid to be ‘too gay’ won far more freedoms—for all of us—than those who dressed the part of straights.”
Beautifully satiric The Frenemy reveals the recipe to “The Teen Romantic Comedy”, which “does not work for Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You, or John Hughes films”, unfortunately. The truth about Disney Princes is also profiled, in which Eric from The Little Mermaid “wanted to kiss a girl who doesn’t speak words and doesn’t know how to use a fork. What the hell are you, caveman?”, while Mulan’s Captain Shang is in truth, a “gay liar” who made young, susceptible viewers the girls who have “crushes on a lot of her gay friends. [A] big Will & Grace fan.” Hey, that’s me!
Rachel Hills discusses intersectionality in feminism:
“For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, ‘intersectionality’ is a way of talking about power and privilege that recognises that recognises that these things operate on multiple axes. People aren’t just female, or Black, or Asian, or straight, or working class, or trans, or a parent, or prone to depression—everyone falls into a number of different categories that colours their experience of the world in specific ways. In the feminist context, it serves as a useful reminder that not all women have the same experiences, and calls into question the still dominant notion that the neutral ‘female’ experience is one that is white, heterosexual and middle-class.
“I’m also a fan because it just makes feminism a whole lot more interesting.”
I am staunchly pro-choice when it comes to the abortion debate. In fact, I lean so far to the left that I’m borderline pro-abortion. (I’m sure that’ll ruffle some feathers!) But no matter what your feelings on the subject, MamaMia’s post, “The Couple Facing Jail Because They Tried To ‘Procure an Abortion’. Hello, Queensland? It’s 2010” is worth checking out.
Jezebel’s “5 Worst Mean (Little) Girls of All Time” includes Willy Wonka’s Veruca Salt and, from one of the most heart wrenching films of all time, A Little Princess, Lavinia, who looks a lot like modern-day mean girl, Angelina Pivarnick, from Jersey Shore.