Once again, my apologies for not updating the blog as much as I could…you know the deal about my whack work schedule.
If there’s one consistency about the musical/cultural living human icon known. loved, and/or hated as Madonna Veronica Louise Ciccione, it is the fact that she will absolutely, flat-out find new ways to push buttons and boundaries, and on occasion deliberately piss off people who need to be bothered about certain issues. Her legacy in pushing the boundaries of sex (as in her book titled, of all things, Sex), in challenging emotional repression, and in using the maximum of her talents to tweak the noses of the more politically and socially repressed, is unmatched by many artists of her time.
Now, I’m usually not a Madonna fanatic, since she was a bit too late in my main development years growing up…but I did respect her for her outspokenness against sexual and personal repression, as well as her "I am what I am, accept it or kiss my ass" attitude….and on occasion, I’ll even listen to a song or two from her, too. One song that I really do like was a 1980s classic called "Live To Tell", in which Madonna goes off on the perils of emotional repression. The song itself is pretty damn powerful, and the lyrics speak a great deal (an excerpt follows):
A man can tell a thousand lies
I’ve learned my lesson well
Hope I live to tell the secret I have learned–
It will burn inside of me…
The full lyrics can be found here.
Fast forward to this past summer and Rome, where The Material Woman decided to launch her worldwide "Confessions" tour with a rollicking concert performance with all the typical Madonna bells and whistles, scantily clad (mostly gay) dancers, mock softcore sexual thematics (non-explicit, of course)….in short, all the trimmings that a world icon of Madonna’s class usually deliver. The entire concert performance was also taped by NBC to be broadcasted on Thanksgiving Eve…..but you may have missed it, mostly due to some local affiliates getting cold feet over the content and nature of the performance (and Madonna’s past rep for pushing those said envelopes a bit too much for the local Puritan’s comfort zones. (Remember the controversy about the "Like a Prayer" video, which was roundly slammed as "blasphemous" by most religious authorities….mostly for the images of a Black Jesus, ‘Dita dancing next to burning crosses…and for the implied connection between sexual and religious ectascy??)
Well, it seems that the years has changed Madonna quite a bit…..yeah, right. For the opening act of the performance, she decided to revive the emotional power of "Live to Tell" to literally raise some hell about the plight of Africa’s youth, and to once again tweak some Christian Right noses….and as always, she used all the subtlety of a nuke. (She recently adopted a child out of Africa whose parents passed away from the symptoms of HIV/AIDS right after her birth.)
The results, as taped by a fan who was at the Rome performance, appear thusly (courtesy of YouTube):
Above: A brief clip of Madonna rising on the cross at the beginning of "Live to Tell". Click here for the YouTube page from whence this clip appears.
Another clip of the entire song from another perspective. (Again, from YouTube)
Needless to say, some of our more religously conservative friends were not too thrilled at Madonna’s reinterpretation of the Crucifixion; several Catholic and Orthodox religious authorities (and not a few Muslim and Orthodox Jew organizations ripped her performance as "blasphemous" and "a profanation of the Cross". And back here in the States, several righty Christian orgs, including Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, went even so far as to letter-bomb and email-bomb NBC for the alleged sins of allowing her to "attack Christians" and "mocking the crucifixion of Christ." (A particularly strident and hyperventilating "Action Alert" from the AFA on Madonna’s sins can be seen here.) NBC responded by cutting the opening number from their broadcast of the performance…much to the anger of Madonna fans.
Now….perhaps it was (and is) indeed ‘Dita’s rep for tweaking the noses of our Puritan commisars that so enrages them about her performances…or it’s the implicit message of sexual liberation (though thoroughly neutered for a live audience) that practically oozes through much of her songs. (And of course, as I noted at the beginning, her performance did include plenty of the usual sexual innuendos, too.)
What makes this particular act far more interesting, though, is the way in which Madonna not so subtlely uses the theme of the Crucifixion to lay out and whack religious folk for not paying enough attention to the plight of the less well off.
I could say more, but I’ll let ‘Bina Becker (of News of the Restless) take it from here, since she says it better than I ever could:
As the performance progresses, we come to see why she picked this particular song to open the show–and sing from a cross, doing a modern and literal Imitation of Christ. In another version of this performance (videotaped from further off by an amateur in the audience), you can see a digital counter over her head, spinning faster and faster until it reaches 12 million. Then it stops and the number lights up. That’s when the spotlights temporarily dim. Then she steps off the cross, moves downstage, and sings the bridge:
If I ran away, I’d never have the strength
To go very far
How would they hear the beating of my heart?
Will it grow cold,
The secret that I hide?
Will I grow old?
How will they hear,
When will they learn,
How will they know?
As she sings it, we learn that the number on the counter is the number of African children orphaned by AIDS. (Item: Madonna recently adopted a boy from Malawi whose mother died soon after his birth.) Pictures on the screen behind her show the searching eyes of African children; the reinterpretation of the song seems to ask the audience to spare a thought for them. Above, the words "For I was hungry and you gave me food…I was naked and you gave me clothing…Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers…" flash. Another biblical reference.
By coming down off the cross, kneeling and averting her face as if the sight of so much suffering is too much to bear, taking off her crown of thorns and placing herself at human level (at the end of the song she actually prostrates herself on the stage, like a priest or nun at the taking of the vows), Madonna is not-so-subliminally telling people to get off their high horses, their holier-than-thou attitudes, and get better acquainted with "the least of my brothers", the orphans of Africa. In so doing, they might find some redemption–or a little more meaning–in their lives.
Maybe that is what gets Donald Wildmon’s bloomers in a wad; he’s about doing just the opposite, you see. To him, AIDS isn’t a tragic, indiscriminate disease that kills young parents and leaves beautiful, innocent children orphaned; it’s God’s righteous punishment on the homo-sex-you-alls. That is the message he’s repeatedly preached to his flock. And damn that scarlet harlot Madonna for having the effrontery to say it isn’t so, and to remind people of what Jesus actually said. There wasn’t a word in it about punishing the gays; there were, on the other hand, plenty of admonitions to be thy brother’s keeper and look after those in need!
Yes, I can see why a fundamentalist would call that blasphemy. Heaven forbid that a pop star might be sincere when she gets off her glitzy disco cross to deliver a message laced with the New Testament, not the Old. Or that she might just be a better Christian than the Reverend Furnish-My-Church-With-Silver. How many African AIDS orphans has Wildmon helped, I wonder? Or does he secretly think that they, too, somehow deserve to be punished by a plague of biblical proportions, for being non-white?
Someone famous is bashing Christianity, all right, but it sure as hell ain’t Madge.
Now, I know that there will always be skeptics and cynics who will say that Madonna is simply playing the martyr for ratings and record sales; and that she is simply, like the Brangelinas (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, whom have also garnered controversy by adopting African children), simply White liberal elitists who exploit Africa’s fate for their own benefit and profit. But….then why would she go so far to generate such controversy by going into the Crucifixion act, when she could have gone the safer route (like, for instance, choosing a song like "People Together" or, heaven forbid, "Vogue" for her opener)??
Nope…..I don’t see it that way myself. I believe that the choice of "Live to Tell" as Madonna’s opening act is nothing less than her way of cracking back at all the critics whom have bashed her as nothing more than a material slut and a money grabber who cares little about social issues; in a way, this is the ‘Dita’s progressive Christian anthem of resistance against the Religious Right’s bald-face ignorance and willful neglect (if not active involvement) in the pandemic and genocide taking place in Africa. In other words, helping "the least of thee" and giving comfort and aid to the suffering should be a bit higher up the scale of importance than obsessions about gay men kissing or young women baring their midriffs…or potificating about two-ton monuments to "The Ten Commandments".
If for nothing else than that, Madonna gets my support…and I’m no "progressive Christian", either (though I know and like and admire more than a few. Anyone who gives Donald Wildmon aneurysms gets my vote any day of the week.
Not to mention that ‘Dita still looks damn good for her advanced age…and it takes some huge ovaries to sing on a 10-foot platform held up only by brackets.
Way to stick it to ’em, Madonna….just keep bringing it.