On Medium: ‘Madonna At 60 – Still Exposing The Double-Standards Of Western Society (Excerpt)

Madonna

An excerpt from my piece, published on Medium: ‘Madonna At 60: Still Exposing The Double-Standards Of Western Society’

“When I was 12, Madonna was everywhere. It was 1991, and not only had she just staged a juggernaut, global stadium tour, she was also lined up for a supporting role in the film A League Of Their Own, in addition to being the focus of the documentary film, Madonna: Truth Or Dare (or, In Bed With Madonna, as it was known outside of North America).

I recall the constant news coverage of her daily jogs through London’s Hyde Park — the sight of a petite woman surrounded by a throng of huge security guards, in turn surrounded by throngs of jubilant fans. I recall looking forward to the Penny Marshall-directed baseball comedy in which she was set to appear, because it would tell the story of a group of women, through a female lens — a rarity at the time — upon its 1992 theatrical release. I also recall seeing the Madonna: Truth Or Dare documentary — despite its ‘18’ rating — due to an older sibling being a devoted fan.

At the time, I liked some of her songs — a number of the well-known pop classics — but not to the extent that I would characterise myself as a ‘proper fan.’ I was, however, fascinated by the phenomenon of this woman. This woman, though diminutive in physical stature, had the capacity to whip vast swathes of society into a mouth-frothing, hand-wringing fervour. This woman was having a tangible impact in ways I could not yet understand and, as I found myself staring down the barrel of my own impending womanhood, I felt the possibility of such a thing entirely exhilarating.

While it would not be inaccurate to say that this period was the height of her influence in terms of pop culture saturation, Madonna has never disappeared from view and, for that reason, those vast swathes of society have never stopped wringing their hands over her. She has continued to enjoy a dedicated fandom, and continues to perform and create new music — but with Madonna, it was never entirely about her melodious output. Until the 1996 film Evita came along (bringing with it more focused, professional vocal tutelage), her singing voice was neither particularly strong, nor especially notable. What she had — and continues to have — is the ability to bring together interesting collaborators to achieve her vision, the ability to write finely crafted and incisive lyrics, and the desire to plant her feet and do her thing, with the consequence of exposing the double standards of western society.

The media, music industry commentators, purveyors of gossip-for-profit, and even fellow entertainers have always been split in their regard for Madonna. There are those that appreciate and understand her professional endeavours as performance art, and there are those that treat her with continual disdain. It has been this way for over three decades, and shows no sign of changing. From her early days of telling the world about the experience of being Like A Virgin, to sharing her contemporary Rebel Heart, Madonna is regarded in many quarters as being a “controversial” figure; an “attention-seeker,” who repeatedly resorts to “shock” tactics in order to maintain some kind of relevance.

But, against whose standard is the art of Madonna considered “controversial”? How can purveyors of gossip-for-profit blithely dismiss her work as desperate “attention-seeking,” while simultaneously collecting the dollars generated by the headline clicks? Why should it be a problem for us all if certain sections of society find that her material causes “shock”?

Right from the moment she burst onto the scene in 1983, Madonna has challenged the status quo. She has delivered music, art, and performance that serves as commentary on the hypocrisy that operates within a patriarchal society. In doing so, she has ensured that the social outrage and critical response she receives essentially becomes a part of her artistic endeavour. The mouth-frothing and hand-wringing fervour of those that disapprove is subsumed by her work…”

“So, what is it about Madonna that makes those who are so comfortable within the patriarchal system so terribly uncomfortable? It is the fact that she seeks neither their permission, nor their approval. She was singing about the autonomy and sovereignty of women at a time when it was still legal for a British husband to rape his wife, after all. She was releasing music videos featuring sexualised religious images at a time when Catholicism was actively working to hide abuse within its ranks. She has always told women and girls of all ages to love themselves and express their truth — even though mainstream pop culture, the media in general, and political systems around the world are constantly telling them to doubt themselves, to take up less space, and to quiet down…”

Read more at: https://medium.com/@sjmyles79

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