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Madonna Live! At the Grill.


It is no secret that Harvard students love debates.

The Kennedy School frequently packs its forum room with confrontations between groups with names like ORGASM and AALARM. And, to the delight of students, science gurus Stephen J. Gould and Edward O. Wilson have been academically slugging it out for as long as anyone can remember.

But this week, a debate of a slightly more, well, naughty nature shook the Harvard campus.

Well past midnight early Tuesday morning, undergrads packed the grills and tuned up their portable TV sets for a popular culture confrontation that set Harvard abuzz. Pop princess Madonna faced off against Nightline's Forrest Sawyer in defense of her recent, racy video "Justify My Love."

MTV recently announced that it would not play the black-and-white video which, depending on whom you ask, depicts any number of the following taboos: nudity, sado-masochism, transvestism, multiple partners and anal sex. Nightline, however, aired the video before the Madonna interview, due to what Sawyer called its "news value."

So Madonna took to the screen Tuesday morning to defend what she called a glorious celebration of sexual fantasies. Dressed conservatively and sporting her typical mall-rat accent, Madonna explained that her videos were not, in fact degrading to women. MTV, she said, should be wary of airing violent, not sexual, videos.

Whatever Madonna said, it played big at Harvard. The interview was the hot topic of conversation in the dining halls Tuesday, and rumor has it that even faculty members were murmuring about the material girl's mishaps.

L. Cameron Kitchin '92 was working at the Dunster House grill when Madonna's mug popped on the color TV. "There was definitely a big conglomeration of people," Kitchen says. "More than usual."

But students, many of whom were more interested in the video than in the interview, were frequently unimpressed by the repetitive and overtly sexual soundtrack accompanying Madonna's video. "The only reaction I heard was that the music was boring," Kitchin says.

Madonna has fascinated the academic community in recent months, particularly since the summertime release of the Dick Tracy movie, and her face has graced the cover of magazines as diverse as Glamour and The New Republic.

Lecturer in Social Studies Andrea Walsh, an expert in women and popular culture, says it is no surprise that the pop prima donna from Detroit has aroused the curiosity of the intellectual community.

"People are very intrigued by Madonna," Walsh says. "They may not see her as feminine, but they definitely see her as complex. People pay attention. They want to analyze her," she says.

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