An Open Letter to Madonna

Dear Madonna:

When can I say? I've been your most loyal fan. I have all your albums, all your biographies and videotapes of all your world tours. You were my idol. But, also, no longer. It hurts me to say it--more than it hurts you, I'm sure--but I'm bailing out. After all these years, you've disappointed me. So I thought I'd write to tell you why.

The book (Sex, Warner Books, $35) was the final straw, of course. It's disgusting. No, not provocative or titillating. Disgusting. (Also very, very expensive, and I'm a little upset that I can't return it just because I opened the Mylar packaging,) What were you thinking? Oh, wait, I know--you explained it all to Newsweek: Sex is supposed to broaden our tolerance for alternative ways of life. By showing us a woman holding a knife to your throat (page 8), or two men raping you (Page 32)? Please, spare me.

Then there's the album, Erotica, which includes "Where Life Begins," an ode to oral sex that gives new meaning to "Parental Warning Advisory: Explicit Lyrics." How come I have this dreadful feeling that "Where Life Begins" is your next single? The ensuing public riots would certainly catapult you into First Amendment martyrdom, which, I suppose, is what you're after.

But while we're on that subject, let's discuss this new respectability you seem to be getting. Camille Paglia worships you (maybe she should have been in your book). And you're on the cover of Newsweek. Of course, you're in almost every issue of the magazine, even if only in that USA Today-like section with the 50-word articles and the color pictures. But "Justify My Love" got a full page, and now the cover story? Well, well, you're moving up in the world.


If only you deserved it. I used to believe, as Paglia apparently still does, that there was something behind that facade, some shred of intellectual content to your image(s) to justify this attention. Or something. Whatever the case, I was wrong.

The Fall began with "Justify My Love." The video sucked, frankly, no matter how much we were supposed to be impressed by homoerotic sadomasochism--or whatever it was. And then came your embarrassing performance on "Nightline." Who would have thought you could be so dumb? There you were, stumbling and sputtering away, mumbling banalities about free speech and tolerance, insisting that 10 years olds should learn about what is essentially pornography. But that was only the beginning.

Next came "Truth or Dare." I can see how a thinking individual might be able to seem stupid in, say, an hour-long interview with Ted Koppel. Maybe you weren't prepared. But then how do you explain the movie? It was the same thing all over again: you pretending to masturbate on stage, and then being shocked and outraged when the Catholic Church dumped on you for this. We were subjected to an endless stream of banalities again: free speech, art, blah, blah, blah.

Camille Paglia rightly pointed out that you, as an "artist," have no responsibility to uphold society's values, but I really doubt you were thinking on that plane. The academic obsession with you in general seems to be doing your thinking for you. In fact, when you first started staking out the cultural fringe, you dismissed any idea of a higher social agenda. We were told that "Papa Don't Preach" was "Just a song." And "Open Your Heart" was "just a video." Now we are supposed to believe that you have transformed yourself into an icon of social tolerance, a lighthouse, as it were, for the culturally disenfranchised.

Yeah, right. I think what is fooling people--and what had me going for a while--is that a few of your songs and videos have some artistic pretensions, just enough so that people don't feel justified in completely dismissing you as just another pop star. The "Express Yourself" video showed you in a business suit ordering men around--feminism?--but for every "Express Yourself" there is a "Hanky Panky" ("I don't want you to thank me/Just spank me..."). And for all your talk about how the sex you portray is all based on consent--well, the knife at your throat above doesn't look like consent, and, for that matter, neither do the ropes. So let's call a spade a spade: You're a fraud.

There are worse disillusionments that could happen to someone, I guess. But losing any hero is hard. So, anyway, have a good life, not that I care. And enjoy your $60 million record deal. It's not the $1 billion Michael Jackson's getting from Sony, but, then, you can't have everything.