Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting to Know the Queen of Pop

Madonna, the queen of pop, was the obvious choice for our group when it came to picking a research topic. Madonna is an icon that has played a role in shaping everything from fashion for over 30 years. We plan to take a deeper look at how she has influences gender identity, sexuality, fashion, trends, and future pop musicians. This analysis will be done either by narrowing down her work to a music video such as “Vogue” or “Like a Prayer” or through an analysis of her over a long time span. We thought it could be interesting to look at her original “Like a Virgin” performance compared to the 2003 version and how she shaped the pop culture climate to that point.
    We have identified a group of key questions that will help guide our research for this project. What is it about Madonna that has made her such a huge star/ what was it that made her so iconic from the beginning? What was happening in the United States when she hit the scene that allowed for her success? How has she transformed over the past 3 decades? What role did Madonna play in redefining controversy, gender roles, and sex in American popular culture? What role Madonna played in making MTV and other late 20th century entities as popular as they are today? Our overall goal is to show how Madonna has had a long lasting and overwhelming influence on American pop culture since the 1980s. The argument would be that that music artists, fashion, gender roles, sexual expression, and many other pieces of modern America would not be anything like they are today without Madonna’s golden touch.

The Contributors to this blog are...
Bethany Carey
Bri Krajewski
Corey Wiggins
Jeff Milestone
Laura Zaepfel
Michael Monahan

Madonna as a Role Model

"I was surprised by how people reacted to "Like a Virgin" because when I did that song, to me, I was singing about how something made me feel a certain way – brand-new and fresh – and everyone interpreted it as I don't want to be a virgin anymore. Fuck my brains out! That's not what I sang at all. 'Like a Virgin' was always absolutely ambiguous."
                   —Madonna on the backlash for "Like a Virgin" 
The official "Like A Virgin" music video

The backlash from parents after Madonna's infamous Like A Virgin Performance was a surprised to her but, when looking at the ways she took the female gender and gave it so much empowerment to feel free to express sexuality in front of millions is not something that most parents in the 1980's would have been thrilled about. Madonna is reclaiming what it means to be a woman by taking this idea of virginity and making it fluid. In a society that puts such an emphasis on female purity, Madonna is exclaiming that she knows what is like to feel like a virgin and not feel like a virgin and that she will remind you of that while she is in a little white wedding dress rolling around on the floor. Madonna is empowering women and young girls in a way that is different from most of the feminist before her. She isn't encouraging woman to get jobs or fight for equal rights but to embrace themselves as the person they are. This proved to be horrifying to parents across the nation who saw her a sex crazy wild woman. 

Family values advocates would not for a second listen to Madonna say that "Like a Virgin" is not a raunchy sex song and immediately targeted her as a reason for the decline in "American values." This accusation only helped to fuel the fire that is Madonna and gave younger generations more exposure to a woman that was working to free their gender role. Madonna has play a significant impact in changing America' view on the female gender. Although it is still widely oppressed, there is far more room for woman to empower themselves whether it be through music or sexuality. This is why Madonna has acted as a role model for America, she has given women a voice that goes beyond politics but allows woman to embrace themselves as part of the human race. 

-Through out American pop culture artists are criticized for being "bad role models," what is it about people like Elvis, Madonna, Britney Spears, etc. that creates such a fear in American families?

-Is it the role of artists like Madonna to be a role model for teenage generations in America and who decides what that should look like?

Rooksby, Rikky (2004). The Complete Guide to the Music of Madonna.Omnibus Press. 
Clerk, Carol (2002). Madonnastyle. Omnibus Press. 

Madonna Confronting Gender Roles

Both her Like a Virgin album and VMA performance exemplify how gender and sexuality were utilized by Madonna to increase her celebrity in the mid 1980s. The Like a Virgin album featured disco style beats with a single female vocalist singing over them, nothing new for the pop music industry. Yet, Like a Virgin was expected to sell a lot of copies due to the image of Madonna put out by her and the promotions team behind her record. As "Inside the Pop Sleeve" states, "no doubt this neo-con plastic disco doll will sell millions of records, and her picture sitting on a bed in her lacy underwear won't hurt." Madonna was using the imagery of the contemporary party girl, and the sexuality that followed with it, to make herself stand out and to reach her audience. Her VMA performance did much of the same; highlighting traditional images of gender, such as a white wedding dress, and putting them juxtapose to her raunchy, party-girl, image. One critic went as far as to say of her VMA act that she, "performed dreadfully in her underwear and a smile, both of which were as see-through as television will allow." Here is a great example of the critical views of Madonna taken by many at the time. She was clearly using her risque gender ideals and sexuality on stage as an image to hype up her celebrity, and thus sell her music.
The Like a Virgin album cover depicts her in a seductive manner while wearing a wedding dress. This is used to play off the idea of female purity before the wedding night. Here Madonna uses provocative imagery to sell her album without singing a word. She uses the symbolism of the wedding dress, as well as the name of the album, to imply to the consumer that listening to this will be pleasurable, hence the anticipation of the album selling a lot of copies.

Madonna once again puts two opposing gender ideals together with her wedding dress outfit. She has the "boy toy" 'logo' on her wedding dress, which clearly implies a sexual nature to her dress and demeanor. With a skimpy wedding dress adorned with a boy toy stamp Madonna clearly displays her idea of a femininity, which is that of a strong and independent woman. She was not going to live by others' standards and was not afraid to display her individual sexuality on stage. Regardless of why she chose to do this, her sexuality helped her to push the boundaries of contemporary gender roles, which helped her create a popular image that would sell records. Madonna uses this imagery with the title "Like a Virgin" to convey the message that any woman can feel independent, proud and pure regardless of status to her female listeners. While the provocative imagery on the cover would not hurt to boost sales of the record amongst male consumers.

This image portrays Madonna lying on a bed in her wedding dress. She is sprawled out and holding a bouquet of flowers portraying a bride on the wedding night. This obvious choice of imagery illustrates just how Madonna's image, as an independent and sexually charged woman, could be used to propel her to stardom. While Cyndi Lauper was singing that girl's just want to have fun, Madonna was showing everybody how she did so. Her individuality and sexuality combined to create the image of the modern "pop diva". This image, fueled by its sexual nature, helped Madonna's "Like a Virgin" become a very successful album as well as propel her towards stardom.

It is this sexuality embedded in her music, performances and imagery that causes social tension surround her contributions to popular culture. When children began to emulate celebrities such as Madonna it made their parents wonder what happened to the more positive role models of previous generations. Madonna is a great example of how popular music makes its way into popular culture as a whole. Her "gender idealization" of the independent and sexually empowered woman found its way into the worlds of fashion and film as well as influenced female pop-stars who followed in Madonna's footsteps. She is an excellent example of the "slob culture" that children of the MTV-Generation began to look up to in the 1980s.

Do you think that Madonna, both as a musician and overall celebrity, would have been as popular without portraying her image as an "independent sexual female"?
Do you think that this image put out by her helped to separate her from other female pop-stars of the 1980s? If so, what about her image did this?

Madonna and Religion

   Madonna has throughout her career pushed the limits in her craft as an artist. Some could say it was Madonna simply channeling her artistic inner-self, while others could say that she is simply being controversial to market herself. I believe that the two coincide with one another. What made Madonna such a pop icon is that she consistently reinvented herself and didn't see any topic as being off limits. Religion being one of her many targets in her songs.

As Madonna explains, "It just fit right with my Zeitgeist (spirit of the time) of standing up to male authorities, whether it's the pope or the Catholic Church or my father and his conservative, patriarchal ways." For example, songs such as "Like a Virgin" and "Papa Don't Preach" brought Madonna both praise from religious groups as well as extreme criticism. As Todd C. Ream points out in The Gods of the Checkout Aisle, Madonna's wildly popular video "Like a Virgin" relocates the rosary and crucifix in a hyper-sexualized context. Instead of fostering communion with God, these images encourage brazen promiscuity.

But my argument is, was Madonna telling young girls to go out and have sex freely? I find that hard to believe.
  Madonna lived to create controversy and she proved it to the world in 1984 when she showed up in a wedding dress at the first MTV video music awards and preformed "Like a Virgin" writhing around on the floor in front of millions of viewers. Her dance performance wasn't even planned, in fact her manager at the time Freddy DeMann thought her career was over after it. As Madonna told Rolling Stone Magazine, "I was rolling around on the floor, my dress up, and you could see my underpants. What was I thinking? I dropped my shoe, I don't know how to get it back on, and I am going down on the ground. It was a lot of things. It was scary and fun, and I didn't know what it meant for my future". Little did Madonna realize, but that performance would launch her career, as well as cast her in the spotlight in both a sexual icon or a slut defacing the purity of a "white" wedding dress and all that it represents.The Catholic Church was outraged by the belittling of the sacred vow of marriage.
  Madonna went on to anger Planned Parenthood and again spark comment from the Catholic Church with her song "Papa Don't Preach." The line "I've made up my mind, I'm keeping my baby," caused anti-abortion groups and the Catholic Church to praise Madonna and abortion rights groups to criticized her. In the New York Times the director of Planned Parenthood of New York, Alfred Moran stated, "The message is that getting pregnant is cool and having a baby is the right thing and a good thing and don't listen to your parents, school, anybody who tells you otherwise -don't preach to me, Papa.The reality is that what Madonna is suggesting to teen-agers is a path to permanent poverty." However groups like the Catholic Church who opposed abortion saw "Papa Don't Preach" as a positive, "pro-life" song. When questioned about where Madonna stood on the issue of abortion her spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg said, "She's singing a song, not taking a stand." Further stating, "Her philosophy is people can think what they want to think."
  The last statement by Rosenberg summed up how Madonna made her career. She sang songs that could be interpreted in many ways. While a song could infuriate a group such as the Catholic Church at one point in time, that same group would embrace Madonna at another time. She allowed the listener and viewer to make their own decisions of what a song meant as well as their own decisions of how to live their lives. Just as Madonna has done  throughout her extensive career.


Do you think Madonna was for or against abortion and why?
Do you believe that Madonna's "Like a Virgin" performance was preplanned or not and why?
Do you believe Madonna had a message to get through to her audience, and what was it?

The Gods of the Checkout Aisle: Christianity Today; Apr2011, Vol. 55 Issue 4, p65-65, 2/3p

Friday, April 15, 2011

Madonna Uses Sexuality as a Feminist

Madonna is notorious for utilizing and marketing her sexuality to fans, critics, and the general public. Her sexual rolling dance in her "Like a Virgin" performance was only the beginning how far she was willing to go. Soon masturbation on stage, perpetual humping choreography, on stage simulated sex, and violation of inanimate objects were added to her repertoire. Madonna has acted as both the slave driver and the objectified women chained to a bed. Many do not link over the top sexuality with feminism, in fact most view degradation of women as an example of patriarchal values inherent in society. Madonna replied to critics "But I chained myself! I'm in charge." Despite this response one may wonder how being the slave of male desire conveys a feminist attitude? 
    Using her sexuality Madonna morphed from a young pop princess into a shrewd business women, and turned her image into a multimillion-dollar company. As far as feminists are concerned parading around and acting brazenly does not seem to fit the bill; however, feminism is supposed to shy away from the female cult of domesticity. Madonna used her sexuality to sell herself as a brand, while subsequently rallying and pushing away feminists. It may be argued however, that Madonna's use of sexuality would be the future of feminism; a future with women running the show. Subsequently more women have followed suit over the past few decades, using their openness to sexual human behavior as a catalyst for success, fame, and power.
Questions for Discussion
-Do you think Madonna's use of sexuality embodies early feminism?
     -How about modern feminism?
-Is using your feminine sexuality to become a mogul really feminism?
-How would modern feminists react to Madonna's use of sexuality?

Nothing Like a Virgin
Paglia, Camille. The Guardian. London (UK): Dec 27, 1990. p. 30
Icon in the Eye of the Beholder
Rumbold, Judy. The Guardian. London (UK): Mar 10, 1992. p. 23
Like a Feminist
Tentler, Kate. The Village Voice. New York: Nov 24, 1992. Vol. 37, Iss. 47; p. 22 (1 page)

Madonna's Impact on Fashion

 Bri as Madonna for Halloween 2003

     Madonna represents many things to different people: originality, controversy, music.  But one thing most everyone can agree upon is the fact that Madonna is a fashion icon.  Particularly during her first years as a celebrity in the 1980's, Madonna pioneered a signature eighties look, one that is recognized and copied even today.  Religious jewelry, rubber bracelets, and headbands are among the trends that Madonna started.  Additionally, her original and risque style opened the door for a perhaps more individualistic and empowering trend in fashion.  Madonna's style not only created a signature eighties look, but it helped pioneer a strong and empowered attitude among women of the 1980's.
Madonna's white "bride" outfit worn in the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards is one of her most well-known looks (see picture above).  It is also very representative of the style that quickly gained popularity when Madonna was first making a name for herself.  Her performance at the 1984 VMA's is somewhat infamous, as is her outfit.  It is still recognized, even copied today (see picture of me as Madonna for Halloween in 2003).  This kind of look showcased Madonna's sexy and confident style.  Not only was her fashion mimicked, but women of the eighties also embodied her attitude.  As one surveyor wrote (1), "She took the standards to which women could express themselves to a new level.  She said just because you are strong doesn't make you a bitch or a slut, and if people call you that, so what.  Who says it is always a bad thing?  She empowered a new generation of strong little girls."  Her fashion influence implicated a shift in the lives and attitudes of the women of that era; this unique and sexy style gave way to a sense of empowerment.

     Such a profound influence on eighties fashion is not something Madonna intended to achieve.  In a 1987 interview with Jane Pauley, Madonna says (2), "...When my first records came out, the clothes that I was wearing at the time were the clothes I'd been wearing for the past two years in New York...All my friends were wearing all the bracelets and all the necklaces and it was very inexpensive also."  It seems clear that Madonna had no intention of sparking such a memorable trend in fashion.  Her impact on fashion is important to note, though, because of the positive influence it had on women.  Madonna (in her own, somewhat controversial, way) made it okay for women in the eighties (and beyond) to be sexy, to take charge of their sexuality and womanhood and to show it off through fashion.

Questions for Discussion:
-Which Madonna look from the eighties is most memorable to you?
-Why was (is) her image so important to her success/popularity?
-What role do you think fashion plays in the Madonna "empire"?

1. "Renee." Survey 2: 80s Influences Survey.  2011.  The '80s Server, a Division of MacroMusic, Inc.

2. Pauley, Jane. Madonna Interview with Jane Pauley 1987 part 1. 2009.   YouTube.  

Also referenced:

Unknown author.  The Madonna Look-Strike a Pose.  2011.  Like Totally 80s.  Denning E-Solutions, LLC., March 29, 2011.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Another View of the Religion of Madonna

Throughout the career of Madonna, she has made use of her image to pinprick certain aspects of popular culture. With her strict Catholic upbringing, it comes as no surprise that religion would be one of the targets after turning her sights on stage. During her "Like a Virgin" performance during the first Video Music Awards on MTV, this trend continued as the singer performed in a wedding dress before rolling around on the floor. The white dress is to be donned, specifically in the Catholic Church in which Madonna grew up, by the "pure" on their wedding day. But as the article "Virgin Territory" points out, Madonna turns the symbol of innocence into "a sleazy go-go outfit," spinning the symbolism of it. No longer is white pure, a thing for those who have done right, but it has turned into something that any 'sinner' can wear and pushed the ideas of what innocence can be.
            This is not the only place that the singer does this however. "Like a Virgin" was just the beginning of her attack against strict rules of purity that the church of her youth tried to enforce.  A few years after her performance, in Madonna's "Like a Prayer" music video, she once again sets herself in a place where the church finds sacred symbols. This time, instead of a sacrament, Madonna takes on the church itself. The USA Today, quoted by the Washington Post, went so far as to say that the production was the "Satanic Verses of music video," making the singer stand out once more for her twisting of signs that the church stands strongly beside. As with "Like a Virgin," Madonna is willing to throw out the old and crash in with the new, providing an alternate way to look at these symbols in a world that was changing just as fast as her songs' tempo.

Discussion questions  
- Was Madonna throwing more light on how a wedding dress implies purity or how marriage is no longer a strict sacrament?
- Why would Madonna go so far in the "Like a Prayer" video to liken herself to Christ (by imitating the wounds of his hands from the cross)? Is she saying she is Christ like or something else?
- Madonna pushed boundaries. Were these two performances/songs there to push the boundaries of religion away from her changing culture or to make internal changes to the church by showing it to itself?
- It was fairly difficult to find many sources on Madonna's impact on religion in her early years, yet there were many articles on her recent activity. Does the Madonna of today overshadow her beginnings?

1. "Virgin territory: How Madonna straddles innocence and decadence" - Joel D Schwartz, The New Republic (pre-1986); Aug 26, 1985; 193, 009; ProQuest Central
2. "On the Beat: Madonna's Clashing Symbols" - Richard Harrington, The Washington Post, March 15, 1989