like these — times of heightened discord and possibly tectonic
upheaval — there's little reason to linger on a culture-blip
like the publishing launch of a series of kiddie books by Madonna.
there are contrasts to be drawn between the semi-retired pop queen's
latest and most dubious incarnation as a tea-sipping sort of Mrs.
Miniver who writes children's books, and her extremely sordid, extremely
lucrative career as a pop-exhibitionist. (Said career in pop-exhibitionism
includes one prior publishing lark as a porno-spread subject and author
in a book called "Sex.")
anyone who has successfully parried the thrust of all recent media
hoopla — equal parts pretentious and nauseous-making —
over Madonna and the kissing pop tarts on MTV will understand the
reflexive instinct to shield the eyes from all Madonna news. But the
pop-ostrich in me just couldn't resist something Madonna said —
a real mouthful — to the Times of London Sunday magazine.
about her 7-year-old daughter, Lourdes, and Madonna's long career
of mass-marketing her own vulgar sexuality. Quoth Madonna (given her
current and slavish pursuit of English toff-dom, she's bound to do
a lot of quothing): "I protect her from sex full stop. She's
not aware of sex, nor should she be. You know, we've had little conversations
about where babies come from, but sex is not, and should not be, part
of her repertoire right now." Full stop? Given that Madonna is
one of the pre-eminent despoilers of youthful innocence, this, as
her new compatriots might say, is crust.
is, there's Bill Clinton — whose lasting legacy is American
youth's working knowledge of oral sex — and, of course, several
generations of relentless promoters of sex, drugs and rock and roll;
nonetheless, it is Madonna who first shredded virginity and wedding
dresses into pop mega-hits, displaying a leave-us-alone exhibitionism
that wreaked havoc on girlhood.
and good that Madonna has had "little conversations" with
her daughter about where babies come from; but what about the conversations
about where Mommy's riches come from? Later, Madonna says.
says she someday plans to tell Lourdes her career as a sexual provocateur
was all an act, which may or may not be comforting. "I'd explain
that's me putting on a show. I'm playing a character, it's not really
me. I'm being an actress. This may work for Madonna-the-delusionist.
the 45-year-old wife and mother may have moved on permanently to floral
prints, matching pumps and a kiddie book that is rooted, Madonna is
quick to emphasize, in her seven-year study of Jewish mysticism.
rest of us, meanwhile, remain stuck among her true spawn — little
girls and big, baby Britneys and Madonna-wannabes, who believe that
exhibitionism is liberation, that the birds and the bees equal "hooking
up," and, almost worse of all, that bra straps and navels are
has sexuality — to borrow a phrase from the late Sen. Daniel
Patrick Moynihan — been defined down, down, down. Little mystery
here — let alone mysticism.
Madonna hopes to protect her wee one. Which is precisely what many
of us spend our own children's early years trying to do: We resist
the extent to which sexuality, particularly female sexuality, has
been snatched from its traditional time and place in human development
— as a rite of passage to adulthood, to marriage, to having
children — and grafted onto girlhood.
sexualization of childhood may not have started with Madonna, but
under her pop influence, and under that of her pop descendants, it
became pretty irreversible.
says she has no regrets. But neither does she appear to understand
her own leading role in coarsening the culture against which she now
guards her daughter.
does admit that what was cast as a crusade for sexual honesty in the
1980s and 1990s was really something of a scam. "Was I really
trying to liberate people?" she asks rhetorically. "Or was
I just being an exhibitionist and basking in the glory of being able
to do what I wanted. I think that probably was mostly what it was."
So do I.
while she exhibited and basked and did what she wanted — and
grew wealthy beyond exaggeration — she could always take shelter
in an impervious cocoon of wealth and cultural influence. (The multitudes
she influenced to bare all and do all, alas, had no such protection.)
she has moved on a little bit, wearing specs and writing children's
books, maybe she is finally trying to hide her tracks. We know for
sure she is trying to hide her daughter. Not that she can, of course.
Which is too bad, because the real Madonna — the notorious global
persona — isn't too savory an influence on anybody's growing