Monday, November 14, 2005

Pretense Sells

Andrew Sullivan has gone off his rocker. No, no for his politics, but because he writes, in defense of Madonna, that "The great virtue of Madonna, apart from her Catholic roots, is her lack of musical pretension. " That's just about as false a statement as "We don't torture." or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky." With the exception of maybe her first album, her entire career has been built on pretense. Her M.O. for the last twenty years has lain in trying to convince the world that her catchy yet not exactly groundbreaking pop music has had Something Very Important To Say. Sometimes it's been explicit--- "Papa Don't Preach," "American Life," the Sex book, moving to England, "Justify My Love," the Kabbalah stuff, etc. Other times it's just been implicit in her work, whether it's reclaiming aggressive sexuality for feminism or just this idea that she's so "daring" in how she brings What's Going On In The Underground Scene into the mainstream.

That's not to say she's completely full of B.S. In many ways she's like a female counterpart to Prince, with the push and pull between sexuality, spirituality, and politics, although she doesn't have a tenth of The Purple One's musical talent. (On the other hand, she's not as bonkers and her career's in better shape.) She is important, just not as important as she thinks she is.

Have you seen the video for her latest, "Hung Up?" This is the one where she's working out in a dance leotard, there's a disco beat, then there are a bunch of other people dancing, and she humps a boombox. I find this video uncomfortable to watch, not merely because of the boombox-humping, but also because of the body language of the dancers.
One person will dance, and the next will see them and dance, usually while staring the other down. These people aren't dancing out of joy, they're dancing as some odd way of challenging each other. It's like they're dancing at each other. Or they might be going about their daily business and then "spontaneously" start dancing, but their "spontaneity" looks more like they're Manchurian Candidates who've received post-hypnotic suggestions to begin dancing when they hear a certain trigger.

What's going on here? Is this intentional? Why? I don't get it. And if I do get it, whatever it is, Sullivan's reading of its virtues as "
shameless superficiality, ...joyous rhythms, ...'80s disco uplift" and not for those who take themselves too seriously seems completely wrong. It all seems to be about the transformation of the "shameless superficiality" of dancing into aggression, into one-upmanship.

P.S. Props to Mike Benedetti for the title.


At Thursday, November 17, 2005 at 10:39:00 AM PST, Anonymous clynne said...

"The great virtue of Madonna, apart from her Catholic roots, is her lack of musical pretension."

That's insane. I mean, I like Madonna's music (well, the disco beep-beep era isn't really thrilling me, but anyway), but she is all about pretense. It's part of her shtick. It's like claiming that Sarah MacLachlan is not self-important; that's part of her damn appeal!

Thanks for the excellent laugh.

P. S. Blogger does not support the awesome >cite< tag. Hmph! Or >small<! That's annoying!


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