Usually it takes a while for a pop star to earn heavyweight hatred from a significant percentage of the press and public. But like everything else in her (very) young career, fear and loathing have come quickly indeed to singer/ writer/ dancer/ hot number Madonna. Loathe her or love her, it’s interesting to try and figure this one out. Theories abound, including a few from the lady herself.
I. Phyllis and Bob Theory
As Madonna puts it, “I seem to be the girl they hate to love.” No kidding. Private citizens tap their feet to “Lucky Star” or “Holiday” while wondering aloud if anything short of exorcism will get her off their radios and MTVs. The press file reads like she’s a ghoulish maidservant of notorious anti-libber Phyllis Schlafly and notorious Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, sucking all the feminism and IQ points from the fragile neck of popular culture.
Fans and foes alike seem to agree that she’s an ’80s incarnation of the “It” girl – blessed/cursed with a charisma that makes skin goosebump as well as crawl, something beyond her prettiness or infamous tummy. It makes her videos, records and (soon) movies impossible to dismiss. It’s there in person, too. She comes down a corporate hallway in a big black jacket and modest red-knit dress, looking like the video Madonna sans the bare belly and excess Catholic iconography. There is absolutely nothing solicitous in her manner of greeting, nothing straining to charm, nothing yanking at you for approval. Her handshake (a tiny red glove conceals the hand) is firm, and brief. Even so, the force is with her; it swallows her little frame as she walks toward a vast conference room like a sixth grader going to a hard math exam.
Undoubtedly, her mind is elsewhere. Just this week, “Like A Virgin” has gone to Number One on the pop charts, and its namesake LP to Number Three, only five weeks after release. Her first LP took almost a year to happen, but once it did it sold two million-plus copies. It’s not quite finished yet, either. Nor is the fallout, which so far includes the four hit singles, three videos, one starring film role and one small part in a movie for which she sang three tunes. Oh yeah, and the lousy reputation.
Part of that reputation says that Madonna is simply not a nice person, but superb at appearing so when someone‘s approval could be useful. On this particular day, anyway, she is kind of bristly. A little sharp-tongued and self-satisfied. But she makes no effort to hide any of the warts. More than a few rock stars are downright oily and self-protective when they need nice press. Madonna answers questions straight out, is only pretty nice most of the session, and leaves the warts right out there. If she’s such a master at showbiz politics, where’s the politicking? Where’s the manipulation?
II. The Wedding Dress Theory
Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone was born in Detroit on August 16, 1958. Veronica is her Catholic confirmation name, chosen because St. Veronica “wiped the face of Jesus and then carried around the cloth with his blood and sweat on it — it was so passionate and weird.” The French-Italian family had five boys and three girls who lost their mother when her namesake, Madonna, was six, Madonna didn’t much like the stepmother that appeared two years later; no doubt the woman felt it.
Even in grade school, Madonna apparently had extraordinary intensity; it both scared and fascinated her.
“I felt overwhelmed by it at points in my life. People didn’t understand me, especially when I was young; I’d realize I’d just alienated someone and scared them away, a boy or a friend or whoever. I handled it in a number of ways — either I’d get more arrogant and say ‘I don’t need you, I don’t care if you understand or I’d get upset and cry. You can get hurt by it, or you can give them the finger. But it still hurts.”
She learned to be defensive then, and still practices, frequently, “It’s easy for me to come out and say stuff. I think I was naturally a verbal and defensive kind of person, but I think I really developed that aspect of my personality growing up in my family, not feeling happy, feeling like I had to defend myself and make a statement, you know? It’s about insecurity? There are mementos of that time. “Just the other day I found a photograph of me dressed in my mother’s wedding gown when I was five years old. It was very strange.”