MAILER: That they keep some people from getting AIDS? Yes. But that’s the short haul. In the long term, sex is difficult enough for most people. Now, with the shadow of AIDS hanging over homosexuals, it’s horrendous.
MADONNA: The shadow of AIDS isn’t hanging just over homosexuals. It’s hanging over all of us. There are a lot of bisexual people in the world who don’t cop to their past. So it’s hard to say, “I’ll never sleep with anyone who’s gay.” You just never know.
MAILER: What the condom does is make you give up most of the joy of entrance. The insight you get into the other person is diminished. Maybe it would be better to give up instead the idea of penetration, and do all the things you can do without it. Then, if you really love that person, you might say f### it, I’ll take a chance. If I die, I die. I’ll die for love.”
MADONNA: If you love that person.
MAILER: But what condoms are saying is, “Never die for love or anything remotely resembling it.” Probably the single hardest thing emotionally is to distinguish between lust but has enough personal warmth to feel like love, and love itself. The two are very close, yet different for one’s karma. Also it helps if you don’t use a condom, because then at least you can say to yourself, “I lust so much for this person that I’ll dare death,” or, “I love this person enough to dare it.”
MADONNA: Yes, but as you said, most people have a hard time distinguishing between the two. So how do you know at the time if you’re lusting for death or loving?
MAILER: You don’t know. What you do know is the intensity of your feelings. Once your lust is pretty well satisfied, then you will know whether it’s love — or anger or power or all the things that go into lust. But at least you know more about yourself. What I hate about condoms is that you end up knowing less. And that aggravates one’s need for power. It’s like those cigarettes that have filters on them and contain less nicotine, and so people draw more deeply and take in the same amount of nicotine. People with condoms have more sexual contacts because they’re less satisfying.
MADONNA: Well, to a certain extent, I subscribe to what you’re saying. When you get to know somebody and you get to love them, you do say, “I’m willing to take a chance for this.” I’ve been there. I’m not going to sit here and say that from the time I found out about AIDS, I’ve always had intercourse with a man with a condom on. That would be a lie. And I do think you get to a point with a person that you say, “I love this person or care for them enough that I don’t give a f### what happens to me, I’m willing to take a chance.”
MAILER: And you say that’s happened to you.
MADONNA: Yes. Absolutely.
MAILER: And there might have been a chance of AIDS?
MADONNA: I didn’t even question that. I just said, “I instinctively know that this is the right thing to do.” But I would never do that in the beginning, not knowing somebody. And, yes, it is harder to know somebody when — in the physical sense, with a condom on — it’s a nightmare. But I guess there are other things you can do — you can meet someone and sleep with them for a month with condoms on, and it’s not great sex as far as intercourse is concerned, but then you go and get AIDS tests together. That’s happened to me, too. “Our tests are both negative, so let’s do it without a condom.” Now, we could find out in ten years we’re both sick and it didn’t come out in the test, so I guess that’s the chance you take.
MAILER: Well, condoms are one element in a vast, unconscious conspiracy to make everyone pan of the social machine. Then we lose whatever little private spirit we’ve kept.
MADONNA: On the flip side, couldn’t you say: If it makes everybody stop and question who they’re sleeping with, then isn’t that a good thing, too? You don’t just blindly and madly go ahead. Maybe it’s a way of getting people to think how much they care about this person they’re sleeping with. You know what I mean?
Later, it occurred to him that she had moved in one short discussion from what was virtually a public – service announcement about condoms to a real willingness to explore the subject. That was cheering — her mind might be even better than she thought it was.
MAILER: You see, I think sex has always been dangerous. In the Middle Ages, before modern medicine or contraception, a woman had to love a man, or feel huge lust, in order to have intercourse with him, because if she got pregnant, she could die. Very easy to die — something like one in ten women died in childbirth. That meant your lover could be your executioner. Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be. God’s intent: Take sex seriously. Don’t believe it’s there to be violated.
MADONNA: I’ve never thought of it that way.
MAILER: Well, in your work, you do daring things with sex and have fun with it, but you never mock the seriousness of it. What you’re saying to your audience is, “Look, you’re nervous because I’m taking more chances than you are. That’s why you hate me.”
In Truth or Dare, there is a moment when Warren Beatty upbraids Madonna: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera,” he says to the camera, and turns to her. “Why would you say something,” he asks, “if it’s off-camera? Tomorrow, if they’re not here, what’s the point of existing?”
Beatty had said it. Would she give of herself unless it could be recorded? Such a stance is repellent in elected officials, but that is because they offer the part of themselves that is good for their case. Madonna, however, offers all of herself to the occasion: her best, her worst, her middling whimsies, her snarls, her whines, even her fascination with evil. What had impressed Mailer almost as much as her music videos were her last two films. In Body of Evidence, she had been absolutely convincing as a murderess. In Dangerous Game, she had been equally believable as an actress who is playing a whimpering misery of a half-destroyed slut. It had been a bad, hysterical, messed-up film, but she had given a double characterization: She was an actress, and she was also the same actress playing the slut, two effective performances in the midst of much mess, considering that the story has her being abused by a pimp of a husband who puts her out to graze in home-video porn-and-orgy fields of cash. Then he beats her up with all the intensity of violence building on its own violence. (He doesn’t know whether he is enraged because his wife is a slut or because she wishes to cease being one.) For an actress, the role bore resemblance to going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Madonna, was, then, a rarity, a world celebrity who did not select roles to buttress her status. If she would consent faster than any other star on earth to an existence in which every movement, every sigh, every sound of love, digestion, and sleep could be recorded, if she was as interesting to herself at her worst as at her best, that might be because she was captain of a ship she could barely control, despite her skills at navigation. So she always had to learn more about herself. Who could ever chart the secret passageways, holds, dungeons, torture chambers, spas, and oases on this mysterious ship – no, strike all metaphor — she was a six-year-old mouse from Detroit riding a billion-dollar elephant, and she had to know her reins were power-assisted, but who was providing the power other than the record moguls? Was she, then, part of high-roller capitalist society, or an outgrowth that would be excised as soon as the money wheel rolled on? With all she showed of herself, naked but for a cigarette, a black pocketbook, and high-heeled shoes as she was photographed hitchhiking on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, or displaying herself in all her black-leather predilections — which the home folks in Detroit, Brooklyn, Oakland, South Boston, South Philly, Pittsburgh, Omaha, and Butte were going to call dirty — still, with all we are offered of her fantasies, one basic fantasy is never expressed: There has not been a single photograph ever published of Madonna with her legs spread.
Ah! She draws the line. We may have to redefine our media universe. Is this the last barricade left in our leachedout TV society? Can celebrities get away with everything except giving the public a look at their genitals? Yes, is the answer: Gods always keep one last refuge.
MAILER: Let’s try an exam question: Is bisexuality a universal human trait?
MADONNA: I don’t know. I used to say yes, because there are times I really feel bisexual.