Over the years, Madonna has demonstrated an infallible knack for attracting attention — and turning controversy to her advantage. In 1989, she earned $7 million and a heap of publicity when Pepsi hired her to make a commercial based on her hit Like a Prayer: the company cancelled the spot because of the furor over the video for the song, which showed her seducing a black male saint in a chapel. During her Blond Ambition tour, Toronto police only seemed to play into her hands by threatening her with arrest for simulating masturbation onstage — in the end, there were no charges. Last year, TV music channels banned her Justify My Love video, a soft-core portrayal of an omni-sexual interlude in a hotel room. But it found an audience on American network news and became a Christmas best-seller. More recently, at the Academy Awards, Madonna usurped Cher’s traditional scene-stealing role by showing up hand-in-glove with superstar Michael Jackson.
Tidbits: Almost everything Madonna does is of consuming interest, and not only to her fans. Now, with Truth or Dare, she has raised the stakes again. Well before the movie’s public release, the media have condensed its salacious tidbits into the most provocative chapter in the Madonna legend to date: Madonna flashes her breasts for the camera; Madonna announces “I’m getting a hard-on” while watching two male dancers French-kiss; Madonna simulates oral sex by deep-throating an empty litre of mineral water; Madonna reminisces about having sex with childhood girlfriend Moira Messana. Then there is the celebrity gossip. Madonna calls Beatty a “pussy man.” And she mocks Kevin Costner’s awkward praise as soon as he has left her dressing room — “Anyone who calls my show ‘neat’ has got to go.”
A Hollywood studio executive once said that Madonna is a movie star without a movie. Truth or Dare makes her the star of a home movie with the help of a novice director, 26-year-old Alek Keshishian. Shattering the invincibility of her image, Keshishian’s camera often portrays her in a starkly unflattering light, as a cold, bitchy, self-obsessed prima donna. Yet that seems only to make her more interesting. The director says that his subject gave him a free hand. “She really wanted to see how far I would go,” Keshishian told Maclean’s. “But the biggest myth about Madonna is that she just sits there and figures out what is the most controversial thing she can do. In an ideal world — the kind that Madonna is hoping to create — nothing that she does would shock people.”
Regardless of whether it is a measure of the world’s imperfection, Madonna’s shock value continues to rise. Aptly timed to coincide with the release of her movie, a two-part interview in The Advocate, a Los Angeles-based magazine about gay issues, generated more controversy. She told the publication that she is “aroused by the idea of a woman making love to me while either a man or another woman watches,” although she added: “Just because I’m presenting life in a certain way doesn’t mean I do all these things.” She also offered a gracious answer to a question about Beatty’s endowment (“a perfectly wonderful size”). And she said that he once told her that he regretted never having slept with a man.