It’s important to note that Madonna’s urge to provoke does not limit itself to inspiring admiration. One only has to see what she allowed to remain in her rivetting and excruciating In Bed… on-tour movie to realise that she’s not at all afraid of appearing unlikable. She’d rather the world hated her than pitied her.
But there’s a price to pay for this independent mentality, this refusal to pander to the ghoulish ambulance chaser in us all to see celebrities f**** up. drop a stitch, go on the rehab merry-go-round, and plead for public understanding in the aftermath. Strong, naughty and unapologetic, Madonna might have the globe’s attention but she doesn’t have its sympathy.
Indeed, at times during the conversation, Madonna exhibits the strained, philosophical demeanour of somebody who realises that no-one’s going to look out for her but herself. Furthermore, far from being paranoid, she is absolutely correct to feel that a large proportion of the world is against her. Most of the criticism aimed at Madonna is far from constructive and frequently ridiculously sexist. More than arty mainstream female performer ever, she has become a global target, an international dartboard, for misogyny.
Some people might argue that she’s asked for everything she’s got; she calls it ‘artistic expression’, they call it ‘masturbating onstage’ (Different strokes for different folks?). She calls it ‘A book to provoke debate about secuality’, they call it ‘porn’. She calls it ‘paving the way’, they call it the strange and terrible sight of ‘that nice girl Kyle Minogue’ nervously pushing male dancers into her crotch at Wembley Arena… Or, worse, Wendy James.
The negative side of your legacy could be that you’ve ‘inspired’ a lot of misguided wannabes to enter the pop arena. In the belief that flashing their underwear is all it takes. Do you accept responsibility for these characters?
“No!” says Madonna emphatically.
“These people made a presumption that they shouldn’t have made. This idea that all I did was prance around in my underpants and that’s why I’m a success. Sure, having my pictures taken in the nude and doing things that I did got me in the door but it didn’t keep me in the room. To have lasted as long as I’ve lasted, obviously, I have to have something more going for me.”
Do you feel that your exhibitionism, your love of performance, has been used against you, turned into this dirty, shameful thing?
“Yes, and they do that to take my strength away. There isn’t a performer on earth that isn’t an exhibitionist. There isn’t any point in being in this business if you’re not an exhibitionist. And, by the way, you can be an exhibitionist and be very shy as well.”
“I can be… extremely shy.”
But you’re also a bit of a troublemaker?
She grins madly. “Of course I am. I’m absolutely wicked!… But there’s that other side of me that’s sweet and like a little girl. But nobody knows that, and how could they? Nobody could know that unless they know me”
You’re a huge fan of Elvis Presley’s. Do you think he would he have liked you?
“Absolutely, don’t you?”
No, I think he may have disapproved.
“Excuse me! Why would Elvis have disapproved of me?”
The Sex book, the crotch-stroking, all that…
“Well what about his career – people wouldn’t film him from the waist down on television for 20 years!”
But underneath it all, he seemed really old school and sexist. And two-faced, he was friendly to The Beatles but then told the FBI that they were delinquent dope smokers and should be arrested.
“Hahaha!… Meanwhile he’s a big drug addict!”
Exactly. And he made Priscilla sweat it out beneath a bouffant in his honour.
Madonna sighs dreamily. “Oh well, maybe he was a total sexist pig and a rotten husband, probably a rotten father, too… But he had an amazing voice and he was incredibly sexy. I can admire him from that point of view. Maybe he wouldn’t have liked me but who knows?… If he hadn’t died he might have had some sort of cataclysmic experience, been born again and become very spiritual and accepting and open-minded and embraced all I stood for…” She breaks off, honking with laughter.
“I doubt it!… Oh well, I suppose a person can dream.”
Do you think men…?
“Are dogs? Yes!”
Madonna collapses into another hysterical giggling fit. Finally, she composes herself. “Proceed!”
Do you think men, in general, disapprove of you – are you a target for misogyny?
“Absolutely… Powerful women are a threat in any society which is why I am such a target. Even other women are threatened by me. It’s disturbing but at the some time it’s inspiring because it makes me want to destroy all that. end it.”
Do you know instinctively if a man is a misogynist?
It’s an aura?
“Yeah, a big, black cloud they carry around with them. But, y’know, you have to have a few words with them to make sure.” she breaks off, suddenly arch, “conversation is always good… But you can always tell misogynists. Especially if they’re misogynistic through their work. If they’re artists – what they create, if they’re politicians – the things that they say… and so on.”
Is it significant that there isn’t an equivalent word for women who hate men?
“It’s extremely significant and there never will be because we live in a patriarchal society. Men are allowed to hate women but women aren’t allowed to hate men.”