Do you pander to male fantasy?
She sighs. “Maybe I do – who cares? I certainly pander to my own fantasies. I always serve up fantasy with a twist, we talked about this in the beginning with my songs. There’s always subtext going on. And I’m sure that lots of men were completely offended by all those pictures in my Sex book of two men getting it off. There’s probably a lot of men out there who really aren’t quite sure what to think of me.”
The one really unsettling image in Sex is the ‘rape fantasy’ in the gym. Were you aware that you had to handle it very carefully, or was it just another photograph?
Madonna looks at me questioningly:
“Where the two schoolboys are attacking me and I’m wearing my Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform?… It was just another fantasy of mine, being overpowered. I have been raped and it’s not an experience I would ever glamourise. But I know that there are a lot of women who have that fantasy where they are overpowered by two men or a group of men.”
The term ‘rape fantasy’ is an oxymoron anyway. Rape means to take by force. against somebody’s will.
“Exactly. In my photograph it’s obviously completely consensual. Everybody wants to do it. I have a smile on my face because I am having a good tone, I suppose it’s not really a rape fantasy if the woman wants to do it. It’s just a case of pretending not to be interested when you really are.”
I didn’t know that you’d been raped.
“You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”
Was it a date rape situation, someone you knew?
“No… a complete stranger.”
Did you get help afterwards?
“No. I was very young and I didn’t know anybody. I’d just moved to New York and… It was a very educational experience.”
Madonna grimaces and falls silent.
Would you rather stop talking about this?
“I don’t want to talk about it only in that…” she pauses, choosing her words carefully, “I don’t want to get into this Oprah Winfrey/Sinead O’Connor thing of, ‘Oh, everybody, all these horrible things have happened to me!’ I don’t want to make it an issue. I think that I’ve had what a lot of people would consider to be horrific experiences in my life. But I don’t want people to feel sorry for me because I don’t.
“It happened a long time ago so over the years I’ve come to terms with it. In a way it was a real eye-openning experience. I’d only lived in Now York for a year and I was very young, very trusting of people. I came from the mid-West and I was walking around New York City like everyone was my friend. That experience completely turned me round in terms of becoming much more street smart and much more savvy. It’s that old expression, y’know, everything than doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I was very disturbed about it afterwards but I knew that I couldn’t go back home. There was just no way that I was going back home.”
How could you bear to turn that experience into art? Surely touched a nerve in you?
“No, because in the photograph it isn’t me being raped. As I said, it was something I wanted. I’m playing the coquette, the virgin or whatever, and they are the bad boys. They take me but only because I give them the opportunity to.”
Madonna stares at me pointedly to nuke sure that I understand and then prepares to close the subject.
“The thing about what happened to me is that.. although it was devastating at the time, I know that is made me a much stronger person in retrospect. It forced me to be a survivor. That’s all there is to it”
Such is the dehumanisation of Madonna that some people may deduce she is capable of using even this experience as a means to produce more column inches. Not that she cares, she’s more than used to it.
“Some people out there think everything I do is a publicity stunt,” she points out, wearily, “they think when I go to the bathroom it’s a publicity stunt.”
One thing is evident. Madonna isn’t bullshiting when she says that she’s a survivor. This mindset is there in everything she says and does. You might see Madonna misbehaving on Lettarnan, or acting like a spoiled control freak in the In Bed… movie, but you’ll never catch her whingeing. You’ll never spot Madonna on her knees, begging the world to look after her, or taking out the trash in the Betty Ford clinic. Nor is she ever likely to ‘apologise’.
One role the thespian-minded Madonna unit never hanker after is that of celebrity victim. Some people will never forgive her for that.
As for her fame, it is obvious that, despite its drawbacks. this particular tabloid whipping post is far more comfortable with superstardom than she would have been with a lesser degree of celebrity. Madonna is, after all, a woman who wanted it all and got far more than she ever dreamed of.
Nor does she seem ready to hang up her coned bra yet. Apart from the great songs, wicked quotability and chameleon good looks, Madonna has that something which sets the real artists apart from the pretenders. Madonna will never be finished because she has a very real sense of unfinished business. She’ll probably still be dancing and kicking and screaming as they lower her coffin into the ground.
What is is that turns a celebrity into an icon?
She thinks for a moment. “That happens when people start identifying with you in an even more unrealistic way. All of a sudden you become the fulfilment of everyone’s dreams, this dehumanised figure that people become obsessed with. When you display a human characteristic you get knocked off your pedestal and that’s when the slagging off begins. That’s when I’m dismissed as this ambitious monster, this tart, this thing without talent.”
Will history exonerate you of all charges?
The Medusa of MOR smiles, clutching her hands together ‘melodramatically’.
“Yeah, when I’m dead… When I’m dead and no longer the thread. My comfort is that all the great artists since the beginning of time have always been completely misunderstood and never fully appreciated until they were dead. They didn’t understand Van Gogh and they crucified Jesus Christ…”
She breaks off giggling: “So there you go, that’s my solace.”