“I don’t have the same hang-ups that other people do, and that’s the point I’m trying to make with this book,” Madonna na says, scrunching up waiflike in a corner of the sofa. “I don’t think that sex is bad. I don’t think that nudity is bad. I don’t think that being in touch with your sexuality and being able to talk about it and being able to talk about this person and their sexuality [is bad]. I think the problem is that everybody’s so uptight about it that they make it into something bad when it isn’t, and if people could talk about it freely, we would have people practicing more safe sex, we wouldn’t have people sexually abusing each other, because they wouldn’t be so uptight to say what they really want, what they really feel.”
Nevertheless, legions of parents of Madonna fans will probably be outraged and consider Sex crude and salacious. Do you really want your kid thinking these things? Knowing these things? Doing these things? Feminists will blanch at her cavalier attitude toward issues such as spouse abuse, and many others will undoubtedly see the book nothing more than a risky, if not downright desperate, bid to stay in the public’s mind, no matter what the consequences. “This is high-stakes on every level,” says Callaway, “in publishing terms, in ethical terms, financially, artistically.”
Madonna’s celebrity is unique in that it seems to depend as much on repugnance as on acceptance. Her fame frame, unlike that of most other mega-stars, rests very much on people who love to hate her — while monitoring her every move – and on others who hate to love her, as well as on the traditional adoring fans. Perhaps it’s not surprising that even academics are doing a brisk trade in Madonna-ology. This fail the pop star’s major competition in the book world is a collection of essays entitled The Madonna Connection: Representational Politics, Subcultural Identities, and Cultural Theory (Westview Press)
She’ll take it all. Anything, it seems, even derision, in order just not to fade away. Certainly there is no shame, and there never has been. In 1984, Madonna’s fame exploded with “Like a Virgin”; at the same time, a negative cover story appeared in Rolling Stone, recalls Liz Rosenberg, her longtime publicist and close friend. “We found out then it was because people both hated and loved her. Suddenly everyone had to take a stance on Madonna.” Rosenberg quickly adds, “I love when people really hate Madonna — Madonna does, too. She’d rather that than apathy.”
These days, however, with Sex on the horizon, the affable Rosenberg is holding her breath. “I’ve been at this point in Madonna’s career before,” she says with a sigh. Rosenberg, who is head of publicity for Warner Bros. Records, has already gone through at least a half-dozen other controversies over Madonna, involving vulgarity, blasphemy, and sexual explicitness, from “Like a Prayer” to “Justify My Love” to Truth or Dare. They seem to come along every year or so. Still, Rosenberg seems shaken by what she has seen in Sex. “There’s a lot to hate in that book,” she admits. She also worries for Madonna’s security. “Psychos might see there’s a message in it for them.”
Surely, Sex is a middle finger raised to those who preach “family values.” It is also bound to drag its publisher’s parent, Time Warner — already under fire for first defending the “cop-killing” lyrics of rapper Ice-T and then, at his request, removing the offensive single from the album — once more into the sort of controversy that stockholders abhor. The book has a sleek high-tech, Pop-art design—spiral binding and metal covers — and it is meant to be thought of as “almost like a sex toy,” according to Fabien Baron. It also contains a CD of Madonna’s soon-to-be-released single, “Erotic,” with lyrics that fit the themes in the book. From Madonna’s so-far-unerring point of view, Sex is her hedge against getting stale, her latest ploy to stay the leader of the pack, to be downtown and artsy — more Andy than Marilyn. It’s a product designed to melt whatever plastic still clings to her too callow or too pop musical image, and a way to counterprogram the defunct — for her — notion of overexposure.
“She has to reinvent herself every time out, and if she misses the wave, she’s history,” says prominent music-business attorney John Eastman, who does not represent Madonna but handles such stars as Paul McCartney and Billy Joel. “She’s a phenomenon rather than a deep creator.” So, like, just when you thought Madonna might be stuck catching pop flies in her cap and sliding into second with her tender No. 1 summer hit, “This Used to Be My Playground,” from A League of Their Own, wailing in the background — POW! We are introduced to the Naked Marketeer.
Consider her global plan. Sex will be the biggest international launch of a book ever: on October 21, 750,000 copies go on sale simultaneously in Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany, and the United States, in all the various languages. The book retails for $50 a copy, so the profit on the first printing alone could run to $20 million. More than two million copies of her album Erotica will he released, at the same time. Together, she says, they are the work she’s most proud of to date. The videos will not he far behind. Naturally, hype has dictated that Sex be a work conceived in tightest secrecy; it has already survived a theft broken up by an F.B.I. sting, and it is hitting the bookstores in a vacuum-packed Mylar bag that has to be cut open. To keep the heavy breathing hot, Madonna wants no copies of the hook displayed outside the Mylar hag, and the package carries a label warning that Sex is for adults only. She is arrogant enough to want consumers to buy her sight unseen, so to speak.
Then, in late January, Madonna will perform simulated sex and masturbation on 2,000 screens across the country in Uli Edel’s courtroom drama, Body of Evidence, for which she was paid $2.25 million, a modest sum considering her celebrity but not in light of her track record onscreen (eight movies and only three commercial successes — Desperately Seeking Susan. Dick Tracy, and A League of Their Own, in which she has a minor role). Body of Evidence, which co-stars veteran actors Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, and Anne Archer, is the less-than-heartwarming story of a psychotic sex friend who is accused of murdering the rich old man she’s involved with by screwing him to death. A studio executive says it’s about “hard sex — there’s no loving here.” Madonna made even big Hollywood players gasp when the dailies were shown. “All of us were really shocked watching these sex scenes. You never quite expect to see this behavior in a star.” The executive can only offer by way of explanation, “She has not conquered movies yet; it’s an obsession with her.” But what is she really up to? In the view of one Hollywood observer, “She’s out to desensitize us and demystify sex.”