Thomson on Madonna

Phil Ford

More Thomson:

Imagine that you are watching something that especially moves you—your two-year-old eating profiteroles; Joe Montana moving down the field; dawn at the Canyon de Chelly; or the close of Ugetsu Monogatari, whatever. Your communion with this spectacle is suddenly ruptured by what we will call a commercial break. This is all the more disturbing in that you did not know that what you were watching (the medium) was subject to such intrusions. You did not know the technology was yet available to come between you and the entire air and sky at Canyon de Chelly. But “they” have managed it, and the ad zips up every horizon. In that disaster, the ad—I suggest—should be he insolent, in-your-face “attitude” of Ms. Ciccone. There is no need for a product. There is nothing in Madonna to be advertised, except for her ironic, deflecting contempt. She is an ad for advertising; she is the famousness of celebrity; and a fit vehicle for an unusual kind of serial-killing movie—one in which photography poisons the world.


About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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2 Responses to Thomson on Madonna

  1. Galen says:

    Brutal, sure, but totally wrongheaded. Obviously I’m missing the context, but from what I read here he’s both missing the point and engaging in pretty appaling elitism.
    At the most simple, literal level it’s untrue that there’s nothing in Madonna to be advertised. She’s a talented artist who has recorded and released a number of great songs that have become standards in their own right. “Material Girl” and “Like a Prayer” come imediately to mind as Pop classics. Is Thompson an anti-pop elitist? It sure sounds like it.
    But there’s more to Madonna than just the great pop music. She’s a performance artist — arguably one of America’s most successful. Her relationship with her music, the media, and the public are experiments with the nature of fame. She uses her art to push the envelope with social issues, presumably in part because she believe in the issues, but also in order to experiment with what sort of power art and fame have. She consistently reinvents herself to as an experiment with the nature of the projected self, and with the ways in which our culture is susceptible to manufactured personalities. In one sense Thompson is right — Madonna is in part a big advertisement for Madonna, but in manipulating the culture and the media in order to be an advertisement for herself she is doing performance art about the nature of the medium and the nature of fame. Whether she’s doing these things deliberately, I can’t say for sure, although I think she is. We know that her goal was fame rather than devotion to a particular artform (she started out as a dancer, and has worked in film and modeling), and we know that she was active (I don’t know how active) in the NY downtown scene for a time, where this sort of performance art was flowering. But even if she’s actually just a self absorbed fame-addict in reality, the way that she interacts with the world is still best understood through the lens of performance art. And Thompson’s objection to her sounds to me (based on this one excerpt, obviously) like a basic distaste for the commercial rather than an actual informed, well-considered analysis.

  2. Eric says:

    Also, She’s possibly the greatest master of the music video; one of her mid-80s videos borrows from f**king ‘Metropolis’ by Fritz Lang. Now that’s hip! (However, when I watched this video as a kid I never ‘got’ the allusion; now that I’m armed with a decade of graduate school, I understand what’s going on.)

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