A pop culture addict who loves to talk about movies, music, books, comics, and all of the other things that move and entertain us.
I remember being up late one night and catching Madonna's Truth or Dare on HBO. I was already a heavy metal fan at this point, but I decided I had to watch this movie for two reasons. One was that it was wildly controversial at the time, and being around 13 years old if I was told I shouldn't see something then I did everything in my power to see it. The other reason was that at 13 I already had a longtime fascination with and attraction to Madonna. I was watching the movie, made up of concert footage and backstage clips. I was enjoying it, because even though I was a newly minted metal head I still secretly enjoyed pop music. Then the infamous scene came on. If you don't remember what all the fuss was about, there was a part of her show where she was lying on a bed and simulating masturbation. As an early teenage boy I found this very exciting, and let's just say nature took it's course. Unfortunately I must have had the sound up too high and woke my mother. She walked into the living room and promptly freaked out. I am not sure I ever really did convince her that she had not seen what she had obviously seen, but for both our piece of minds we pretended that I had. Of course this was neither the first nor the last time that Madonna played a prominent role in both my fantasy world and in my burgeoning sexuality.
Madonna was born in 1958 to a Catholic family. Being Catholic was a huge part of what shaped what she became. Obviously her name comes from her Catholic background, but I also cannot think of a religion more ready to have it's elements fetishized. The way it pushed guilt and sexual repression, the uniforms it forces priests and nuns to wear, and it's tendency to corporal punishment are all begging to be subverted into the territory of kink. She moved to New York in 1978 to become a modern dancer. She was in two bands while she was there, first the Breakfast Club, leaving that to form Emmy. She decided to go solo, a smart move as she likely would not have had the same impact had she been the front woman for a group. After two singles were released she made her first album, which had three hit singles, Holiday, Borderline and Lucky Star.
Madonna had a style that capitalized on both facets of the images her name evoked, being both trashy and wanton, but at the same time still strangely innocent and cute. Known for her fashion sense early on, she inspired girls everywhere to wear ripped lace and fishnet stockings, a strange marriage of punk and pop styles visually. Her second album Like a Virgin is the one that really put he over the top. And it was one performance from this era that brought her to my attention, kick starting puberty and my fascination with her in the process. At the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards she performed Like a Virgin dressed in a wedding dress with white gloves. She writhed around on the stage and at that point in my life it was the most blatantly sexual thing I had ever seen. I remember being fascinated but not quite sure why. I began to suspect that girls might be more fun than I had previously realized.
It was soon after this that Madonna began appearing in movies. I watched the movies because I was fascinated with her, but I was more interested in watching the standard fare for boys my age like Star Wars and Rambo. Her first tour she took out the Beastie Boys, another of my childhood favorites, though for much different reasons. In 1985 Penthouse and Playboy published nude pictures of her that were taken back in 1978, but these being pre-internet days boys had little to no access to adult magazines like this and it would be several more years before my over-excited pubescent eyes would get to behold Madonna in all her natural glory. She made True Blue and Who's That Girl, which were both a little tame compared to her earlier exploits. Her hold over me began to lessen somewhat. Then she released Like a Prayer.
The first single from Like a Prayer of course was controversial for Madonna making out with a black Jesus statue brought to life. Sadly I think people in my neck of the woods were more upset that she was making out with a black man than the fact that it was Jesus. However, it was the Express Yourself video thought brought my Madonna obsession raging back to life. This video had elements of kink all through it, with her being dressed in various fetishy costumes and crawling across the floor to lap milk from a dish. I had never seen images like this before, and I couldn't stop watching it. Soon after this she released Vogue, which hearkened back to the black and white film stars of the 40's, who I have always felt oozed a sexuality that film stars of other eras somehow never had. Following this were the movie Truth or Dare which I mentioned above, and the video for Justify My Love, which I was unfortunately not able to see until much later but of course heard all about. It fueled my imagination when I considered what tawdry sexual acts must have been on display to cause it to be banned. Later on she produced a book of photography titles Sex, had album titles like Erotica, and made a video garbed in latex fetish gear.
I've never been quite sure if it just happened that Madonna evolved into being more sexual as I grew older and had more interest in all the different aspects of sex, or if I became more interested in sexuality because Madonna began to preach from the bible of kink. I do know that she and her videos awakened thoughts in me that I had never had before. It gave me longings that I did not understand. She made the message clear that it is okay to want sex, to be sexual, and that pleasure is a worthy pursuit. She was obviously influential with females and with gay men, but we shouldn't forget the impact she also had on us straight boys who watched her writhe across our screens. Her music was simply okay, catchy pop that wasn't earth shaking but was pretty good for what it was. Her real impact came through her image and her message that we are sexual creatures with appetites that were okay to indulge in a safe and consensual manner. I don't think there has been anyone who has been as provocative or as liberating when it comes to human sexuality before or since. And even though she has toned it down quite a bit, she is still out there all these many years later entertaining people and being sexy as hell doing it. Not many artists get that opportunity once their initial run of popularity has run its course. So I think it's only fitting to say, Thank you Madonna. You showed me sides of the world and myself that I didn't know existed. Oh yeah, and I thought A League of Their Own was a pretty good movie too.
© 2017 Gracchus Gruad