“And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colur, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls… And upon her forehead was a name written a mystery: Babylon The Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the Earth.”
Despite her awards and credentials, I usually don’t think of Madonna as a musician. As a fan and admirer, I’m more inclined to compare her to a work of art, a controversial “Mona Lisa” brought to life in a bustier.
Like a provocative work of art, Madonna sometimes gives me pause, triggers me to ask questions I wouldn’t normally consider. Such was the case when Madonna opened her 2004 “Reinvention Tour”, when she appeared on screen as the Whore of Babylon and recited verses from “Revelations”.
This essay is not an opinion piece about an artist. It’s not a defense of Madonna’s merits or her talent. This is my take on a portrait. It’s a commentary about fame, an answer to a question Madonna invited me to entertain from behind a velvet rope.
At the Forum in the City of Angels, screaming for Madonna from the seventh row, the irony wasn’t lost on me. If Madonna was the Whore of Babylon, then I was an abomination drunk on idolatry. More concerning still, such a development meant “the end” was near.
Should this be the case, I wondered – Who amongst us is the beast?
“And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.”
The Whore of Babylon’s identity is kept a mystery in Bible’s “Book of Revelations”, who or what she is remains unclear. Some have speculated that “she” is not a woman but the Vatican or the city of Jerusalem, while others believe the Whore is emblematic of greed, lust, and power.
Whatever the case, this much is largely agreed upon – the Whore of Babylon plays a pivotal role in the climactic final act of the New Testament. Through her, “the beast” is unleashed.
Although I am spiritual, I am no longer religious. So while I don’t believe Madonna is really the Whore of Babylon, where this portrait is concerned, I concede: She is one hell of a contender.
I suspect Madonna would be flattered by my comment. She clearly enjoys flirting with the role, has invited us all into her bed over the years. Outside of appearance and allure, however, my assessment is more all encompassing…
With Madonna, I argue, arrived a new kind of celebrity – the modern idol, the reality star. While there are many contributing factors, what made Madonna uniquely famous wasn’t her vocals, her acting, or sex appeal. However talented and attractive, in the end, Madonna’s celebrity was exceptional because Madonna – like the Mona Lisa – was the subject at hand.
30 years later, whether you abhor or idolize her, it’s safe to say – Madonna conquered Babylon. For better or worse, popular culture wouldn’t be the same had we lived in a world without Madonna.
Whether rebelling against the church or championing sexual empowerment, few businesses in modern times have been more industrious and revolutionary than Boy Toy Inc.. To deny Madonna’s influence would be to discount her unparallelled feats, would mean ignoring the Madonna prototype, the wannabees still churning off the conveyer belt 30-years deep.
Like it or not, Babylonians, where false idols are concerned – We are all still living in the “Age of Madonna”.
“And the angel said unto me, ‘Wherefore didst thou marvel?’ I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.”
I am a monogamous idolater. Madonna can be pretty demanding and high-maintenance, so the thought of squeezing in a little Gaga on the side, for one, is too exhausting to even consider.
Because of my exclusivity, I admit to getting a little defensive when it comes to Madge. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly attuned to the reaction she provokes. As vocal as her fans can be, detractors aren’t shy about despising Madonna out loud. To summarize the negative comments over the years, I’d conclude: Madonna is an untalented, manipulative, greedy opportunist with no moral compass or values, a predatory capitalist feeding on art…
Put more bluntly, Madonna is a whore.
Such responses have always struck me as ironic and misplaced for a woman singing about peace, love, and inclusion, so last August I began writing about the politics of Madonna.
To feature the essays, I chose the website address and pseudonym, Guy Penn, because I felt the name symbolically captured the other men “wed” to Madonna, her legion of gay fans.
As a gay man / recovering Catholic lured by Madonna’s blasphemous ways, the exploratory project was intended to be my long-form look back, my soul-searching answer to the question…
Why do I really like Madonna?
Upon completing my first essay a year ago, I already understood why. With more time and introspection, however, amidst the 2012 Presidential Election, I began to realize what this project is ultimately about…
Although I am an idolater, I wrestle with my admiration for Madonna. Not because I question her talent, grow tired of her music, or find her provocative actions annoying at times; what concerns me most about Madonna is the certain sacrifice any of us make when worshiping at the altar of celebrity.
Over the past year, whenever I completed an essay about Madonna, I felt the need to distance myself. Not because I felt silly or ashamed, but because I feared being swallowed by the illusion of Madonna’s celebrity, which is to say: I had to remind myself that I was writing about Madonna to learn more about me.
On the subject of idolatry, Madonna is quoted as saying, “If you want to pay tribute to me, do something important with your life.” The quote, of course, is echoed by her gospel, Madonna’s urgent call to action to love, dance, and live without inhibitions.
Age and experience (along with Madonna’s insistence) have taught me: it’s okay to dream, but dream out loud. Over the past year, specifically, I’ve realized that being a responsible idolator means Madonna and I must coexist. Although I respect her brand of heresy, the reason I write these essays is not because I adore Madonna. Instead, I’ve come to realize, I write in defense of the reaction she provokes.
Like Madonna, I too am seeking a revolution. In the context of this article, specifically, I’ve surmised the aftermath of Madonna’s celebrity. After scanning the crowd all these years, I’m writing today because, at last, my fellow Babylonians…
My eyes are locked upon the beast with seven heads and ten horns.
“And he said unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sat, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
Should I wake up tomorrow and discover it’s judgement day and that Madonna is, indeed, the Whore of Babylon, I wouldn’t hide my idolatry from the almighty. Like pretending to be straight, that would just make me a coward and a liar to boot.
I would, however, step forward and raise my hand in defense of the mother of harlots and abominations. Because only before the wrath of God, under such dire, sobering, apocalyptic conditions, would I have the conviction to note…
Should she be the Whore of Babylon, then Madonna did so while calling upon Babylonians to love one another, unconditionally, without prejudice in our minds and contempt in our hearts.
Don’t misunderstand me, Madonna is clearly no Jesus Christ; she operates by a very different code. While I suspect Madonna’s wounds run deep, unlike the son of God, she did not die for our sins…
I am arguing, though, Madonna lives for our sins.
If Madonna is the Whore of Babylon then her story is more reminiscent of our motherless Eve in Genesis, Act I. Stitched into a scarlet wedding gown, ordained in diamonds and pearls, Madonna has come to personify the modern “Bride of Sin” at curtain call. Drunk in a garden of serpents, writhing amongst harlots, thugs, and sodomites, Madonna is the manifestation of Babylon’s demons and fears, a woman feeding on all that is forbidden.
So, why should I idolize such a blasphemous woman? Because like Eve and Mary Magdalene after her, I contend: Madonna is misunderstood. She isn’t a sinner to be judged, so much as she is the lesson to be learned.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe Madonna is provocative because she seeks fame and wealth. As an astute pupil of Madge’s, I argue, fame and fortune are byproducts of Madonna’s ultimate ambition…
Madonna hopes to rule the world, because Madonna wants to save the world. She weathers the ridicule and mockery, hoping to draw our attention to the beast on which she rides, that snarky, venomous monster lurking within the heart of every Babylonian – Hate.
I rest palms at the Whore of Babylon’s feet, because few prophets, in my lifetime, have endured such ire and criticism in the name of love.
The Gospel According to Madge resonates with me because Madonna, like Jesus two thousand years before her, braves the sneers and taunting, the righteous indignation of the mob, on behalf of sinners like me.
I gravitate to this portrait, because I am a sinner in the garden of serpents. Madonna is but the gospel in my heart.
I feel that people are becoming more and more afraid of people who are different. People are becoming more and more intolerant.
On the eve #secretproject, I’d like to leave Babylon with a cautionary note…
If the battle before us is fought arming men against women, blacks against whites, straights against gays, Christians against Muslims, Lady Gaga fans against Madonna fans, Democrats against Republicans, etc… We will all eventually lose.
Before our looming day of judgement, we owe the almighty this moment of candor. The battle before us – always has been, and forever will be – a battle fought between love and hate.
Should we all cease to exist in a post-apocalyptic world, it will be because we ignored the Gospel According to Madge, we were deaf to her plea to be more Christlike, which is to say: more celebratory, forgiving, inclusive, and kind; less judgmental, spiteful, and cruel.
By definition “apocalypse” means: “a prophetic revelation, concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil…”
No more hesitating. It’s time. Pick a side.
Once you do, the revolution begins.
IN MADONNA, I PRAY
Progressive politics and the politics of Madonna are the subject of “Guy Penn & the Gospel According to Madge” by Damon Wallace.
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