Madonna: “An American Witch”

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is

the most despised woman of them all?

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Although I am a Madonna fan, I accept not liking Madonna’s music or voice.  People like music for different reasons, and Madonna is not the most talented musician, vocalist, or lyricist (she’s admitted as much).

Trashing musicians (let alone the most vile of them all “pop stars”) is also not exclusive to Madonna, but there has always been something especially pitchforky in the collective tone when it comes to her. After 30 years, I’ve heard most of the arguments against her, including but not limited to: Madonna is an irrelevant, manipulative, lip synching, untalented, materialistic opportunist who perpetuates the objectification of women and has forever ruined music.

Recently, however, press coverage and public discourse regarding Madonna has also had an undercurrent of “isn’t she gone yet?” with a splash of “pinch me, I think she’s irrelevant, and here’s my hour long dissertation and handout notes explaining why…”

Case in point.  After originally reading the reviews of Madonna’s then forthcoming album, MDNA, I was eager to hear it.  There were the typical pointed, not-so-kind reviews that seemed more personal than objective, but overall feedback was positive or positive-leaning.  Consensus was that Madonna was in her element, creating good dance music again.   Sold.

Naturally, the 20% of the reviews that were bad took up 80% of the coverage and 99% of the conversation.  After news outlets begrudgingly reported that Madonna’s album debuted at number #1 on Billboard, the following week they were in a frenzy, stumbling over themselves to brand her an “epic fail”, because her album fell to #8 on the charts… marking the largest decline in one week sales for a #1 album in Billboard history.

Surely, the end was nigh. The hour was upon us. It was best to lock up the children.

I was struck by the jubilation in the narrative, like a battle against Medusa had just been won.  Add to the media’s coverage the growing chorus of people eager to proclaim her finally a failure, and I likened Madonna to a witch being marched through a mob…

“We demand an end to Madonna’s evil disco tyranny.  We will settle for nothing less than the Queen of Pop’s head on a platter!”

Fine.  Let’s do this.  I’m tired of fighting. But before we proceed, I just have one question for the mob…

What egregious crime has Madonna committed?

  • Is it her lyrics? Because if you actually listen to her music, she’s mostly singing about love and acceptance.  There are worse things to condemn.
  • Is it her ambition? In America we honor hard work, ingenuity, and accomplishments.  If Madonna were an Olympian, and ticket / album sales were a competition, career longevity was the marathon to be won, Madonna would be holding the gold. We’d erect statues in her name.
  • Is it because she’s annoying or offensive?  Really? Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Is my pitchfork and bad breath inviting to others?”
  • Is it her political and religious views?  Hmmm, we may be getting somewhere…
  • Is it because Madonna is a woman?

Madonna hasn’t always been in her 50’s, but she’s pretty much always been written off as a has-been past her prime.  She has always been a woman not to be taken seriously, because Madonna is a woman selling her sex, and by that I mean – womankind.

Whether you think she has helped or hurt the women’s movement, maybe we can agree – Madonna is an extreme, the counter Adam… Eve, the original good girl gone wild.

Madonna personifies what women have historically been told they couldn’t be (and after years of “progress” shouldn’t be): aggressive, independent, strong willed, and proud.

Madonna is living proof that it’s okay to be both powerful and girly.  You can like girly things, sing girly songs, and hang with girly boys.  You can be a girl that kisses girls, because there’s nothing wrong with being and loving a girl.

And in the process of being unabashedly unashamed of being a woman, Madonna committed the egregious act worthy of a mob. She became the undisputed top selling female recording artist in history… emasculating her detractors.

Admittedly, I find it odd that in my 40’s, I’m defending Madonna.  Take comfort, over the years I’ve placed much emphasis on the question, why do I even care?  Clearly, she’s doing just fine without my defense.  But it wasn’t until recently, with ageism now added to the chorus, calls from the mob for Madonna “to start acting her age”, that I began to realize why I care…

Turns out, why I care is the same reason I’m a Madonna fan, why in my 40’s I’m still eagerly buying the optimism she’s selling.  Because I hate bullies.  I hate judgement.  And I hate hate.

Madonna is a lesson to be learned and appreciated.   She is proof that with hard work, creativity, and perseverance, a girl from Detroit can conquer the world, even when faced with a growing mob.  But we don’t celebrate Madonna.  She is an epic fail, a woman to be marched through the mob and spat upon, to be judged and ridiculed for our pleasure.

Ignore and discount Madonna’s accomplishments.  They don’t matter.  Not here.  We damn Madonna for being unconventional.  She is un-American for daring to be free.

Madonna is a witch, and an old one at that.

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I’d like to leave the mob with a cautionary reminder about persecuting witches.  Their trials tend to be less about justice and more about the mob.

Madonna isn’t an evil disco Queen feeding on youth.  She is the mirror on the wall, reflecting how you choose to see her and react.

I won’t begrudge you the music that finds you inspired, the fairy-God diva that helps you envision a better you to a disco beat.  So don’t begrudge me Madonna.

The Lady has earned her spot on this dance floor.

Stop being a bully. Grow up and dance.

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Progressive politics and the politics of Madonna are the subject of “Guy Penn & the Gospel According to Madonna” written by Damon Wallace. 

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30 Comments

  1. Jack

     /  August 16, 2013

    What i find odd about all this, is that the media want to ‘finish’ Madonna, yet replace her with a much cheaper carbon copy of who she was and who she is. They want to replace her with a caricature they can mould, bend and break at will. A carbon copy that wont refuse or challenge, question or quarrel. In that replacement they have pinned all expectations on a young manufactured star named GaGa, hows that for an insult?! All GaGa has to do is stick two fingers up at the media and thats it, she’s over, because they will then say she is over! They rule her, she has no voice, she is a corporate creation in Madonna’s image put out to do all that Madonna did, only she wont be reaping what Madonna has, they will! She is a corporate slave, the anti Madonna.

    Reply
  2. William Hargett jr.

     /  February 23, 2013

    I love you. I read reviews about her and get furious. You articulately manage where I want to scream and punch people. The Washington post review of MDMA is worthy of a look up to prove your theory. It was fucking ridiculous, mean and totally inaccurate… As is most written about the American witch!!! I love you

    Reply
  3. Hi, are we soulmates?? If I didn’t have 1000 other things I needed to do, I’d be writing a blog abt Madonna, too. Love your writing, love your ideas, I do hope you get that pop music is ageist and there’s nothing we can do abt it. J.lo only got back on bc of Idol, Mariah has yet to, you will not see Celine or Babs on the singles chart, tho they have a strong enough fanbase to always have #1 albums…..and I DETEST witch being used derogatorily as Wicca is one of religions (I think it best to study as much as u can and pick the best elements out of them and create your own worldview…after all, any religious movement is started by someone’s ‘a-ha’ moment…what makes theirs anymore special than yours??). So Im a taoist, buddhist, hindu, kabbalist witch, if you must know, but those are mere labels we are forced to wear in this life, barriers between our happiness as a planet I hope are broken as we are entering this new age……and, ps, I mentioned Wicca in my previous post before seeing you had a article called ‘Madonna: An American Witch’…loves it!!!!

    Reply
    • Hey And.r.u – Just read through both your replies. Loving your enthusiasm! And no worries, I am with you on the ageism. I definitely know it played a role with Madonna, especially in the US, but I suspect AL sealed the deal. Ageism will be another article all together. Stay tuned… 😉 Thanks for the feedback!

      Reply
  4. qraigdegroot

     /  August 26, 2012

    Thanks for finding and and pointing me to your blog! I bow down! That is stellar writing. Keep it up!

    Reply
  5. Trey

     /  August 16, 2012

    Spot ON!

    Reply
  6. Very well written & objective.

    Reply
    • Thank you. Objectivity was a struggle at times (many revisions) but I tried. Appreciate the feedback.

      Reply
  7. great job! this response is a little late but here goes: i have always felt that Madonna’s depth goes beyond the “pop-singer”, and i think its important that we recognize why there has been, is now and always will be mud hurled at her. You are absolutely right, She is a woman of confidence and irreverence who has never bowed to the patriarchal construct surrounding her industry and society in general. the mob-mentality towards her and other women like her sends the message that if you want to be an independent, strong woman with opinions and views on things considered to be the domain of men and never apologize for it, then be prepared to pay the price. the character she created of a strong, intelligent, sexually confident woman, juxtaposed with the sacred and subservient connotations of her name, add up to an irresistible confection of freedom for reformed Italian-catholic gay boys like myself and for women everywhere. This is a woman who in my opinion changed the way we look at not just female sexuality but human sexuality. her social impact is something more often than not, overlooked or severely down-played. so thank you for giving an honest voice as to why we are so quick to put her in a cage (and sorry for my long winded response…i love the lady, i cant help it).

    Reply
    • No apology necessary. Great feedback! I agree with you, especially about placing Madonna in the “pop star” category. I tend to see performance artists like Madonna as modern day art works, more comparable to paintings that are open to interpretation and reflect the times we live in. In this respect, indulge me (it’s her birthday), Madonna is the Mona Lisa brought to life, a masterpiece to admire from behind the velvet rope. 😉

      Reply
  8. None of those acts you mentioned have been more critically acclaimed than Madonna. Her level of acclaim on best-of/greatest/most important features and lists is far far more than those acts. Other than that- good. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Jim. I could have done a better job of making my point. At one time or another, people I’ve debated over the years have argued that [fill in blank w/ any name from list above] is a better artist than Madonna, so I was reliving many of those past discussions. Likewise, I’m also guilty of putting too much stock in the Grammy’s, which didn’t recognize M with an award until 1992 (and has remained way too stingy IMO). To your point, when you look at the totality of awards and acclaim there’s no competition.

      Reply
  9. Great Article mirrors a lot of what I’ve been saying over and over again about the witch hunts against her love her or loathe her one thing no one can deny is through hard work and savvy she has stayed on top for 30 years and is still a great show woman. I admire everything about her and she knows she might get vilified but still speaks out and says what she thinks to defend those that dont have a voice it takes great strength and courage to stand up against the world an popular opinion and say what you think and she’s been doing that from the start. However I do feel the title of Queen is long since gone she has surely ascended to goddess of pop and to steal a Evita title the perpetual spiritual leader of pop and dance music after all as has been said music can be defined in two terms pre madonna and post madonna and post madonna theres very few female artists that dont name her as an influence. As for the ageism it seem to be one thing they can clutch to but their its been applied to so many more lately after the olympics closing ceremony so many people said why get george michael, annie lennox, the pet shop boys and even the spice girls out their past it and not relevant. I think people need to remember if you enjoy what your doing you dont just stop because your getting older you continue why should anyone have to stop doing what they love because of their age and I salute Madonna for continuing to push boundaries and do what she’s doing I hope in 20years as she’s 20 years my senior and I’ve been a fan since the age of six I’ll still have half the energy and enthusiasm she has all hail Madonna.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Quin! Glad you could relate. I love the title “Perpetual Spiritual Leader of Pop and Dance Music”. I may have to borrow that sometime. 😉

      Ageism definitely applies to others beside Madonna. I also heard some remarks about George Michael and the Pet Shop Boys relevance. But I suspect we would’ve heard less negative comments about age if it was Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones performing at the Olympics. Seems to me “rockers” (i.e. older straight dudes with guitars) are more celebrated, while others (like Madonna and George) are more discounted… It speaks to what society is conditioned to respect and appreciate… but I’m probably getting too analytical for my own good.

      Moral of the story, to your point, we should celebrate everyone’s contributions regardless of age, race, sex, sexual preference, etc… Appreciate the feedback.

      Reply
  10. alaina

     /  August 14, 2012

    who is the artist that did the painting of her? Love it!

    Reply
  11. DJ JIMMYP

     /  August 14, 2012

    It is our society that likes to build up stars and then tear them down. Agreeably, Madonna does not have a great voice..but..she has a good pulse on the dance world …Many better voices have fallen to the wayside because they do not know how to market themself or re-invent/ update themselves. Lady M changes with the times or set trends but has always depended on controversey and masterful marketing with catchy tunes to stay on top while incorporating the trendiest DJ’s as remix artists.

    If you look at her latest album, it was pure genius to appear as the half time Super Bowl show, where she premiered a new single which was football band themed…how original is that? The album has spawned many remixes already and she has managed to cause controversey in France and Russia while knocking out remixes of mediocre songs into great dance singles of today. THIS is why Madonna is still revelvant.

    DJ JIMMY P
    FT LAUDERDALE

    Reply
    • Agreed. Beyond being talented and bold, Madonna is a very savvy business woman with a pulse on culture and society. The fact that she doesn’t have the greatest voice but is the #1 female recording artist in history speaks volumes to her smarts and dedication.

      Reply
  12. I am one of Madonna’s BIGGEST fans and she is more loved then anyone so quit being jealous of her. she went through this 20 years ago with Erotica and look at where she is…. stilll going strong and being the most successful woman in music. tha is why she is ‘The Queen’ and noone comes close to her at all.

    Reply
  13. what I love about Madge is her ability to continually reinvent herself. She has the rare quality of being ‘self-possessed’ and that confidence shows

    Reply
    • Agree wholeheartedly. About the confidence, I always say “I wish I was half the man Madonna is”…

      Reply
  14. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words

     /  May 18, 2012

    you write as you hear..feel…?
    that is a natural way of being, and it makes reading to understanding flow with calm energy
    no matter what the subject…
    I always wonder why if a woman is different she is a Witch….as if it were evil
    before women got the label of Witch when the Druids folded into the
    Christian world, they were Druids..not Druidess there was no separation…
    they were all healers..walked within nature and a Divine source Goddess
    but they embodied both energies of feminine and masculine….
    God and Goddess….yes I know…there were unsavory in that walk also…
    but it life..human…free will…our only control is how we react to the actions
    being presented to us…
    I like Madonna…sometimes she is a little too far out there…but she is still Madonna…

    I liked this….very well written…
    Take Care…
    )0(
    ladybluerose

    Reply
    • Thanks for the feedback, ladybluerose. I write as I feel, then read what I’ve written aloud before making revisions, so in answer to your question all of the above. It seems “witch” is often synonymous with a woman being unconventional / nonconformist. If a woman is different, independent, or free spirited, she is made to seem “scary”.

      Reply
  15. I like your writing style and honesty! Last time I really loved Madonna was Ray of Light… and I have tried since. She never returns my calls…

    Reply
    • Thanks Mark! I’ll let Madge know to return your call (she’s easily distracted). I was reading your posts about Tales of The City. I love the series and lived in SF for awhile. I soooo wanted to be a part of the Barbary Lane family. I enjoyed your writing too and thought the overall presentation of your blog was excellent. Great to meet you!

      Reply
      • Thanks, Guy. very nice of you to say so – you have a cool blog too!

  1. Revelations Of An Idolater | Guy Penn

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