Madonna For President

“Do you believe that we can change the future? Do you believe I can make you feel better? Too much confusion, come on over here.”

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When I was a boy, I believed that Democracy and the United States were mutually dependent on each other, that without one the other would cease to flourish and eventually wilt.

30 years later, it pains me to say: I was right. While I still live in America, for reasons forthcoming, I am no longer a citizen of a country united. And because of it, American Democracy is failing.

Drastic times call for drastic measures, and given the current state of American politics and the dysfunction of Washington DC, I feel strongly – It’s time to get drastic. So to break through the gridlock and incessant bickering of Republicans and Democrats, I’d like to take a moment to reinvent the party lines…

I call for the formation of the LUV Party, and I nominate Madonna to be President of the United States.

“I want the good life, but I don’t want an easy ride. What I want is to work for it, to feel the blood and sweat on my fingertips. That’s what I want for me.”

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Lady Liberty Incarnated

If you don’t see Madonna as a politician, then you haven’t been following the 30-year campaign of the singing Senator from Michigan, which is understandable given the demands. Supporting Madonna can be taxing. For starters, you have to ignore the hecklers and reject the notion that Madonna is an opportunistic sellout seeking attention. Because instead, as a supporter, you elect to take Madonna at her word. You believe her to be an outspoken girl from Detroit, determined to save the world one inclusive celebration at a time.

When considering wholesome American values – I get it – Madonna doesn’t leap to the forefront. Yet it’s for that very reason, I’m asking the singing Senator to intervene in Washington DC. Because after 30 years of calling out hypocrisy and defying social norms, regardless of whether we the people want recognize it or appreciate it, Madonna has not only come to embody the grit of independence; when examining her drive and ambition through a lens 30 years deep, it becomes increasingly evident…

Madonna is a star, arguably the most famous woman in the world, because Madonna is the manifestation of the great American experiment – Lady Liberty in the nude on a bearskin rug: raw, horny, and unapologetic.

Being outspoken alone doesn’t qualify Madonna to be President of the United States; there are already enough politicians to meet those qualifications. While Madonna champions of freedom of speech and I applaud her tenacity, I rally for Madonna because of what she says. Her words resonate with me personally, because I share her hopes for humanity. I too want America on the dance floor, inspired and dreaming again.

Supporting Madonna for President will likely be a leap too vast and daunting for most. Should you be up to the challenge, however, close your eyes and listen to Lady Liberty with an open heart. When you do, you may begin to realize – Madonna has been campaigning for the soul of America for the past 30 years. Each album a platform, each song a stump speech; Madonna has been inviting us all to be a little less judgmental and intolerant, a bit more optimistic, inclusive, and kind.

In the end, to be a member of the LUV Party, you need not be politically savvy. The platform is simple and qualifications are few. Membership starts with a perspective, a willingness to accept that America should be an inclusive nation, a celebration of cultures, colors, and views. As a member, you reject extremism, forsake judgement, and embrace those who are different from you. Because at its heart, the LUV Party has but one political adversary – Hate.

“There is no comprehension. There is real isolation. There is so much destruction. What I want is a celebration.”

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The Love Spent States of America

The signs are everywhere. The LUV Party’s political adversary has infiltrated America from within. The United States is no longer a government of the people, by the people, or for the people, so much as we are a people beholden to a wounded democracy that feeds on our fears and insecurities.

Politicians today openly incite intolerance and troll their opposition. Instead of serving the will of the people, it is far more lucrative for them to pit Americans against each other. As a result, while we vilify one another, adopt a “party first / country be damned” mentality, the working class has been systematically auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Further fueling the heated rhetoric is, of course, the news entertainment industry, which ultimately profits off viewer angst and distrust. The bottom lines of these six media empires are powered on American fears and biases. Challenging politicians to a “group hug” isn’t necessarily good for ratings, after all. So viewership is best when news is BREAKING, when Americans are provoked and feeling under attack.

Alarmist coercion aside, our adversary’s biggest contributor is, of course, apathy. Like many Americans, I am guilty of turning a blind eye to government dysfunction. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the ineptitude of Washington DC, so other than writing essays like this, what can I do to bolster American democracy?

For starters, I can research elections and turn off the TV, which is to say: I can value facts and ignore opinions. While I can’t stop ignorance in its tracks, I can vote against fear mongers at the ballot box and support candidates and news outlets that reinforce the LUV Party’s platform.

I can change the narrative. The United States, after all, is not a nation of prisoners shackled by boogeymen. We are a nation of individuals striving to be citizens of a more perfect union. As such, it would serve me well to remind others: the key to freedom, the very essence of American democracy, rests in the hands of our political opposition, our willingness to comprise for the sake of national interests.

“You can turn this world around, and bring back all of those happy days. Put your troubles down, it’s time to celebrate. Let love shine, and we will find a way to come together and make things better – We need a holiday.”

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A LUV Profusion

The United States government is in need of a love profusion, and I suspect a majority of Americans are like me, in that I’m tired of the disrespectful tenor and hyperbole of our politics. The 113th Congress is set to be least effective in US history, and for a country touting Democracy abroad, I find the tone and incompetence of our elected officials as unforgivable as I do embarrassing.

Whether you’ve voted Republican, Independent, or Democratic in the past, most of us recognize the corruption in politics. But seldom is the corruption so blatant and insulting.

We do still have a choice, however. We can continue to be apathetic and reward government malpractice, or we can dream again and celebrate Democracy. If elected officials refuse to fight for the will of the people, then it’s time to explore our options, however implausible…

While the thought of Madonna as President of the United States will likely humor most, I nonetheless applaud her efforts to start a revolution of love. What America needs now more than ever is a holiday, a moment to regain a sense of purpose and worth, and who better to lead the charge than Lady Liberty herself?

Should American Democracy collapse, it will be because we ignored the likes of Madonna and sided with fear. Ours will prove to be one of the bleakest chapters in American history: the generation that sacrificed the pursuit of happiness in order to be citizens of a less perfect union.

In the end, if the singing Senator has taught me anything, it’s that the fall of our adversary comes with a reckoning…

Should you deny freedom to another, freedom was never yours to deny. A healthy Democracy requires the courage to dream out loud, the heart to inspire others to be free. Keeping it, however, requires discipline and forgiveness, the wherewithal to emancipate those shackled by intolerance.

Come join the party. When voting at the ballot box, remember to choose LUV over Hate.

Vote Madonna. If nothing else, maybe we can terrify government into action.

Vote Madonna

About Lady Liberty’s Manifesto

The videos featured throughout this essay are taken from Madonna’s video manifesto, #SecretProject (to view the short film in its entirety click here).

The manifesto was released in September 2013 in response to a series of events that took place during Madonna’s 2012 MDNA World Tour, which included:

  • Gay rights violations in Russia, which led to Madonna being fined $10.4 million dollars (later dismissed) and the arrest of some of her gay supporters
  • The heightened threat of war between Israel and Iran, around the time Madonna was performing in Tel Aviv
  • The imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine and Pussy Riot in Russia
  • Backlash for supporting Obama in The United States during the election
  • The assassination attempt of Malala Yousafzai

In support of her manifesto, Madonna launched the Art for Freedom initiative, which encourages people to contribute works expressing their personal interpretation of freedom and the revolution of love. Every month, Madonna chooses a winning entry and awards $10,000 to a nonprofit organization that supports individuals and organizations working to advance social justice.

To join the revolution or view submissions, visit www.ArtForFreedom.com.

 

Madonna & The Plague

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“The light that you would never see.
It shines inside, you can’t take that from me.”
~ Madonna

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Prelude to a Dance.

As long as there’s been AIDS, there’s been Madonna.

madonna_aidsWhile the virus that causes AIDS predates Madonna’s fame, during the initial years of the outbreak the illness was referred to as G.R.I.D (Gay Related Immune Deficiency).  It wasn’t until August 1982 that the disease officially became known as AIDS, after the CDC offered “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” as a less discriminating alternative.

The summer of 1982 was also when a catchy new track began surfacing in New York City clubs. The pulsating groove was infectious, even Sire Records fell victim to the infused beats.  Later that October the record label signed a deal with the bohemian artist singing on the track, Madonna.

And so it came to be, like many gay men of my generation, my story came to be about a boy and two titans, each equally hellbent on world domination: Madonna and the Plague.

ACT I: “The Kid, the Stalker, and a Magic Poem”

I recall the day I first learned about AIDS.  My dad was reading the Chicago Tribune and tossed the completed front section on the floor.  On the back was a full page article about AIDS symptoms.  Among the many ailments listed: fevers, night sweats, wasting, soars in the mouth, and skin lesions.  And if the symptoms weren’t horrific enough, the article stressed that the disease had been especially devastating to the gay community.

It’s difficult to explain how I felt at that moment, but at best I’d describe it as seismic déjà vu. For a moment, time rippled like a tolling bell; I wasn’t reading an article in the newspaper, something menacing from my future was whispering “hello” in my ear.

screen-capture-37As an only child of working parents, I had a lot of time to obsess about my fears and confusion. Poetry, specifically, helped me write what was unbearable to speak.

With AIDS lurking about, by 1985 my poems centered around survival, my hopes of evading “the stalker”. It may seem irrational to be worried about AIDS at fourteen, but I was just coming to terms with my sexuality and had reservations about both lifestyles ahead. As I saw it, however, the decision wasn’t whether to be straight or gay. I knew what I was. Instead, I saw two very different alternatives:

  • In one life, I’d be a prisoner, locked away in a secret cell, peeping at my life regretfully through a keyhole.
  • In the other, I’d be a fugitive. Although I’d be stalked and likely captured, I’d be free to love who I choose.

Not getting AIDS was never a question.  Should I live life as a gay man, I was certain the disease would be my cross to bear.  Although I didn’t see it this way at the time, my decision ultimately came down a very American question – Was I willing to die young for freedom?

Being gay wasn’t the path I wanted to travel.  Yet despite AIDS, my upbringing, and the likely discrimination I’d encounter, being queer felt more honorable and brave. I had just enough foresight to realize that the alternative – lying, faking love and marriage – would be selfish and destructive for all involved.

13-03-13-madonna-secret-projectI said goodbye to a never-to-be wife, confident it was best for her and the kids. Then I closed my eyes and covered my ears, prayed my heart wouldn’t guide me off a cliff… too quickly.

Stumbling blindly into adulthood, I did my best to avoid AIDS, but it proved to be a futile task. By my late-twenties, AIDS was everywhere, and I was surrounded…

What happened in the mid 90’s is a separate post altogether, but suffice it to say – My pleasures depended on the permission of no one. Call it pent up frustration, but my twenties were reckless and carefree, a stark contrast to the introverted poet I was a teenager.

Unfortunately, because I was carefree in my twenties, I misplaced most of my poems from 1985.  Despite the loss of my journals, there was one poem – a simple rhyme that grew louder with each passing year – that haunted me throughout my adulthood.

In the end, that poem is the reason why I created the website, Guy Penn, and why I’m writing this specific post today…

ACT II: “A Fairy God-Diva named Madonna”

For 2 years, I’d done the impossible, I’d managed to ignore Madonna.

Up until 1985, what I knew about Madonna I didn’t like. I was annoyed with the song “Borderline”, because I thought the title was “Waterline”, and anyone comparing love to water pressure was just weird and not to be trusted. I also remember three girls singing “Holiday” during recess.  When I asked them what they were singing, they started squealing about seeing Madonna at “The Virgin Tour”, which was, by all accounts, totally gross.

But then came one fateful night. I was recording Friday Night Videos with my Betamax VCR, eager to capture my favorite song at the time, “We Are the World”.  The video that followed was “Material Girl”, featuring the one woman missing from the star-studded lineup, the one woman who would one day outshine them all – Madonna, wrapped in a big red bow.

screen-capture-38In the age of AIDS, Madonna became my bedazzled life coach. After so much dark introspection and fear, she had a way of drawing me back to the light.

Where AIDS was scary and grim, Madonna was sparkly, high-octane optimism, a musical cornucopia overflowing with Lucky Stars, Holidays, and Shoo-be-doo’s, reminding me life was to be lived, not feared.

Sprinkling disco beats from her celestial powered mirrored ball, Madonna managed to do the impossible in the mid-80’s – She helped me envision a world more celebratory, inclusive, and kind, where even a queer punk like me could be loved and accepted.

Although I became a Madonna fan because of her music, I remained one because of her support.

  • Madonna fought for gay rights when I didn’t have the esteem or the courage.  She challenged social norms and hypocrisy when others wouldn’t, back when her voice was needed most – When men were dieing, the silence was deafening, and you could hear a pin drop on the disco floor.
  • Madonna songs typically gravitate around love, acceptance, pride, and enlightenment. It so happens, I’m a big fan of each.  As an added bonus, I also enjoy dancing and sex (although I’ve learned to avoid both at once).
  • Above all, I must confess – Madonna bridges me to my youth.  Now in my 40’s, where Madonna is concerned, I’m still young, a giddy uniformed schoolboy, flipping eagerly through the pages of Tigerbeat at a local newsstand.

With a catalog of music spanning 30 years, fans sometimes retrofit their lives to Madonna’s songs, and I am no exception.  The Gospel According to Madonna has always had an uncanny way of capturing pivotal acts of my life.  So much so, at times, I’ve enjoyed entertaining the question – Am I Madonna’s muse?

After one year of Madonna fandom, such a moment occurred. I received a special gift from my Fairy God-Diva, a ballad that poignantly echoed the sentiments of my poem, “Time To Play”.

Sappy, sentimental bloke that I am – writing this post now, looking back at the AIDS pandemic – I like to imagine the ballad contains the middle verses of my misplaced poem, “Time to Play”.

ACT III: “Time Traveling with Madonna”

This past April, I turned 42.  Sitting here now, overlapping my poem with Madonna’s song, I realize – Albeit a couple years late, this post is a promise being fulfilled.

Despite my expectations and adversities, I am a man who lived to tell.  As such, I’m feeling obligated to share a secret that I have learned…

AIDS is not the stalker I once feared.  AIDS is my liberator. It didn’t force gay men out of the closet, it demolished the walls that Adam built, left us naked and vulnerable to the masses.

Over 36 million people worldwide have died since the AIDS crisis began, so I don’t mean to typecast the disease or undermine the magnitude of its horror and devastation. But when I frame the pandemic as bookends, I am humbled by how much the United States, among a growing list of countries, has changed.

28 years ago, I didn’t think people cared if I lived or died, because many believed gays were deviants, sinners worthy of the plague.  Today, however, a majority of Americans support the right for me to marry my partner, believe our love is worthy of protection.

AIDS is not an exclusively homosexual disease. It has broken hearts both straight and gay. But in America we are haunted by its origins. Not acknowledging AIDS for the tectonic shift in popular opinion would be an injustice to all the gay men who fought and died, so that I could live to tell. It would be disrespectful to those who lost lovers, friends or family members to the pandemic, who demanded social change and medical research. And although rarely stated, yet perhaps most noteworthy of all, not acknowledging AIDS influence on our national character would discount the breadth of our collective humanity, our nation’s enduring battle to be a more perfect union.

AIDS is a different kind of love story, one that shines from within. In the end, Madonna and the plague are a matter of perspective. Our reaction to each says more about us than them. In the past 30 years, for better or worse, both AIDS and Madonna refused to be ignored.  Each invited our judgement and indignation, provoked us to reconsider the limitations of freedom and love.

The history of AIDS will prove to be a tragedy written in tears, but its final act is yet to be told.  With the help of outspoken artists like Madonna, however, the moral of this plague is becoming increasingly clear – I entered this fight wounded and alone, but I will leave it healed with a nation uniting behind me.

Whether you pray to a book, wrap yourself in a flag, or are enchanted by a pop star, what matters most are the lessons we learn, how we interpret words written and sung.

The Gospel According to Madonna is certainly open to interpretation. And I don’t presume to speak for all gay men of my generation, the first generation of teenage boys to sexually awaken to a world with AIDS in it.  But I hope a few of my Madonna-luvin’ brethren from the 80’s are comforted by the audacity of this closing sentiment…

Where my soul was concerned, Madonna was the cure for AIDS.

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Madonna and Me, 1985

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

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