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(Madonna, the master of reinvention) These facts are indicative of her increasing popularity and, more importantly, her influence on culture through her music and videos. Throughout, sexuality has continued to play a dominant role in her art and in the construction of her image. This includes her 1990 film, entitled Truth or Dare or" in Bed with Madonna"; as well as her notorious and much-discussed 1992 book entitled Sex, as well as her recent debut direction of the recent film, Filth and Wisdom.
The Sex book is essentially a record of various sexual fantasies, which again attests to the importance of eroticism and sexuality in her artistic oeuvre. Sex was released on October 21, 1992 by Warner Books and is designed as a sumptuous coffee-table book which explores a range of erotica and sexuality through artistic photographs by Steven Meisel and film frames by Fabien Baron. The book was released by Madonna as an accompaniment to her fifth studio album Erotica, which was released a day earlier than the publication of the book.
There is conjecture that the book was released merely as a marketing strategy to increase interest and draw attention to the album - which it certainly succeeded in doing. The book is extremely erotic and depicts various sexual fantasies and acts, including homosexuality and sadomasochism. The book of course resulted in many negative essays and articles. It also led to many negative responses from those fans who felt that in this instance Madonna had gone too far in sexual expression and transgressed boundaries that went beyond necessary freedom of expression. (the Sex Book)
However, Madonna is mercurial and changes her image continually. She was to develop a new look in the 1990s with the "... pointy cone-shaped bras she donned on her Express Yourself and Vogue tours." (Madonna, the master of reinvention) the radical changes and reinventions of her character and image can be seen especially in her more recent decision to write books for children. She published the English Roses (2003), which is a story of schoolchildren in London. This somewhat extreme change in subject and style was successful and the book reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list. However, it also raises the question as to whether Madonna is consciously using extremes to sell and promote her work; or whether it is a genuine expression of artistic drive.
There have been many instances of these changes in direction in her career. She changed the style of her music in the 1900s with the multi-award-winning 1998 album Ray of Light and also has taken an interest in spirituality and the Kabbalah, which is a radical change from the emphasis on coquettish sexuality of the past. At the same time Madonna never ceases to shock and to make use of sexuality and eroticism. In 2003 she,"... grabbed the showbiz world s attention by clinching pop princess Britney Spears in a lingering kiss on stage at the 2003 MTV Music Video Awards." (Madonna, the master of reinvention) These changes and radial new directions in her careeer have caused critics to state that she is only a clever opportunist who uses and then shapes cultural trends and fads to her own ends to promote herself. As Madonna herself has stated; "I'm interested in pushing people's buttons." (Madonna, the master of reinvention) on the other hand, there are many commentators who see more to her art than mere callous manipulation.
2.2. Sexuality and Madonna's early life
While the above brief and truncated overview of her career and the use of sexually provide some insights into the significance of Madonna's use of sexuality, one has to explore her personal life to some extent in order to understand the roots and motivation for her use of sexuality in her works. As stated in the introduction to this paper, Madonna's use of sexuality cannot only be seen as a cold and impersonal marketing device or ploy - although this is true to some extent. There are indications that can be found in references to her childhood and teenage years that provide clues that link sexual freedom and expression to the need for personal expression and liberty in her life.
A telling event in Madonna's life was the death of her mother from cancer. Madonna was only seven years of age at the time and as a result of this tragic event, her family life was severely disrupted. Her father found that he could not cope with the demands of six children and Madonna and her siblings were sent to live with various relatives. After this period of disruption, the children returned home and were looked after by a housekeeper, which was also an unsettling and unsatisfactory situation and there was little stability in the home. Her father then remarried and Madonna did not get on well with her stepmother who was reportedly, "...really gung-ho, very strict, a real disciplinarian." (About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
This situation could be seen as the motivation that led Madonna to a search for self-expression and independence from a conflicting and restrictive home environment. This would also help to explain the use of sexuality as a means of rebellion in her music. This tendency to rebel and express her individuality though sexuality can also be related to her strict and highly disciplinary Catholic school education. Madonna has described her experience of Catholicism as "...dark, painful and guilt-ridden" ? And responded by becoming an even more flamboyant attention-getter." (About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
It is noteworthy that images from her catholic background were to form an integral part of her music and videos, in close conjunction with rebellious and sexual imagery. The following quotation provides a clear insight into her rebellious nature and her need for self-expression and independence that was to be so well conveyed in her music.
I wanted to do everything everybody told me I couldn't do. I had to wear a uniform to school, I couldn't wear make-up, I couldn't wear nylon stockings, I couldn't cut my hair, I couldn't go on dates. I couldn't even go to the movies with my friends. So when I'd go to school I'd roll up my uniform skirt so it was short, I'd go to the school bathroom and put make-up on and change into nylon stockings I'd brought. I was incredibly flirtatious and I'd do anything to rebel against my father.
(About Madonna: Madonna Interview)
2.3. Sexuality in her music and image
In discussing the issue of sexual images and lyrics in Madonna's work and performances, one has to continually bear in mind that there is a certain amount of manipulation, preconception and strategy in her use of types of images and ideas - especially with regard to sexuality. One also has to take into account the 'shock' value of sexuality.
Sexuality and sexual innuendo is a very important part of the phenomenon of Madonna, particularly in the earlier years of her artistic development. The ideas and values that Madonna presented through her music had a far-reaching influence on a generations of young people and especially on women. Her use of sexual imagery is strongly related to the ideals of feminism and individual freedom.
As has already been referred to, from the beginning Madonna was very aware of the role of sexuality in her music. However, what is important to understand at the outset is that while she went against the more conservative norms and standards of the entertainment industry as they were in the early 1980s, with the use of sexual imagery and blatant lyrics, yet this was not only intended to be outrageous or to attract attention. Besides the attraction of shock value there was a subtle message in her use of imagery that went much further than merely a simplistic act of outrage and defiance.
Madonna ascended to popular stardom in the face of a music and entertainment industry that was essentially patriarchic and male centered and controlled. (Meltzer, 45) as one commentator states about her sense of showmanship and her understanding of the media, "...she used the attention she was attracting to turn the values of that industry on its head. " (Meltzer, 45)
The crucial fact is that Madonna was not using sexuality or nakedness in her acts to please or entice a male audience.
She was "...not doing it on the request of, or even for the pleasure of, heterosexual men." (Meltzer, 45) on the contrary she was using sexuality not in a subservient way but rather to express her own individuality and sexuality.
As Metzer (2000) states, "She made herself the reason why she took her clothes off; she used her sexuality in a way that empowered her and no one else." (Meltzer, 45)
This important aspect can be clearly seen for example in the 1989 video of Express Yourself. In the video a cat is cast…[continue]
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