Book Excerpt: 'Madonna' by Andrew Morton

Madonna, whose unrepentant exploration of traditional gender roles has helped, for example, to make lesbianism acceptable to mainstream society, also identifies with other groups and individuals who were at one time voices in the wilderness. So an Irving Penn photograph of the black champion boxer Joe Louis, the grandson of a slave who hailed from the city she calls home, Detroit, and a small bronze bust of heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali reveal the veneration and association she feels with oppressed races of America. She was thrilled when Ali, whom she associates with the fight by American blacks for civil rights, came to her apartment one evening. Similarly, she reveres the memory of Elvis Presley, who died on her birthday. She sees in his early career, when he outraged moral America with his hip-shaking stage routine during the 1950s, a reflection of her own struggle to express the view that women could be feminine, sexual and empowered. That she calls her own multimedia company Maverick underlines her belief that, she is a rebel in the face of convention, an outsider who at times has stood proudly independent of her family, church, school and society.

Yet, paradoxically, the same woman who, rather romantically, sees herself as beyond the mainstream, a misunderstood artist, is in reality a living, breathing example of the all-American girl, the perfect embodiment of modern Main Street USA. Thus her creative success has been characterized by her genius for making the avant-garde acceptable to the general public. At the same time, while the vaudeville of her sexual politics, particularly her trademark conical bra and bold crotch-grabbing, owes much to the European tradition displayed in shows — admittedly, American shows — like Cabaret and the Ziegfeld Follies, Madonna's knowing, winking suggestiveness and sly humor is in the mold of Mae West, the American film actress, who believed that a woman's place was on top.

Even the trajectory of her career — a cheerleader from the Midwest who came to the Big Apple to find fame and fortune and then tried to join the Hollywood elite to pursue her acting career — is as traditional as the Stars and Stripes. Her greatest disappointment is that while she considers herself more an actress than singer, her thespian skills have yet to be fully appreciated by the world of theater. Despite this, just how far Madonna has risen in the firmament of stars is demonstrated in the fact that, while she wanted a 'Grace Kelly style' for her first wedding, at her second she actually wore a tiara that had belonged to the late Princess. While her appeal lies in the fact that she can be presented as the ultimate girl-next-door, she truly is one in a million, a living archetype, an embodiment of the radical sexual and social changes in modern America over the last twenty years.

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