Why Did Madonna Censor Her Own Video?

When she announced she was pulling a new anti-war music video, it seemed as if the unthinkable had occurred. Was Madonna actually censoring herself?

In mid-February, word got out that the Material Girl's new music video for her album American Life featured explicit war imagery in an apparent protest of the then-imminent U.S. action against Iraq.

A month later, with the ground war in Iraq under way, the entertainer decided to pull the new video just four days before its scheduled premiere, saying she didn't want to "risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning" of the video.

The video features Madonna dressed in combat gear, riding a tank onto a fashion show runway, then hosing down the fashionistas in the audience. With background war scenes of guns and bombs falling, Madonna throws a grenade at a President Bush look-alike in the audience. But then, the grenade turns into a cigarette lighter that the look-alike uses to light his cigar.

In a statement on her Web site, Madonna said the video was filmed before the war began and she did not think this was an appropriate time to air it.

"Due to the volatile state of the world and out of sensitivity and respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for, I do not want to risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video," Madonna said.

On the VH1 special Madonna Speaks, premiering tonight, the pop star says the controversy surrounding the video got out of hand. It was being bashed by people who hadn't even seen it, she said.

"And at that point no one had seen it at all and it just took on a life of its own," Madonna told the music video channel. "So suddenly I was making the video that was horrible, and full of horrible things, and you know it was terribly irresponsible. Meanwhile nobody saw it and nobody knew what they were talking about."

Freedom to Dissent

A newly edited version of the video with most of the war imagery removed is set to air soon. But Madonna says she is disappointed with what she sees as a breakdown of free speech in the United States.

"You know, it's ironic that we were fighting for democracy in Iraq because we ultimately aren't celebrating democracy here," she told VH1. "Anybody who has anything to say against the war or against the president or whatever is punished, and that's not democracy, it's people being intolerant. And everyone is entitled to their opinion for or against. That's what our constitutional rights are supposed to be, that we all have freedoms to express ourselves and to voice our dissent if we have that."

Right now, people are so volatile and upset that they're not seeing irony or subtlety, and many are afraid to make waves, she said.

"Everything is taken literally and it's like this lynch-mob mentality has kind of risen up," she said. "And people don't — people behave in a very unpredictable way."

A Publicity Ploy?

But Chris Farley, a senior editor at Time magazine, says Madonna's change of heart over her video is more about her business agenda than her personal politics. Her new album comes out on April 22.

"Some artists have released pro-war songs and some released anti-war songs, but they realize if you want to say something of substance someone is going to have a problem with it. Madonna obviously wants to join the camp of substance this time around but decided to pull back," Farley said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.

Last month, the Dixie Chicks' lead singer Natalie Maines apologized after saying at a concert that she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas. Her remark had sparked outrage among country music fans and some boycotts from radio stations.

Then last week, the national Baseball Hall of Fame canceled plans to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the baseball movie Bull Durham because stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are known anti-war activists.

"If you want to say something, sometimes you have to pay a price," Farley said.