October 26, 2012
Madonna’s Malala strip-stunt
I've always considered myself a Madonna fan. When I was growing up I admired her sexual courage, her unapologetic pushing-of-the-envelope. It made a lot of sense in an atmosphere of confusion and repression surrounding women's sexuality in America.
But her recent stunt, performed in Los Angeles no less, to make some kind of anti-Taliban statement by stripping to her skivvies and revealing the name, MALALA tattooed on her back, as a flimsy protestation against the gunning down of the 15-year-old Pakistani girl-activist, is strange and silly to be sure, but also deeply insensitive and downright stupid.
Just because sexual audacity may challenge the politicization of women's bodies and their rights here (see: Lena Dunham wearing shorts), does not mean that kind of resistance is effective elsewhere. Especially, for instance, in places like Pakistan, where wanton violence perpetrated by extremist insurgents against women is the norm, and the risk posed to women for such egregiously offensive provocations, like, for example, blogging about equal rights, far outweighs the danger posed to Madonna for stripping on a Hollywood stage. Here, Madonna makes a mockery of authentic political resistance.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but in 1980s America, very few women were in danger of being shot in the head for standing up for their rights, and certainly Madonna was in even less danger when she decided to try and hitchhike from a Miami Beach street while in the nude. But then, she is a master of self-delusion, turning the pornographic for pornography’s sake into a pseudo-philosophical point.
Since Madonna has been world-touring since the beginning of her career, she should know that cultures are different from one another. Affiliation with a group is based on distinction and difference. The U.S., to her shock, is not Pakistan. And what passes for culture shock and rhetorical opposition here is wildly irrelevant there. According to Leon Wieseltier, Madonna's stunt was an act of “pseudo-blasphemy” because no one would deny her ability to use sexual provocation as a political weapon here, in the land of the free. Doing so, as Wieseltier put it, is a "cheapening of the currency of dissent" (though he referred more directly to the classic Madonna deed of writhing-on-the-religious, as when, during her anti-Catholic days, she would "twist her flesh torridly over the altar.")
Instead of her intention to critique or dissent, Madonna's stunt only served to further stoke Taliban rage, and allowed them to co-opt the musical seduction (she strip-teased to her 90s hit "Human Nature") into ammunition for more disapprobation and hatred. Or, if her aim was to demonstrate her solidarity with Malala, she could have just called.
But as she makes clear in her song, she’s not sorry.