They call THIS blasphemy?

Via the Revealer, I found out that the American Family Fascist Association is up in arms over a concert video showing Madonna, wearing a crown of thorns, first rising up on and then slowly stepping down off a glittery, mirror-tiled cross. The reason? IT’S BLASPHEMY! O, the HORROR!

Following the lead of Rosie O’Donnell and ABC, NBC has decided to join in the bashing of Christians by airing a Madonna special in November. A specific date has not been released.

In the show, Madonna, wearing a fake crown of thorns, descends on a suspended mirrored, disco ball-type cross. When some Christian leaders complained about the mockery, NBC ignored their concerns.

Making mockery of the crucifixion of Christ has been a trademark of Madonna for many years. In 1989 she had a video for the hit song “Like A Prayer.” The video featured burning crosses, statues crying blood and Madonna–representing Jesus–freeing a saint from his sexual repression by seducing him. This is the same Madonna who once said, “Crucifixes are sexy because there’s a naked man on them.”

Kevin Reilly, an executive at NBC, said Madonna considered the scene mocking the crucifixion of Christ the highlight of her show. “We (NBC) viewed it and didn’t see it as being inappropriate.” Madonna considers mocking the crucifixion of Jesus the highlight of her show and NBC agrees.

The AFA goes on to ask “Christians” to mailbomb NBC with requests to cut the Christianity-offending segment. Which NBC, in true wussy whore-media fashion, did. After all, Wildmon & Co. are all about defending Christianity from all manner of blaspheming enemies. If it’s not the witches and secularists, it’s the Jews. And when it’s not the Jews, it’s other Christians who just don’t pass fundie muster. Some of whom happen to be rather famous.

Meanwhile, the Revealer has this to say about the AFA’s strange choice of reasons for making such a flap:

Tight black leather, OK. A stripper-style pole dance on an over-sized horse saddle, OK. Half-naked, svelte sweaty bodies, marked with Stars of David and Crescent Moon, OK. Just no mock Roman executions. One almost wants to give credit to the many NBC affiliates around the country that had some problems with the overall package and decided simply not to show the tour special at all.

The article then goes on to discuss the history of what the word “blasphemy” means. Its conclusion? Not bloody much; depends whom you ask. Apparently, “blasphemy” is a fluid concept, which makes it well-nigh meaningless in the final analysis. We do, however, learn that “blasphemy” is a charge more likely to be levelled by fundie Protestant leaders than Roman Catholics. Which is revealing in itself, since Madonna, though she’s adopted snippets of other spiritualities along the way, is a lifelong Catholic and her use of the iconography of Roman executions here is in line with the beliefs she grew up following. (This may surprise some who call her a blasphemer, but I’d wager they haven’t been actually paying attention to her, only taking orders from a not-so-good shepherd who has his own unholy reasons for leading his flock astray.)

Actually, this “mock Roman execution” is very mild when you compare it to the sadistic (and hideously commercialized) treatment Jesus suffered at the hands of Mel Gibson. I would even go so far as to call it downright reverent, since Madonna isn’t mocking Christ at all, but rather seems to be finding new meaning in his words, imitating him, and urging her audience to do the same.

How do I know that’s what she’s doing? Watch the entire performance:

I found it interesting how Madonna recycles an old hit, “Live to Tell”, whose chorus goes:

A man can tell a thousand lies

I’ve learned my lesson well

Hope I live to tell the secret I have learned–

Till then

It will burn inside of me…

Wildmon never mentions THAT.

The song also contains the words “I was not ready for the Fall/Too blind to see the writing on the wall.” These are biblical allusions, but not blasphemy by a long shot. In fact, they are quite reverent, as they relate the words of scripture to modern life in general, and her own life in particular.

As the performance progresses, we come to see why she picked this particular song to open the show–and sing from a cross, doing a modern and literal Imitation of Christ. In another version of this performance (videotaped from further off by an amateur in the audience), you can see a digital counter over her head, spinning faster and faster until it reaches 12 million. Then it stops and the number lights up. That’s when the spotlights temporarily dim. Then she steps off the cross, moves downstage, and sings the bridge:

If I ran away, I’d never have the strength

To go very far

How would they hear the beating of my heart?

Will it grow cold,

The secret that I hide?

Will I grow old?

How will they hear,

When will they learn,

How will they know?

As she sings it, we learn that the number on the counter is the number of African children orphaned by AIDS. (Item: Madonna recently adopted a boy from Malawi whose mother died soon after his birth.) Pictures on the screen behind her show the searching eyes of African children; the reinterpretation of the song seems to ask the audience to spare a thought for them. Above, the words “For I was hungry and you gave me food…I was naked and you gave me clothing…Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers…” flash. Another biblical reference.

By coming down off the cross, kneeling and averting her face as if the sight of so much suffering is too much to bear, taking off her crown of thorns and placing herself at human level (at the end of the song she actually prostrates herself on the stage, like a priest or nun at the taking of the vows), Madonna is not-so-subliminally telling people to get off their high horses, their holier-than-thou attitudes, and get better acquainted with “the least of my brothers”, the orphans of Africa. In so doing, they might find some redemption–or a little more meaning–in their lives.

Maybe that is what gets Donald Wildmon’s bloomers in a wad; he’s about doing just the opposite, you see. To him, AIDS isn’t a tragic, indiscriminate disease that kills young parents and leaves beautiful, innocent children orphaned; it’s God’s righteous punishment on the homo-sex-you-alls. That is the message he’s repeatedly preached to his flock. And damn that scarlet harlot Madonna for having the effrontery to say it isn’t so, and to remind people of what Jesus actually said. There wasn’t a word in it about punishing the gays; there were, on the other hand, plenty of admonitions to be thy brother’s keeper and look after those in need!

Yes, I can see why a fundamentalist would call that blasphemy. Heaven forbid that a pop star might be sincere when she gets off her glitzy disco cross to deliver a message laced with the New
Testament, not the Old. Or that she might just be a better Christian than the Reverend Furnish-My-Church-With-Silver. How many African AIDS orphans has Wildmon helped, I wonder? Or does he secretly think that they, too, somehow deserve to be punished by a plague of biblical proportions, for being non-white?

Someone famous is bashing Christianity, all right, but it sure as hell ain’t Madge.

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2 Responses to They call THIS blasphemy?

  1. Not to undermine the main point about Madonna’s righteous blast, ‘Bina, as well as the pomposity of No-Neck Wildmon and the
    Ur-Christian Reich hyperventilating at her act in Rome….but there is some bit of legitimate controversy over her adoption. Seems that the father of the child whom she adopted is still alive, and he’s not particularly happy at seeing Ms. ‘Dita with his child. Also, there is considerable flack coming from some of the more African/Black Nationalist/Black Power groups accusing Madonna of pulling a “Brangelina” (as in Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie) and using Black Africa as an adoption pool for nothing more than sheer exploitation and money…or as a substitute for their own “slutty” ways.
    For all that criticism, though, I got to hand it to her (and not just one hand, either)….she does still have the talent, the intellegence, and the ovaries to stare her critics eye to eye and flip the bird at them. And it takes some kind of balls to stand on a 10 to 20 foot platform and belt out a song like “Live to Tell”. More power to ‘ya, Madame Ciccione…way to stick it to ’em.
    BTW, Bina….I elaborated a bit using your excellent take as a starting point at my own blog, if you don’t mind:
    The SmackDog Chronicles: Why Madonna Will ALWAYS Kick Ass: …

  2. Bina says:

    Yeah, Anthony, that controversy about whether the father’s permission to adopt was legitimately obtained is certainly a sticking point. No matter how much money anyone has, they shouldn’t be able to buy their way around the laws of the land–or their own pangs of conscience. (St. BrAngelina, I’m talking to YOU, too–don’t think you can get away without hard scrutiny for all that blood-exchanging, knife-sexing, endangered-species dining and brother-frenchin’, which is frankly creepier than anything Madonna’s ever done!)
    Other than that, though, I’m gonna make a wild guess that the point of the cross-show was to raise awareness of how many kids have lost their parents to AIDS, and Africa, the cradle of humanity, is hard hit. It’s also the dumping ground for everything the white world just doesn’t want to deal with, and that’s gotta stop. There’s a heavy karmic payback in order, and a paltry few individual good intentions from the rich and famous won’t fix it. Collective right action will, and that’s why the concert appeal hits while the kiddie-grab misses. I think Madge blundered with the adoption, but at least she hit the right note at her concert!

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