Talking to You about . . . Madonna
(Part of my series on Rob Sheffield's Talking to Girls about Duran Duran)
Of all the complex females in my life, Madonna was the one who taught me how to be completely exasperated by a woman, and how to like it. She was the first woman who ever told me I can dance (I can't) and the first who told me I came when she wished for me (I'll have to take her word on that one). I literally never go to the movies without thinking about that scene in the "Into the Groove" video where she puts her head on the guy's shoulder and lets him feed her popcorn. She screwed me up good. Oh, Madonna--you put this in me, so now what? So now what?
At the end of the post on karaoke, Brandon helped me to decide between Madonna and Morrisey by pointing out that it is the former who has become more of a universal language. Or as Rob Sheffield would put it, borrowing Madonna's own lyrics, it is she who has put something in more of us. And she was able to do it because she has always understood better than most people how the symbols of a culture work. But I doubt that most of us, whether we love her or loathe her or fancy that we are completely indifferent to her, could describe with Sheffield's certainty what influence she has had in our lives.
I'm a little luckier in that respect: as I mentioned in my main Reading Diary entry on Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, my mother decided not to end a teenage pregnancy because of Madonna's Papa Don't Preach. A few months later, your blogger was born. Pop culture is powerful like that. Which is not to say that my mother would have made a different decision in a world where Madonna sang a different song, but that Madonna's song helped her to put into words, and later also into action, her own deepest beliefs. It's usually the songs and symbols of a religious culture which have that power.
Lourdes was nothing like I pictured it. From books, I had imagined a peaceful solemn spot in the woods, a quiet little grotto where I could enjoy an unmediated, unspoiled moment with true divinity. Instead, it was like Las Vegas. There were neon lights everywhere, signs for motels and gift shops, stands selling special Lourdes candles. There were tourists everywhere. And I loved it. I loved how Las Vegas it was, and my main emotion was relief. I loved all the electric glare and the noise. I loved hearing all the excitement in the different languages and accents. It wasn't so different from going to a hard-core all-ages show at a punk club on a Saturday afternoon, brushing up against other people's bodies, letting go of my boundaries, trying not to get spooked about the push and rush of the crowd.
There's something about being plugged into the same spiritual socket as a whole bunch of other people that can make an experience feel more intense. I'm hardly an extravert, but I totally get this. I also know the catch. A mass of individuals will eventually and inevitably turn into one body, although only a mass of Christian individuals can be fairly sure that that body is led by the right Head. (Meaningful pun not intended, so don't feel bad if you didn't see it.) There's an element of "Non serviam" in choosing to like different music from what everyone else around you likes, although, as the 90s showed us, even the "Alternative" kids ended up conforming to their own crowd . . . and liking it.
For it's wonderful when the things that are meaningful to us are also meaningful to others. This sympathy can unite two people in friendship or millions of people in culture. On the one hand, it meant nothing that a former friend of mine was completely unfamiliar with one of the biggest hits on the charts when we were both in high school; on the other hand, it said everything about her when, one night at a particularly plugged-in pub, she was literally the only one in the room who couldn't sing it when it came on the radio. I had known that she hated her parents' decision to move to the Philippines when she was in her teens, but I hadn't thought that it extended to rejecting one of the best Pinoy Rock songs of all time.
Or am I unfairly measuring her by my own standards again? I'm inordinately proud that I can sing every song on Haley Westenra's first album, which was released during the time I lived in New Zealand. My Kiwi friends and I weren't huge fans, but we didn't say no to those free tickets to one of her concerts, did we? I can also belt out some Delta Goodrem songs, just to be annoying, because she's Australian and I get what that means, too. ;-)
After I returned home, someone asked me whether I had experienced any racism while I was there. I answered honestly: not at all. Although there was some tension between native Kiwis and international students, it never seemed to extend to me or to my other foreign friends. And if I had to pinpoint the reason, I'd say that it was because we were quite willing to speak the local languages of British English, The Lord of the Rings, Whale Rider, and even Haley Westenra. Well, not also Maori, which is actually the second official language--but we still picked up a lot of important words. In short, we let ourselves get plugged in; we let New Zealand put something in us.
But can it also, as Madonna would say, justify our love? Will we find, at the end of our pilgrimage into pop culture, that it was worth letting ourselves be changed?
Your Turn at the Jukebox: Is there a pop culture artefact that makes you feel plugged in with more people than you can normally connect with?
Image Source: Pilgrims at Lourdes