"Che non puo quel che vuol, quel che puo voglia"
“He who cannot do what he wants, let him want what he can do.”
-Leonardo Da Vinci
A recent New York Times article calls Madonna ‘demure’ and President Bush ‘anxious’ as they face the nation in the same week; President Bush to defend his, “we can win in
Iraq” stance and Madonna to blame the press for making her adoption proceedings of an African Malawian child difficult, confusing and unduly controversial. There are a number of comparisons between the two “faces”, as if to say the two faces appear as one coin. I find this image the interesting one giving rise to the article. This image is what I am going to write about eventually in my two or three part essay. First, let me say this about the article.
The Two Faces
Most of the comparisons within the article have to do with hybris or hubris, excessive pride, something both Madonna and President Bush display as part of their public persona according to Alessandra Stanley, the author of the article. Yet, even where the image the world has of us eventually has bearing on our own effectiveness, as Stanley alludes, this is where my interrogation of the text and its analogy discovers something else at work.
The one coin may be no coin of hybris or hubris in either case. But, first let’s look to Madonna’s case. Madonna’s case is not a case of public opinion standing in the way of what she wants and can do. She can and will achieve both her philanthropic work and her private adoption, hence, her personal modesty and her demure demeanor this week when facing the press. Her woes this week may have more to do with consistently giving culture a sound dose of gender trouble. She does this by doing just what she wants. As a doer, Madonna is a fiction, a celebrity mother with pop star status. That status, however, is troublesome. It confers a certain kind of status –the POWER of a SEXUAL and FEMALE STATUS in a world still lacking contact with a feeling sense for the soul that makes that mythos real.
In terms of her political and artistic expression, Madonna is an artist known for her promethean skill in shaping a gendered art expression. Where she is behaving the “other”, the other is performanced. She is not the subject of the music and video ‘text’ scribed. She is in a performance whereby there is no gender identity behind the expressions gendered, i.e. “like a virgin”, or like “a material girl in a material world” –two of her earliest gender constructs.
Gender is constructed and can be performed time and again precisely because it is not identity. This is one of Judith Butler’s points in Gender Trouble. Madonna, the artist, is an actor portraying the other that is the deeper voice speaking from within a gendered performance and this is the subjectivity haunting the doer in what be-ing is performed. Some of Madonna’s video clips from her Down Under Tour makes some of Butler’s points in her theory of gender being performative more apparent.
Madonna, the artist, performs a sexual politic Reenay Mistry refers to in Madonna and Gender Trouble as female empowerment and the freedom to express female sexuality. The deed is everything. The other is, of course, the unknown nature of gender, woman and voice.
Madonna, the person, will also disappear from public scrutiny from time to time. When she reappears literally and suddenly, it is within a newly rendered set of interests and guise. In this way Madonna invites a kind of political, sensual and sexually phantomed flirtation into fan-star relationships that now haunt her personal, philanthropic interest and current adoption proceedings. Might we once more spot “gender trouble”? Apparently yes, we may. That is to say, we may just realize the utterly constructed social status of celebrity motherhood hounding Madonna’s philanthropic and maternal intent through which she must now pass, challenge and de/re/inform. And, she will. This is because she already knows the doer is a fiction and the deed of adoption is everything.
Far more interesting an exploration than hubris would be to try and understand what Madonna’s poetic voice achieves in the way it brings together for contemplation within the artistic frame over time an image of a material “ism” (the ‘girl’ performed in the performance of the artist) contra-distinct an image of her personal maternalism (the woman in the woman Madonna behaves privately). Madonna, the woman, as well as Madonna, the artist, lives, works, creates and has an effect upon a body politic that matters to what is worth mattering as a phantom formation strikes a (re) pose between two faces: materialism and maternalism. Materialism/maternalism is one kind of coin of two faces that got tossed into the public airways and the national news this past week. The two faces, materialism and maternalism are contained within a coin of doer as fiction before a deed that is everything. It does not take up and express the entire snapshot article in TV Watch this week as it seems no one snapshot, slogan or sound bite can. So next week let’s look briefly at the other TV coin of two faces, President Bush, “whose political identity,” writes Stanley, “is founded on an image of unwavering cowboy resolve, looked uncertain and chastened behind the lectern, at one moment staring downward and gnawing his lip in a rare tableau of weary anxiety” during his address on Face the Nation the week of October 26, 2006.
Next week Two Faces, One Coin Part 2: Enduring Freedom In Popular Culture