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Madonna Is Dead; Long Live Madonna

In Butler, Counter-transferences, Freud, Lacan, Masquerade, Performativity, Queer Theory on April 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm


by Diego Costa

I remember watching this short video at an LGBT film festival several years ago that established a kind of viral kinship to Madonna. The experimental essay film juxtaposed images of the icon to the filmmaker’s melancholy voice-over narration, in which he told us how he had mapped his anxieties about being a horny gay man in the 80s to Madonna’s oeuvre. He would only allow himself to finally purchase her “True Blue” album once he got tested for HIV and the results came out negative. Unfortunately, then, he was never able to buy the album. A Madonna-less HIV-positive man in the early 90s trying to make do with only the accidental encounters with the diva’s music, when he happened to tune in to a radio station precisely when they were playing one of her songs. Of course, he could never have exercised such self-control when it came to channeling his own sex drive. Leaving it up to happenstance for pleasurable encounters to occur would, in the 80s, 90s and today, probably leave many a gay man on the verge of a very dry nervous breakdown. So why Madonna masochism? What is it about Madonna that inspired the filmmaker to elect her as the ultimate reward for a fantasized sexuality that doesn’t come back to haunt the queer “male” body in the ass?

The relationship between Madonna and gay men are, of course, as clichéd as her post-2005 lyrics. Following the narrative of the bad faghag who leads her fag to believe she will always be forever his (no matter how many times he drops her in the middle of the dancefloor ride-less for a hot trick, as Margaret Cho would have it), only to then drop him ride-less when her own trick comes along, her Guy Ritchie years allowed us to look elsewhere. We found comfort in the easy-to-digest liberal essentialism of Gaga, who told us our monstrosity was legitimate only because it was genetic. After the divorce, and we had a feeling that faghags, like fags, don’t do longevity very well, we were ready to be seduced by Madonna’s unapologetically unintellectual affect all over again. The video for “Girl Gone Wild” illustrates well one of the fundamental differences between Gaga and the Queen: the first is stuck in the politics of categorization of identity politics, the latter bypasses “language” altogether by inhabiting Desire itself. Madonna, most importantly, has always taken charge of her own objecthood. Like a bitter bottom queen, too well-seasoned to strive for some kind of impossible agency that only a very laborious masculinity could buy, she has taught us that there is pleasure in being a thing too. That one can both act and direct, one can cum without moving, one can script entire scenes from the comfort of one’s silk-covered bed. “Justify My Love,” one of Madonna’s many video masterpieces, transforms the walk of shame into a walk of victory. She begins the video as an anxiety-filled, migraine-suffering woman carrying her luggage through hallway, wishing to make love in Paris and hold hands in Rome, and ends with the post-coital smirk of the hungry liberated tourist fag who goes to Le Depot for the first time, blows every butch top in sight and leaves unrepentant. “Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another” are the words she leaves us with, condensing pages and pages of much drier Queer Theory work that 1991, the year the video came out and was promptly banned by MTV, would inaugurate into one single (and sexy!) sentence.

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