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April 16th, 2003 Elizabeth Dye | Fashion
 

Me vs. Madonna

Fashion still matters, you chicken.

     
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Dear Madonna,

I stand corrected. Your recent interview in the fashion magazine W and a decision to shelve the video from your about-to-be released American Life album convince me that, far from being the aging poseur I thought you were, you still have the power to be relevant. That's because in both the interview and the video you take aim at fashion as the cruel and vacant heart of American culture.

A statement issued by your own label shortly before you pulled the plug on what was sure to be another one of your controversial musical "masterpieces" said that the video "expresses a panoramic view of our culture and looming war through the view of a female superhero portrayed by Madonna. Starting as a runway show of couture Army fatigues, the fashion show escalates into a mad frenzy depicting the catastrophic repercussions and horrors of war." Ah, yes, camouflage miniskirts and stilettos sum up our nation's waste and greed. And you scrawling "Protect Me" on a bathroom wall while the fashion world burns? Priceless.

In W, you weigh in on our bankrupt times amid a sprawling Fosse-esque photo shoot that not only allows you to strike difficult yoga poses on flophouse mattresses but gives you the chance to promote your latest project (a musical) and exhume your marriage to ex-hubby Sean Penn (again). Wow, dispensing cultural wisdom with your foot behind your head must be, uh, hard.

Listen up, Madge. Fashion isn't meaningless just because we've bombed the bejeezus out of Iraq. Capri pants weren't topical in peacetime any more than they are "unimportant" now. What matters is that we have artists with enough chutzpah (not to mention capital) to take a stand. You used to be one of those artists. And, don't kid yourself, you're still an all-American entrepreneur.

Your particular gift is an uncanny ability to re-package powerful agents of counterculture (sexual domination, the gay underground) and turn them into digestible product for mainstream consumption--be it a record, lace gloves or a leather cop hat.

In other words, you need fashion. Sometimes to make us think, sometimes to make a buck. It's always been your milieu, maybe even more than your music. And certainly more than any awkward interview you may give.

We know. We know. Fashion feels flaccid and ineffectual right now. If the whole scene weren't in a pathetic pause, Dolce & Gabbana wouldn't have sent models down the runway in rainbow-striped "Pace" (Peace) T-shirts.

But truth is, fashion wants to be important. Its helplessness is a helplessness many of us feel. No matter what side of the war you take, there's jack you can do to influence the action.

Any act of creativity--sequined bustier, book of poems or, for that matter, Madonna record--not only affirms life but is anti-destruction as well as anti-authoritarian. There's bravery and meaning in the act itself, especially now when it's so risky (i.e., career-threatening) to voice such a critical view.

For many, your pulling of the video is seen as the ultimate act of self-promotion. If so, you've proved your point about our trend-obsessed consumer capitalism by the grimmest possible method. Nice jacket, by the way.

When it comes to bravery, a high-school student from your home state of Michigan courted real ostracism and punishment just because he wore a T-shirt labeling Bush an "international terrorist." That simple act showed more guts and style than anyone can grant you at the moment.

If this is the older, wiser you, I miss the Material Girl.

Your (former) fan in fashion,

Elizabeth Dye


Madonna's new album, American Life, comes out April 22. She follows that up with a special guest appearance on
Will & Grace on Thursday, April 24.
 
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