By: Gabriela Pedranti
September 6, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of reconsidered passions, reassessed hates, and reversed feelings everywhere in-between. Series edited by Adam McGovern.


Madonna who?

You may think I was a very lucky teenager to have shared the 1980s with the rising female pop star of the moment, who was seismic on the music scene (and not precisely for being a great singer). I guess you know who I’m talking about: yes, it’s Madonna, B*TCH! Most of my friends completely LOVED her, and had cut-outs of her face and fashion-looks all over their folders. We even had a boy in our class who was completely head over heels about her, and would not tolerate any type of criticism towards his beloved star. Everyone danced to Madonna at every party, every club or disco, so even at the end of the world — all this was happening in Buenos Aires — it was clearly Madonna Time… but not really for me.

Although I’ve never been among those people who completely fit in with their class group — different interests, different readings, different perspectives — I think my strongest difference with my classmates of the time, and probably the one that struck them the most, was that I loathed Madonna. I simply could not stand her; she made me nervous, angry and intolerant. Every time she launched a video, I couldn’t help but thinking: Who does she think she is? Why is she so full of herself? What about those gloves, hair, skirts and — above all — attitude?

As it always happens, only time would tell… and it did: Throughout the following years — probably because I was growing up and maturing, maybe because I was already studying Communication — I started to pay more attention to why she was doing what she was doing. A breaking point for me was her “Like a Prayer” video. I had the feeling that when people got mad about the crosses burning and her being half-naked in a church, they were completely missing the point; she was exposing racial prejudice, openly talking about sexual assault, and God was a black woman!

Moreover, a few years later, in one of my favourite classes ever (Communication Theory and Practice II), we read an adaptation of one chapter from John Fiske´s Reading the Popular, which had (of course!) a chapter about Madonna, analysing her as an open text (oh, echoes of Eco). That was illuminating; I finally got to understand why she made me so angry as a teenager: she was building a space in which young girls could choose who to be, beyond the good/bad girl binarism in which we, the girls of the time, had been raised. Fiske’s brilliant analysis showed that she was proposing an open space to define your identity; being a woman was enough, in any way you understood what being a woman meant.

One can always learn from mistakes: Now, as a lecturer, I’ve been using this chapter in many of my own current classes, as a great starting point to analyse contemporary content creators. I now understand that Madonna was a pioneer in many, many aspects — even when making young girls nervous about her. So I’ve not only curved my enthusiasm about Madonna — and believe me, I was quite an enthusiast in hating her — but I’ve learnt a lot through it. Today, I can even find it in me to dance to some of her classic songs.

Bonus track 1: Here is the book by John Fiske.

Bonus track 2: The presentation I use for my classes, including a comparison with the movies and other media of the time, in which Molly Ringwald was the hegemonic representation of teenage girls, and Cyndi Lauper wanted to have fun, while still being a good girl. You can use it as a companion for the Fiske chapter.


CURVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Tom Nealon on PIZZA PURISM | Holly Interlandi on BOY BANDS | Heather Quinlan on THE ’86 METS | Whitney Matheson on THE SMITHS | Bishakh Som on SUMMER | Jeff Lewonczyk on WHOLE BELLY CLAMS | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER | Nikhil Singh on LOVE ISLAND UK | Adrienne Crew on CILANTRO | Adam McGovern on MISSING PERSONS | Art Wallace on UFOs | Fran Pado on LIVERWURST | Lynn Peril on ELTON JOHN’S GREATEST HITS | Marlon Stern Lopez on ADOLESCENT REBELLION | Juan Gonzalez on STAN & JACK or JACK & STAN | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on BALTIMORE | Josh Glenn on FOOTLOOSE | Annie Nocenti on SIDEVIEW MIRROR | Mandy Keifetz on BREATHLESS | Brian Berger on HARRY CREWS | Ronald Wimberly on GAMING AND DATING | Michele Carlo on HERITAGE FOODS | Gabriela Pedranti on MADONNA | Ingrid Schorr on MAXFIELD PARRISH AND SUE LEWIN | Mariane Cara on ORANGE.