Madonna lacks courage of her TV crucifixions


I've had it with Madonna. Done. History. It's not like I was ever her biggest fan or anything. I probably couldn't tell you the titles of five of her songs, or even three. But I have long admired her from afar as the savvy businesswoman she is and will surely always be.

Issues tend to develop when superstars start believing their press, leading to the dangerous mindset where illusions of omnipotence fuse with fantasies of invulnerability. Build onto that foundation a predilection to worship at the altar of the dollar bill and you have Madonna in her present incarnation -- the one who appears willing to circumvent African child adoption laws and whose creative integrity is a commodity available for purchase.

You may have heard that the Immaterial Girl has angered human rights groups in Malawi over plans to adopt a 1-year-old boy and raise him in London -- this, despite the minor detail that it's against the law to do so. The impression is that of a celebrity who believes the rules simply don't apply to her.

Of course, this isn't like picking up a handbag at Bloomingdale's. There are procedures that must be followed. But perhaps Madonna sees this as a minor inconvenience, presumably related to her demonstrated messiah complex of late.

Madonna has shown guts in refusing to be intimidated by religious groups irate over the elaborate mock crucifixion she performs during the song "Live to Tell" as part of her current "Confessions" concert tour. One could perceive the stunt as designed more to stoke controversy than make any sort of personal statement, but that's her right.

Where she unfortunately showed her true colors regards NBC's decision to excise the notorious sequence from a Nov. 22 two-hour concert special. Instead, the NBC broadcast will cut to other areas of the stadium to presumably show fans watching what the TV audience cannot.

There had already been rumblings from the Madonna camp that she was so incensed at the idea of NBC caving to religious groups who had blasted the crucifixion as blasphemous and sacrilegious that she planned to pull the special if the network cut it out. Instead, sources confirmed late last week that the lady herself -- an exec producer of the concert special -- approved the decision to snip.

Evidently, artistic expression and freedom from censorship are no match for the potential loss of a payday. Imagine Madonna nailed up onto a huge "1." That's the image that applies here in assessing the sellout of an artist whose alteration authorization stands as a full-on mockery of our First Amendment rights -- the very same ones that have fueled a nasty content brouhaha between the networks and the FCC.

I totally get NBC's decision to shrink from this fight, one it doesn't need during a season of ongoing ratings woes and mass layoffs. The network's official statement only acknowledges that the "Live to Tell" song "has been revised." The rationale is sound, even if the spine may be weak.

But Madonna has now peddled whatever percentage of her soul she still possessed. It's not necessarily surprising, given that this is an entertainer whose meticulous management of her image over the past quarter-century or so has served to underscore both her uncanny packaging expertise and at-all-costs hunger to remain on top. Few possess her dead-on marketing instincts and ability to evolve into something new every few years.

The flip side, which we're sadly seeing now, is a woman whose values are as adjustable as her art.