When I was in elementary school, there were two dominant female pop singers: Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I didn’t have MTV so everything I knew about these two women was based on what my friends told me, and somehow I got the idea that you could like one or the other but not both. So I chose Cyndi Lauper, because everyone else seemed to worship Madonna and I’ve always been a contrarian like that.
I’m still more a fan of Cyndi than Madonna, but reading the wonderful anthology Madonna and Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop has given me a new appreciation not just for Madonna’s influence on music and popular culture, but the impact that she’s had on multiple generations of women. Not all of the thirty-nine essays in this collection are flattering to the erstwhile Material Girl; some of them are downright nasty. But whether the writer has come to praise or bury Madonna Louise Ciccone, she does it with intelligence and passion. The icon is the lens through which a whole range of issues, including religion, sexuality, feminism, body image, race, and socioeconomic status are explored, and it’s interesting to see such a diverse range of reactions and viewpoints that all have the same catalyst in common.