From blatant to latent protest (and back again): On the politics of theatrical spectacle in Madonna's 'American Life'

Martin Scherzinger, Stephen Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper explores ambiguities of political resistance and anti-war protest in Madonna's music video, 'American Life'. We begin by tracing the history of the making, promotion and eventual withdrawal of the video in the context of the military build-up and media campaign that preceded the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. In these opening sections, we focus in particular on the (perhaps deliberately generated) controversy surrounding the work, and its problematic relationship with contemporary corporate mass media. We then proceed to describe the visual contents of the video, and present three distinct readings of it: first, as a gesture of overt protest against the war; second, as a work that is unaware of the manner in which its signifying textures unwittingly and covertly celebrate the culture it would critique, thus nullifying its overt subversive gesture; and third, as a work that is in fact far more politically resistant than it knows, through an uncanny form of protest that is dependent upon this very complicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-229
Number of pages19
JournalPopular Music
Volume26
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Music

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