Monday, April 18, 2016

Core Post #4: Hooks' Problematic Analysis of Madonna

Hooks' article, "Madonna: Plantation Mistress or Soul Sister?", presents an insightful and racially-coded reading of Madonna's stardom. It manages to examine Madonna's display of white privilege in relation to her black and gay dancers. Her concepts of Madonna's 'black envy' and appropriation of black culture are intriguing, and it evokes the phrase "everything but the burden," where members of non-black cultures take pleasure in exploiting and adopting the charming aspects of black culture but ignore the painful historical context of the culture. Hooks also refrains from a feminist reading of Madonna's stardom; rather, he chooses to focus on the racial aspect and repeatedly states that other critics have ignored the racial implications of Madonna's work. Although analyzing Madonna's work as cultural appropriation is valid, Hooks fails to explain the very concept of cultural appropriation and give the benefit of doubt to Madonna. Where's the line between paying homage and cultural appropriation? What is cultural appropriation really?

Sentences like "Madonna's imitation of [the groin grabbing gesture] could just as easily be read as an expression of envy" are unconvincing at best because Hooks fails to mention an obvious alternative reading that she is simply paying homage to one of the greatest artists of all time (Hooks 161). Why does every sexual expression have to be interpreted by a Freudian, psychoanalytical lens? Another sentence, "[Madonna] is always first and foremost in competition with men to see who has the bigger penis" makes no sense at all (Hooks 161).  It is understood that the phrase "bigger penis" symbolizes phallic power, but Hooks provides no factual basis of how exactly Madonna 'competes' with male stars except empty claims like "Madonna clearly perceives black male stars like Prince and Michael Jackson to be the standard against which she must measure herself and that she ultimately hopes to transcend" (Hooks 161). 'Clearly'? How so? Just because she imitates Michael Jackson in crotch-grabbing does not mean she compares herself with him, let alone 'black male stars' in general.

Throughout her essay, Hooks uses strong phrases like 'racist aggression' and 'colonize [black culture]' to describe Madonna's 'appropriation of black culture,' without really presenting the other side of the argument (Hooks 159). Throughout the essay, Hooks cites examples of Madonna's cultural appropriation: the groin-grabbing, the casting of black actors in the "Like a Prayer" video and her 'white supremacist' actions in Truth or Dare. These acts all fit the description 'cultural appropriation' because they exploit aspects of a minority culture in opportunistic ways. Although this is a valid argument, it does not warrant phrases like 'racist aggression' and 'colonize.' Using these phrases suggest that Madonna has a vicious agenda of presenting blackness in a racist light, which is entirely speculative and baseless. According to Hooks, Madonna did say that she wanted to be black as a child, but this sentiment hardly means she has intentions in 'colonizing' black culture. In fact, being envious of another culture as a child is a relatively normal feeling. Yes, she is trying to take 'everything but the burden,' but that can hardly be interpreted as an attempt to be aggressive towards black culture.

Hooks' article provides a thought-provoking analysis on the racial implications of Madonna's stardom, but assumes and speculates too much to make the argument convincing and sound. The danger of using a narrow framework when making large claims like Hooks does is in the disregard for other valid readings. In this case, a feminist reading of Madonna may be beneficial to the analysis, adding another layer of intersectionality.

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