I’ve been known to have dreams about fictional characters, but it’s not every day that I find myself viewing the most mainstream social event of the United States calendar and thinking, “Wait, I’ve seen this vid!” I’m talking, of course, about Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI Halftime Show, in which her opening performance of “Vogue” was a clear take-off on the classic vid of the same title by Luminosity.
You can view a TV rip of Madonna’s entire performance (which also featured LMFAO, Cee Lo Green, Nicki Minaj, and M.I.A.) on YouTube, and Luminosity’s vid on blip.tv, which is a queer feminist critique of the movie 300, which was itself based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. Honestly, for most of the halftime show I was mostly just staring open-mouthed at the screen; Madonna is nothing else if not a consummate performer, and she hit this one out of the park.
Watching the halftime show and Luminosity’s vid back to back, however, produces some interesting–and uncomfortable–conjunctions. Namely, both fandom and the larger pop culture which it critiques and draws upon have some similar problems.
In her notes to reposting the vid on blip.tv, Francesca Coppa notes that Luminosity “conflates the battlefield and the dance floor, subjecting the men to a female and queer gaze and setting Madonna up as this world’s reigning pagan goddess.” Very true, and at least one blogger, Obsidian Wings, picked up on the camp aspects of Madonna’s reappropriation of the “Vogue” vid’s aesthetic almost immediately: contrary to the lyrics, it does matter whether you’re a boy or a girl, as the vid makes clear. What I’m interested in, however, are the ways in which song, vid, and halftime show all make similar maneuvers, particularly around those issues of gender and of race.
The original “Vogue” song of course refers to a style of dance invented in Harlem and appropriated by Madonna for the song and its music video. The story of most pop music in the 20th century is of course the story of white musicians appropriating black performers’ styles and innovations and repackaging them for a “mainstream” (read: white) audience, and the tried-and-true strategy only continues in the 21st century, from Justin Bieber to–especially in the third song of the Super Bowl set, “Gimme All Your Luvin'”–Madonna herself, whose performance prominently deployed the more au courant star power of performers of color, including Nicki Minaj and M.I.A., in service to the blonde Queen’s latest reinvention. M.I.A. in particular earned censure–not least from Madonna herself–for giving the middle finger to the national television cameras during her verse.
Similarly, as much as it skewers the hypermasculine gender presentation of the movie 300, Luminosity’s vid doesn’t (can’t?) do much to problematize the exceedingly questionable racialization of the Persian Wars that Frank Miller’s graphic novel exults in–the good guys are the manly Spartans, and the bad guys(?) are the effeminate Persians. (To say nothing of Miller’s extraordinarily biased presentation of history, as David Brin notes in this post.) They may all get down on the dance floor, but unlike what the song says, it does make a difference if you’re black or white.
My point here is not so much that all of this is anything new (it’s not), but rather that viewing the vid and the halftime show together provides a textbook example of the ways in which fandom (and any pop culture critique based in pop culture itself), and vidding in particular, is limited by its working, in some senses, with found objects. Fandom is unquestionably a fascinating space of critique, remixing, and reinvention, but ultimately pure remixing, no matter how creative, makes it very difficult to introduce radically new elements, or to go beyond what you’re given to work with.
Of course, introducing radical new elements, as uncomfortable and difficult as it is and has been for fandom, may not be what strikes a pop cultural chord in the larger sphere at all. Madonna has shown herself constantly willing to reinvent herself over the course of her career, and the idea of infinitely revising a concept around a central core is of course intimately familiar to fans in general and to writers of fanfic especially. Furthermore, it’s no coincidence that this performance in particular was Madonna’s latest reintroduction to global pop cultural relevance, after the lackluster performance of her previous album, her divorce from Guy Ritchie, and above all the meteoric rise of Lady Gaga to the pop music firmament had somewhat dented the Queen’s crown. But her new album MDNA hits stores in the States March 26, and concert dates for her upcoming world tour are already selling out. Long live the Queen.