Trembling Before Madonna

Have you read much about the revelation that children as young as 8 years old were imprisoned, abused, and sometimes tortured by the U.S. military at Abu Ghraib? Of course you haven't – the mass media have been too busy talking endlessly about such burning issues as Michael Jackson's showing up in pajamas for his trial, "Baretta's" improbable beating of a murder rap, and the use of steroids by the overpaid, bovine practitioners of industrial sports.

The latest pseudo-event causing the useless death of many trees to provide newsprint for the tabloids is the headline-grabbing cat-fight between Madonna and Boy George over Kabbalah. I normally wouldn't waste my time examining such detritus from what the late Situationist philosopher Guy DeBord called "la societe du spectacle" – but there is a grain of something relevant in this current dispute between the bottle-blonde fag-hag and the gender-fuck karma chameleon.

In California – a strange land where anyone can put a bath-towel around their head, stand on a street-corner to proclaim themselves a guru, and instantly attract a cult following in the hundreds – Kabbalah is, as the celebrity-watchers among you may know, the latest religious craze among Hollywood's semi-literate show-biz icons. Among them: Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone (the name on the chanteuse's Bay City, Mich., birth certificate). Ms. Ciccone (or, if you prefer, Mrs. Ritchie now) was accused last week of outrageous hypocrisy for embracing the mad mysteries of Kabbalah by George Allan Dowd (the polymorphous Brit pop star otherwise known as Boy George).

Mr. Dowd told London's Daily Mail: "'Her agenda with the gay community was always about: 'It's good for me '... It's ironic that she's joined Kabbalah, an organisation that says homosexuality is a disease that can be cured, and no one picks her up on it. After making all those millions of dollars out of gay people, pretending to kiss girls, pretending to be a lesbian. I think she's cynical.''

The performer known as Boy George will never be taken for a deep thinker, so his illusion that Kabbalah is an "organization" may perhaps be forgiven, because – the Culture Club front-man confessed – he got all he knows about Kabbalah from "watching a documentary." (I suspect he was referring to Trembling Before G-d, Sandi Simcha Dubowski's searing documentary about the soul-destroying schizophrenia engendered in Orthodox Jewish gays who try to cling to their anti-gay religion.) But I confess a small weakness for eccentric, genuine gender-benders in the Quentin Crisp mold – folks like Mr. Dowd and his cultural godfather, Mr. Crisp, showed extraordinary courage in putting on public display their costumed challenges to gender norms, thus exposing themselves to the unwanted physical attentions proffered by gay-bashers. Their unabashed and unapologetic homosexuality helped create a wider cultural space for more sartorially sedate same-sexers, in whose ranks I may be counted.

In his current dispute with Ms. Ciccone, Mr. Dowd is on to something. Kabbalah is a set of rather deranged mystical commentaries by ultra-Orthodox Jewish sages of centuries past, for whom homosexuality was not only an "abomination" but a capital crime (as the Old Testament book of Leviticus, revered by Orthodox Jews, states rather clearly). Perhaps Ms. Ciccone's Catholic background didn't provide enough homophobic fuel for her fire. The attitudes toward gays of the Kabbalah and its prophets are even worse than Mr. Dowd suspects.

Now, anyone who has seen Alek Keshishian's 1991 documentary on Madonna, Truth or Dare – in which her notorious fag-hag-ery is prominently on display as part of her self-promotion – knows that Ms. Ciccone for years used the gay community as a springboard to celebrity. One of my neighbors in New York City's East Village back in the '70s was a delightful queer lad who was Madonna's set designer – before he sadly died of AIDS, he would regale us with hilarious tales of the sexual antics of the gay boys who made up the singer's entourage, for which she was an indulgent enabler – the sort of thing which fertilized the gay-based cult that helped make the Material Girl a star. Not all that long ago, Madonna used the televised MTV awards for a headline-making, open-mouthed liplock with both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera – the photos of which flew around the world – and also consciously paraded before the press her supposed "flirt" with Sandra Bernhard (and, later, with Bernhard's enamorata Ingrid Casares, to the comic's great discomfort.) Same-sexers were for years Ms. Ciccone's trampoline to media attention, in the days before the lavender Step'n Fetchits of Queer Eye and Will and Grace made a vulgar, commercialized version of consumer-camp minstrelsy profitable – and even banal.

Now that "family values" are in – and her career is sagging – Madonna ostentatiously parades her motherhood and writes childrens' books. But, given her life-long immersion in a homo subculture of show biz, Ms. Ciccone should have known better than to enslave herself to Kabbalah and its anti-gay "sacred" tracts. Even the religion-belching Fox News has reported that her current husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, is "becoming less and less happy with the influence Kabbalah has over his wife."

When the Boy George attack hit the tabs, Madonna's press agent pretended to the New York Post that Kabbalah "does not discriminate against homosexuals." That's hogwash, of course. Here, for example, is the tortured fantasy offered by the sages of the web site to explain the Kabbalah's views on lesbianism:

According to Kabbalah, lesbianism does not create the same intensity of a spiritual short-circuit as gay sex because no semen is spilled into the open. Semen is the closest substance on earth to the Light of the Creator. For this reason it creates pleasure and it creates life. If it is exposed, negative forces immediately latch onto it. Thus, the negative forces are strengthened in the world. Lesbianism, however, does not create Light or Life. Therefore, though there is no spilling of a man's seed, there is no creation of Light and Life. Thus, the action only serves our interest and for this reason, is not endorsed.
This is the sort of clap-trap Ms. Ciccone has now embraced, having replaced girls with Kabbalah as the object of her lip-lock. And that, as Boy George certainly has reason to say, is both hypocritical and cynical.

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