As her latest album hits the stores, pop star Madonna has ginned up headlines again by assaulting American values from her new London home.
Reuters reports that Madonna told an interviewer for the British Radio Times that "We as Americans are completely obsessed and wrapped up in a lot of the wrong values—looking good, having cash in the bank, being perceived as rich, famous and successful or just being famous… It's the most superficial part of the American dream and who would know better than me?"
She goes on to add the platitude that "The only thing that's going to bring you happiness is love and how you treat your fellow man and having compassion for one another." This, like much of her early music, sounds good on the surface but becomes more transparently disturbing the more you think about it.
Madonna's take on what's wrong with American values is as misguided, alas, as her decision to release the "Justify My Love" video. This latest calculated outburst falls in a long line of statements and gestures from the pop princess misreading the American psyche. She operated for the first half of her career, for example, under the delusion that there was some sort of puritanical impulse dominating the contemporary American mind, and that we needed her help to break it down. We can assume she is sincere, if only because we know what a bad actress she is.
Still, sincerity is not enough to absolve this emblematic American popular artist from her dire misunderstanding of what is great and to be admired, and what is questionable and to be admonished, in "American values." The values that she sneers at here—desire for self-improvement and self-betterment in material terms—are central to almost everything that makes America lovable and great. They are also the key to exactly why the way Americans treat their fellow man is laudable—as customers to be won over through persuasion and offering something worthwhile, not as objects on which to practice "compassion" and the betterment of others.
Trying to improve yourself and achieve wealth and renown in the classic American style, as Madonna did—by working hard and making something that satisfies and pleases your fellow man—is about as right as it gets in this material world. Striving to aim above that "superficial" level is what leads to wars of domination, to misguided busybody do-goodism; to Rick Santorum's yearning-to-be-high-minded philosophy of stamping out evil in all of our bedrooms; and in general to the officious, all-embracing, never-leaving-well-enough-alone practice of massive, encumbering government that stifles and ruins the truest American values
Disrespecting those values is far more unpatriotic than what Dixie Chick Natalie Maines said about George W. Bush in London. A boycott in response to Madonna's comments would not only be strangely appropriate, it might actually help the fading superstar by denying her the very thing that so troubles her—a little more cash in the bank. But we should make it clear that we are not advocating such a boycott. Better for Madonna to struggle on in her self-forged chains of wealth, fame, and adoration; better that she humbly shoulder the duty of upholding the self-gratifying capitalist system that does more to promote human happiness than all the phony-baloney compassion and moral crusading in history.