The Gift Economy, Anarchism and Strategies for Change
Terry Leahy's website
Lecture: What is Conservative/ Respectable/ High Status Dress?
Lecture: The Media as Dominant Ideology
Lecture: Postmodernism
Lecture: Can Ads Ever Be Radical?
Lecture: Types of Media Analysis
Lecture: Is Xena a Feminist Heroine?
Lecture: Radway's approach to Romance Novels
Lecture: Popular Media as Patriarchal Ideology
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Lecture: Soap Operas and Feminism
Lecture: Walkerdine on Rocky
Lecture: Feminist Arguments Against Pornography
Lecture: The Debate About Madonna
Terry Leahy SOCA208 Media and Society

Kellner’s article is very much a yes and no approach to Madonna - viz. is Madonna a feminist - yes and no etc. To represent the arguments that Kellner puts forward the best strategy is to draw up three ‘yes’ and ‘no’ charts and fill them in as particular paragraphs from Kellner are read. The following is not a comprehensive guide but illustrates a few angles and explains [in square brackets] some of the arguments that Kellner uses where he assumes prior knowledge of marxist theories etc.

Is Madonna A Feminist?


Highlights the social construction of gender codes in fashion, against a conservative view that gender is biologically given.

Encourages women and girls to experiment with gender codes rather than being restricted by patriarchal ideas about gender.

Shows that women can take up a powerful position in relation to men, as sexual agents, as business and work bosses, as physically strong, as creative artists.

Madonna’s overt sexual behaviour defies the patriarchal double standard in which women are the objects of sexual desire but only men are permitted to express desire.

Madonna makes the process of sexual objectification of women visible by producing it in an exaggerated, comic form. For example the clip in which she is crawling under a table while being viewed by an older man in a suit with a monocle.


In her second period, she produced the traditional [i.e. patriarchal ] image of the slender, well-dressed beautiful woman - forcing her fans to diet, spend money etc. to attain her look. [ ??? I find this argument a bit unconvincing when you look at how she was built during this period - e.g. in the ‘In Bed With Madonna’ movie, as well as the fact that half the time the tailored clothes she was wearing were men’s suits!]

While her presentation of herself as a sex object can be construed as ironic it also functions to position her as a sex object for many men and to suggest to women that that is their appropriate role.

Is Madonna Anti-Capitalist?


Madonna’s fashion and style, especially in her earlier flash trash period reinforced a wave of youth rebellion against conservative social norms.

[ In other words, Madonna added her voice to the social protest of the hippies and punks etc. who were genuinely fighting the system on a number of fronts.

Kellner is assuming here that there is something genuinely anti-capitalist about this youth rebellion and the fashions that went with it.

For example, the perspective of these movements was against regimented and boring work, they were anti-war and rejected the puritan codes of sexuality that according to Kellner et al are part of a package of puritanism and the work ethic.

In fashion, the ragged, messy and cheap look of these groups (and Madonna) represented a challenge to respectable dress as represented by quiet colours, clean and tidy clothing, sensible styles, expensive outfits. These respectable clothes are a fashion style that signifies adherence to the norms of obedience, hard work and political conservatism.]

Madonna’s dramatic shifts in style suggested that identity is a social construct and can be modified at will.

[Kellner sees this as anti-capitalist because, firstly, it encourages people to realise that they do not have to construct their identity in relation to norms dictated by authorities and capitalist companies such as the fashion industry.

Secondly, it encourages people to develop their creativity and this may lead on to a critique of alienated labour.]


Reinforces consumerism and helps the capitalist market to sell products.

Suggests to people that they can express themselves and create their identity by consuming particular fashion products or by creating their own individual look.

[Kellner is assuming here that the reader knows that marxists believe that the capitalist system alienates people from their productive and creative capacities in the sphere of work and production - i.e. you have to get a job and when you’re at work you have to do what your boss decides so that he can make a profit, not whatever you yourself think might be interesting or worthwhile.

i.e. from the marxist point of view no amount of creative consumer identity construction can make up for the fact that you are alienated at work. The only real solution is for workers to take over and control the means of production - e.g. in the utopia of a gift economy.

So from this perspective, artists like Madonna sell people a false alternative to the alienation of capitalist society.]

She presents herself as a dominating boss over her dancers and as in control sexually in s/m scenes. This reinforces the widespresad pro-capitalist view that domination and submission are inevitable aspects of human nature and that equality between people is not possible.

Is Madonna Anti-Racist, Pro- Gay etc?


Madonna breaks the taboo on interracial relationships, she often shows herself in clips as having relationships with ethnically marginalized or black men, she shows herself as associating with such men and women as friends in more documentary style presentations and in reports made about her life.


She has been charged with an exploitation of marginal ethnic groups in order to broaden her market, prolonging a white musical tradition in which black musicians or dancers are given a supporting role that merely enhances and dramatizes the superiority and desirability of the white woman/ man etc.

[Kellner distances himself from this a bit, preferring the interpretation in the left hand column.]

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