Is Madonna a self-absorbed megalomaniac with a touch of the arriviste? Probably; but so are dozens of equally brilliant male artists in other mediums, whose imperfect but worthwhile new efforts are treated with hushed awe (see the reverence accorded the solemn and often tedious Tom Ford film, A Single Man). The reliable media theme of 'Hating Madonna', whenever she steps out of her pretty-girl-pop-music bandwidth, is so consistent that it deserves scrutiny in its own right.
Why can the press just not wait to hate Madonna at these moments?
Because she must be punished, for the same reason that every woman who steps out of line must be punished. Madonna is infuriating to the mainstream commentariat when she dares to extend her range because she is acting in the same way a serious, important male artist acts. (And seizing the director's chair, that icon of phallic assertiveness, is provocative as hell.) She is taking for granted that she is allowed to stretch. This is intolerable, because Madonna has not done the sorts of things that allow women of immense talent to get 'permission' or 'to be liked'.
What is so maddening? She does what every serious male artists does. That is: she doesn't apologize for her talent or for her influence. What comes across quite profoundly when one interviews her is that she is preoccupied with her work and her gifts - just as serious male artists are, who often seem self-absorbed. She has the egoless honesty of the serious artist that reads like ego, especially in women.
Madonna is that forbidden thing, the Nietzschean creative woman.
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The author Naomi Wolf will be online on Friday to discuss this article and answer readers' questions at www.guardian.co.uk
Thanks to Brian