Patrick Zimmer

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Madonna Image Analysis Essay


I have decided to choose Madonna for analysis due to the length and variation of her career. This variation should prove useful when looking at changes in her image and whom she appeals to. The purpose of this essay is to deconstruct and analyse Madonna exploiting information on the events of her life avaliable to me to build up a picture of the changes in her developing image, her utilisation of star vvehicles in this development and the power did and does hold over the public, the media and the whole industry itself.
She is seen by many as having a near perfect body and looks. This helps to maintain her longterm appeal as a sex symbol, like, for example Marilyn Monroe, whom she can be seen to mimic in certain ways. Other qualities, it can be argued, include her talent in singing, dancing and acting without which she would lack appeal to the public. A certain degree of dedecation, perserverance and confidence can also be seen proving useful in pulling her through many a scandal and criticism. Above all it must have been ambition that got her started and must have seemed useful in the progression of her fame.
It can be seen that, through the years, her appeal has changed in various ways.
The general majority of her audience, however, seems to be in the younger generation.
I believe that her appeal to males is that of a sexual representation with good looks and body, a degree of talent and a fair amount of publicity. Appeal to females is more in the form of a symbol of feminine rebellion or a kind of role model. Above all her message of "you can make it with whatever style" appeals to all those interested in music, as a career or a hobby.Adults, it seems, are less interested in an image than those younger, so her audience consists mainly of those that either like her music or films.
Through time her target audience has moved a little more towards males as opposed to females in the younger generation as her style became less and less outrageous or rebellious in today`s world. Of course she has tried to keep up and strived to produce original material, but many figures in the world of music and film have since emerged boasting superiority over her ageing ideas.

Like all newcomers Madonna did not meet the music world with instant sucess. With slow progression she developed somewhat of an image of rebellion utilising this and followed her first hit single "Holiday", in 1984, with one of another seven to follow in the very next year, "lucky star". In the video for this, she tries to present in dress a sort of punky image.and her dancing with two large men may, at the time, have been seen to be sexually provocative. The budget of this video is very low, it appears tacky being shot on a plain white background, and it lacks any dimention or story. As Madonna progressed, however, her videos began to contain more substance, building her image and trying to counter major criticisms. For example, "Like a Virgin" was aimed at not defining one single character but showing some versatility on her part. The story flits between two images. One is pure, innocent, the virgin perhaps in response to rumours of her "SELLING HER BODY" or "SHOCKING THE NATION" . The other bold, independant and made to look sexy with the use of targeted camerawork on shots of certain parts of her body, keeping up this permanent side of her image.
Once Madonna decided to put more of a story or theme to her videos, songs like `Pappa Don`t Preach` emerged which tackled specific issues sometimes with morals. This video tries to include in her image a deep understanding of family problems. Her, between her father and boyfriend,is in the centre of the problem but shown to look strong and `able to cope`. The story portrays the somewhat universal issue of a beautiful daughter falling in love with a handsome stranger but the father not wanting to let go of her. Hence some stress arises but Madonna ends preaching something along the lines of `everyone has to live their own life independantly` and`don`t sacrifice old values` at the same time.
Madonna also at certain points made sure to release videos defying the associations of her with posh glamour and seedy sex as the many scandals make out. Examples of these could include "Material Girl" where she walks away from glamour, stardom and material values to a `normal`relationship somewhat ironically with the video director. Also "Open Up Your Heart" shows her leaving a backstreet peepshow, where she was on display, to a loving ending with what appears to be her son. In quite a few videos she makes an effort to show that what is going on is not completely serious, for example "like a prayer" when a curtain goes down implying that the video was simply an act. This contraversial video tackles the issue of religion and discrimination but in a vague way as not to make statements voulnerable to criticism.
In her long line of videos she is made to look increasingly more like a sex object. This may not be entierly intentional but is achieved with her style of flirting dances and sexual films eg. "Body Of Evidence" which is one of the more extreme examples with more sex than plot. This development of image is seen by many as using her body to sell products the obvious example being her much publicised book, "Sex" consisting of a collection of nude photoes and writing on the subject. Once she had creted this extemely sexual image of herself it was impossible to change as can be shown by her recent attempts in releasing songs more about the loving side of a relationship.
This is my view and I see it as improbable that the name "Madonna" wiil ever be associated with anything much other than sex.

During the extent of her career Madonna has made use of a large number of Star Vehicles in attempts to promote her image. She began with fairly low budget films to show her acting abilities and boost sales. An example could be "Desperately Seeking Susan" which makes her out to be tough, streetwise but also fairly trendy much the same as her earlier videos. In following films she built up this image with added characteristics to show her as looking cool, experienced and `in fashion` also including more sex in the hope of appealing to a wider audience. In this field she progressed until material such as the book "sex" emerged trying to share her experiences with the reader. At one time she thought it a good idea to release an exersize video turning out to be quite controversial and although sales were not amazing, probably due to widespread refusal to sell the video, the critics loved it. Another moneymaking stunt was the release of a video consisting merely of on and offstage footage from the "In Bed With Madonna" tour, pursuing an image of honesty and openness although it gives the impression that she doesn`t want to live off camera.
Following the sucess of the film "Basic Instinct", Madonna released her own film in this style "Body Of Evidence" , making her a target for criticism of copying. The plot, above all, denied the film much sucess and for a while after this failiure a lot of publicity was lost. Realising that something had to be done, Madonna returned with "The Girly Show" tour following it with a collection of interviews and live footage under the same title. Recently little has emerged but attempting to regain all lost publicity now would require a ground breaking idea of which Madonna is not exactly renowned for.
Most of Madonna`s star vehicles, I feel, have been aimed at not altering the public`s perception of her but more developing her image to include new qualities with the aim of creating someone close to perfection.

If looking at the power Madonna holds and did hold it can be seen to fluctuate greatly but also to stretch a fairly long way over certain groups who would have looked up to her even as a role model at times.
It must be said that her control over the music and film industry depends greatly on her power over the media and public. iI she were ignored by them the interest of the industry would be greatly reduced so it can be deduced that her control balances mostly on her popularity.
In many ways she has power such as her grip over what image she decides to adopt using song and dance. Her power over the films she stars in is suitably more prone to variation this not being her primary field. For example at the height of her publicity and power she had films based solely on her eg. "In Bed With Madonna" but in contrast after some fading of her publicity she is reduced to playing minor roles for the money and free publicity eg. "In A League Of Their Own". The control she does have over her image in films can be shown by the contrast in films such as "Who`s That Girl" in which she is tough,rebellious and adventureous, and "Dick Tracy" where she is more feminine and sexy, `a man`s woman`. In fact the latter made about eight times as much money perehaps explaining her move more towards this kind of image.
I feel that her move towards the sex world, although renowned for being a big money making field, significantly reduced her power, this area of the market prone to much more criticism and media searching for scandals. The move, however, did give her the power to demand high fees for ever increasing glimpses of her famous body although, through time, this power was reduced as more of her body was `flaunted`.
It can also be seen that power over the media depends a lot on power over the public and vice versa as the media can influence the public but has to cover what the public wants to know about. Genarally the media love her and dzens of reporters usually follow her looking for scoop storiesm, unusual photoes or trying to uncover the latest scandal. An example of this power is her jog in Hyde park managing to attract most papers and TV stations cameras plus a crowd of spectators in the hundreds. At the peak of her publicity her power enabled her to demand a lot of money for interviews and nothing less than the front cover on some papers.
Her power over the public is shown by the number of cult fans or "roadies" that follow her around which has varied a lot but is known to have reached around seven hundred. Public appearances are also usually well attended shown by the Hyde park affair and her fan club has peaked at aproximately four thousand members. Madonna`s concerts being the biggest public appearances are sometimes very popular every show on the "In Bed With Madonna" tour selling out at least a month before the event. Her music sales were once amoungst the top 100 although recently and at the beggining of her career sales have been very poor.
Overall I think that Madonna begun and progressed well in her career but the turning point came from moving her image too far in the direction of sex. Who knows without this move she may never have got started but it seems most responsible for her low popularity today. The big question is Will she make a comeback? because time is running out before her looks begin to fade and her memory is of a star that sold her body and went too far.

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