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Madonna's No Pundit

When Americans are at war, fighting and dying halfway around the world for an idealistic end to a vicious and dangerous regime, the last thing we need is a silly pop music star exploiting the drama for commercial gain.

But then, nobody ever accused Madonna of having any class, either.

There's something almost pathetic about Madonna. She's an accomplished actress. She has real musical talent. Her fame has brought her fortune beyond measure. But it's not enough. It's never enough. She must be controversial, she must live up to her mantra: I shock, therefore I am.

But it looks like this time she went too far. This time Madonna's planned outrage backfired.

Last Monday, Madonna announced that she would not be premiering her new video in America for the single "American Life." Many Americans were relieved, and I suspect many of her fans were grateful. Yet no one should be buying Madonna's schtick. Smell the publicity ploy, the damage control to prevent what otherwise would have been Madonna's greatest miscalculation ever.

The "American Life" video was filmed in February, when everyone knew we were headed toward war in Iraq, and the goofball anti-war Hollywood Left was mobilizing. Ah, the opportunity for controversy! It's safe to assume Madonna was calculating that by April the anti-war movement would be in high gear and taking its toll on American public opinion of President Bush.

But something went wrong, terribly wrong. In the face of the radical left's opposition, the president's ratings have soared. And what of the Hollywood Left? Just note how the Dixie Chicks laid a big fat publicity egg after lead singer Natalie Maines said they were "ashamed" that President Bush hailed from Texas.

So what was Madonna planning to unveil last Monday before chickening out?

The Drudge Report and others who have looked at the video say it included scenes of stealth bombers and missile launches edited with flashes of the American flag, while Madonna is shown urinating on a toilet. (She may be getting older, but she's not getting any classier.) It featured a fashion show with models in skimpy clothing decorated in camouflage patterns, with one model wearing a thong and a gas mask, and another donning a camouflage chador, all against a video backdrop of war planes.

Later, images of mushroom clouds are mixed with innocent faces of Iraqi children. Moments after she drops an F-bomb in the song, ("F*** it!") Madonna pulls the pin on a grenade and throws it at a George W. Bush look-alike. The look-alike picks up the grenade - and lights his cigar with it.

Madonna explained the allegedly deep meaning behind the grenade sequence: "The one who catches it takes something that could be violent and destructive and takes the destruction out of it by turning it into something else. That's my hope for an alternative, not only to this war, but all wars."

With all the usual love-bead looniness of Hollywood "spirituality," Madonna also declared that, "War is a manifestation of everybody. We have our personal karma and we have a global karma. So for me, it's about trying to get a message out that if we want peace and love in our life, then we have to make it happen in the world."

The video wasn't always so meaningful. Madonna told MTV the original version was almost 10 minutes long, with breaks in the song for conversations and car chases, but "we had to edit it for time. Then we had to get rid of all the F-words."

So why did Madonna pull the video? She did it out of "respect to the armed forces, who I support and pray for." She also wants us to know she thinks Saddam Hussein's a bad man. Balderdash. If the video is disrespectful to the armed forces last week, it was equally disrespectful when she was filming it in February.

But what's most deeply silly about this war video/PR stunt is the "American Life" song has absolutely nothing to do with war and peace. The song is about the Material Girl's old pose of rejecting the plastic promises of materialism. So all the bombs and Iraqi children's faces are just there to draw attention not to Iraq, but to the new Madonna album. How Iraqi kids will be helped by consumers giving Madonna another gold record is a mystery.

Madonna is no pundit and is well-advised to steer clear of anything requiring the use of limited brainpower. Just as President Bush isn't trying to moonlight from his day job by auditioning to be a country singer on "Nashville Star," so too should shock-musicians like Madonna realize how ridiculous they sound when they touch on subjects about which they obviously know nothing.