Selling It in a Plain, Aluminum Wrapper

JAMES J. KILPATRICK

November 04, 1992|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- I stopped by a bookstore on K Street and bought a copy of ''Sex,'' by a woman named Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone. Next morning I attended a board meeting of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

It was a nice juxtaposition. The Jefferson Center's mission is to protect every kind of free expression short of certifiable obscenity, and Madonna's book is about as free a form of expression as you can get. You can get it, you sucker, for $49.95. It comes in a plain aluminum wrapper.

Why did I put this literary work on my expense account? It seemed the ethical thing to do. Before denouncing a book, a reviewer ought to read at least some of it. I looked at the dirty pictures, and I read most of the raunchy text, and I am now ready to denounce:

This is a rotten book. It really is. As a work of photographic art, forget it. Most of the prints are grainy; some are out of focus; with one or two exceptions, none of the photographs shows much effort at composition or tonal quality. Roughly 200 of the pictures are mere contact prints off a strip of snapshot negatives.

The prose passages are equally forgettable. Madonna cast her fantasies in the cracked mold of the Penthouse Forum. This is hard-core pornography, but in my limited observation the hack writers of Penthouse do it better. The textual matter is printed in such wretched typography that Madonna's grunts and heaves can barely be deciphered with the naked eye, which is probably the best eye with which to discern them.

If the photographs are so-so and the text ho-hum, why did the publisher order a press run of 750,000? Go to a state fair, if you will, and you will find an answer on the midway. Madonna is a freak, a geek, a fit companion for the world's fattest woman, the Hottentot warrior, and the only two-headed calf ever born in Rockingham County.

Come one, come all! The next show starts in 10 minutes. Buyers will be drawn to Madonna's tent by curiosity, by showmanship, and by a barker's skill. Let this be said for the author, producer and star: She puts on the greatest con artist act since Charles Ponzi fleeced a thousand rustics 50 years ago.

Madonna is nothing much to look at. In several of the photos in ''Sex,'' she exposes the hard, hard face of a middle-aged whore. But Madonna is -- Madonna. Mrs. Ciccone's little girl could not act her way out of a dinner theater in Petaluma, but no one in showbiz has a keener talent for hype. As an entrepreneur, as an exemplar of capitalism in the raw, she merits applause. Her bosom is unexceptional, but her bottom line is great.

Time to be serious. This is a rotten book -- rotten in ways that the literati will never understand. In its own infinitesimal way, ''Sex'' adds to the pollution of our rivers and the smog of our cities. The sexual conduct depicted in Madonna's fantasies, suggesting lesbianism, sodomy and bestiality, is out of bounds. To the extent that her adoring ''wannabes'' regard their Madonna as a role model, she is corrupting them. This is not liberating. This is wicked.

I cannot speak for my colleagues on the board of the Thomas Jefferson Center, but I believe all of us would defend the right of the publisher to sell Madonna's book. It is not being forced upon anyone. By contemporary community standards, it is no more offensive than a thousand other specimens of hard-core pornography. The center protects the expression of ideas. Madonna's ideas may be bizarre -- they are bizarre -- but they must not be suppressed by the fetters of law.

The ideals of a free society demand that Madonna's book be tolerated. This does not mean that her ideas should be condoned. Not at all. The publicity surrounding publication of this thoroughly worthless book may even serve a useful public purpose. It may prompt the exponents of our better natures to rally once more to the old virtues -- to the values of chastity, self-esteem, and the kind of love that binds man to woman beyond the borders of carnality.

Madonna's evil temptations have everything to do with sex, and nothing at all to do with love. She posed for 317 photographs of presumed gratification.

This is the sad fact: By my count, she appeared to be smiling in only 12.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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