Madonna book: a catharsis to him, but a bore to others


July 16, 2008|By LIZ SMITH | LIZ SMITH,Tribune Media Services

SOME WEEKS ago when word broke that Christopher Ciccone was about to publish a book about his sister, Madonna, I wrote that I hoped Christopher would not use the word "catharsis" as the reason he did it.

I hoped in vain. On the very first page, in the introduction of Life With My Sister Madonna, Christopher writes "it has been a catharsis."

Give me a break. Catharsis is for a therapist's couch. Bitter tell-alls are written for money and revenge. The sad thing about this book is that it is so ... boring.

In between co-author Wendy Leigh's cut and paste, there are no shocking revelations. Christopher wanted the world to know his sister is manipulative and stingy and an egomaniac. She embellishes the truth. She can be ruthless. She has had more than her share of lovers. The surprise is ... what? No hardcore - or even casual - fan of Madonna's will be startled by anything in this book. No new lovers are revealed; there is no fresh take on the personality she and the media have fashioned over the decades. Oh, wait, one thing - for all the display she has made of her body, professionally, the private Madonna is actually rather modest. One reason she wanted her brother as her dresser on early tours? "Christopher, I can't let strangers see me naked!" That was amusing.

Christopher gives her credit for sincerity in her AIDS fundraising, for having really loved Sean Penn and her current husband, Guy Ritchie (despite Christopher's intense dislike of Guy) and for random nice gestures and generosity here and there, but basically this book is about how he always felt dwarfed by his sister's shadow and ambition, underpaid for his artistic contributions to her career - which he says are massive - and disrespected by her constantly. That's his story and maybe every word is true. But why does it deserve to be put between the covers of a book? How about keeping it confined to the therapy he says has helped him so much in recent years?

Cover story

I have learned the hard way that people don't "get" irony or satire. They used to, but times and brains have changed.

I was reminded of this when I saw the New Yorker cover illustration of Barack and Michelle Obama - she dressed up as a radical revolutionary, he in Muslim garb. An American flag burns in the fireplace, a portrait of Osama bin Laden hangs on the mantel.

Will the powers at the New Yorker recognize that this "satirical jibe" at the right-wing perceptions about the Obamas will be used as a poster, a clarion call to all who believe the worst about Barack and Michelle? Yes. And they don't care. When was the last time anybody really talked about a New Yorker cover? They are in newsstand hog heaven. Editor-in-Chief David Remnick insists: "I would never run a cover just to get attention." We now have to find a new dictionary definition for disingenuous.

I liked columnist and pundit Mike Barnicle's comment - "Five people who live on Manhattan's Upper East Side said, 'Oh, this is sooo funny,' and the New Yorker editors went with that."

Perhaps the cartoon might have worked better as a sketch within a sketch - the cover being held up by Karl Rove, and presented to John McCain? The Republican candidate could have been shown in an oxygen mask, and Cindy McCain hanging around, maxing out her American Express card, holding a beer and a bottle of pills. Equal opportunity witty satire.

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