Considering the prepublication hubbub surrounding Andrew Morton’s Madonna (St. Martin's Press, $24.00, 256 pp.) and Barbara Victor’s Goddess: Inside Madonna, would-be readers can’t be blamed for expecting the two unauthorized bios to be full of revealing interviews and insightful anecdotes about the Material Girl.
Maddy may have outright denounced the books, but both authors still promised to reveal the “real Madonna” through accounts from ex-lovers, friends and family members. Meanwhile, advance copies were few and far between, implying that the publishers didn’t want journalists to dish all the dirt before publication day.
Veiled in such scandal and secrecy, the books were put in the precarious position of actually living up to the hoopla months before hitting shelves.
Unfortunately and rather predictably, however, neither Morton nor Victor shed any new light on the recently self-proclaimed Mrs. Guy Ritchie. And, really, how could they? Without Madonna’s consent or cooperation, the authors rely on unenlightening quips from old acquaintances, now-cliché hearsay and tabloid “truths,” cobbling together versions of Madonna’s so-called life that merely reiterate every last (c)rude allegation and pompous character evaluation that has already been etched into our collective pop-culture psyche: potty-mouthed nympho, untalented and blasphemous tyrant, two-timing bitch, fill-in-sexist-slander-here.
Most shocking, then, aren’t the “revelations,” but the way the books read more like bloated gossip columns in People magazine than serious journalistic endeavors.
Despite Madonna’s 20 years of making evocative art and pushing buttons and boundaries with her sexuality, Morton and Victor pay shockingly little attention to her career. Videos, films and albums merely provide a superficial backdrop for the authors’ extensive examinations of her love life. Strangely, both practically reduce her creative pinnacle (1989-1991) to footnotes in order to meticulously list her sexual partners, flaunt allegations of double-digit abortions and include embarrassing quotes by Vanilla Ice. “If she were a painting, she would be an abstract by Picasso.”
Choosing to highlight scandal over artistry is the authors’ choice, of course, but there’s no excuse for the books’ abundant factual errors. The authors undermine their own journalistic credibility by flip-flopping facts and figures, contradicting each other, and confusing timelines so that readers are often dizzyingly jerked between eras. The errors can be so obvious at times that it’s hard to believe that Morton, previous biographer of Monica Lewinsky and Princess Diana, and Victor, who has written for U.S. News & World Report, haven’t yet mastered fact-checking.
Despite all the sensationalism and inaccuracies, however, Morton and Victor’s ultimate weakness is their failure to capture the excitement and fun that have defined the life and legacy of Madonna. Almost 700 combined pages of obscenely plodding prose and banal observations don’t even come close to rewarding readers with any new insight into the woman who’s single-handedly changed our cultural landscape.
In fact, Morton and Victor seem more adept at constructing and perpetuating the myth of Madonna than offering any convincing portraits of the “real Madonna.” Even if read as works of fiction, however, Madonna and Goddess fail to entertain.