Marilyn, Madonna, Gaga!

What is it about the human body, sex, and sexuality that leads to so much banning and censoring? What parts of our bodies do we think it is acceptable to show and how and why? What can’t we show–and why? What are “clothes” and how do they work? What is “gender” and why are some ideas or expressions of gender “permitted” or acceptable and others not? Is there a “gendered” way of looking at things? of representing things?  How much do contemporary works of art, and specifically films and videos,  represent a gendered “male gaze” and if so, why?

Our three ladies below are all noted for the purposeful, explicit use of their bodies, their sex, their sexuality, their clothes, and their explorations of gender in their art.  All three appear to be cognizant of, and in the case of the Madonna and Gaga, have made specific references to the assumptions of gender and the gendered “male gaze,” and have worked in explicit ways to challenge and/or subvert or even “play” with that “gaze.” All three have had their work banned.

Marilyn Monroe starred in the great Billy Wilder film, Some Like It Hot, with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Perhaps Monroe’s most famous scene in the movie was her singing, “I’m Through with Love”  in a sheer, sequined dress that offered clear but brief glimpses of her nipples. Ironically the film was banned in Kansas not for the revealed body parts or seductive scenes (check out this one with Tony Curtis)  but because of the Curtis and Lemmon cross-dressing, said to be “too disturbing for Kansans.” That is Tony Curtis dressed as a woman in this scene coming down the stairs listening to Monroe—and then kissing her.

Madonna is certainly one of the most successful artists of the 21st century, known for her pushing established boundaries and expectations, her creative work,  as well as her extraordinary popular appeal and exceptional business acumen.  Her music video, Justify My Love (1990) was the first music video to be released as a VHS single; both the video and the song became some of the most successful and best selling of her works. The video was immediately controversial and banned from MTV and other media outlets for “nudity.”  Take a look at Justify My Love, released in November 1990. Does she remind you of someone in the opening scene?


Lady Gaga,   hugely successful contemporary female artist, whose music and performances privilege the use of her body in a variety of ways, the creator of some extremely controversial but commercially popular and influential works. Lady Gaga’s Love Game video premiered in February 2009. It was banned in Australia for “frequent verbal and visual sexual references” and by MTV Arabia. The head of MTV Arabia, Samer al Marzouki, said, “We represent the young generation’s mentality and culture so we can’t play something that conflicts with that. If they can’t watch something comfortably with their brother, sisters or friends then we will not play it.”