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How to 'Express Yourself' to Others: The Case of Madonna and Marine Le Pen

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Guess who's been stirring up controversy around the world lately? That's right! Madonna's done it again. Could we expect anything less from the superstar who's clearly made a lifelong career out of being a daredevil? After all, when it comes to pulling off provocative stunts, no one holds a better track record than Madge. But has the 53-year-old material girl crossed the line this time, spitting in the face (figuratively speaking) of political correctness? Just how far is too far?

Performing her song "Nobody Knows Me" during the May 31 kickoff of her MDNA world tour at the Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv, Israel, Madonna had a video projected on a giant screen behind the stage displaying recent French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, a far-right candidate representing France's anti-immigrant National Front party, with a swastika superimposed on her forehead. Apparently, the swastika shown on the photo was not the Nazi swastika but the one commonly used by ancient Near Eastern and South Asian religions to denote auspiciousness or well-being. Nevertheless, the Nazi connection was reinforced when the image of Le Pen's face morphed into a man resembling Adolf Hitler, seconds after the swastika stunt. The offensive photo montage video was not solely dedicated to Marine Le Pen but also took a stab at other well-known political and religious figures, such as U.S. politician Sarah Palin, Pope Benedict XVI, and Chinese leader Hu Jintao.

Suffice to say the artistic, albeit incendiary, montage ticked off Le Pen, who is now threatening to sue the pop icon if the video is not completely removed by the time the tour reaches France for the scheduled concert dates in Paris on July 14 (Bastille Day) and in Nice on Aug. 21. "If she does that in France, we'll be waiting for her," cautioned an outraged Le Pen. Not one to hold her tongue, Le Pen, sarcastically giving Madonna a taste of her own medicine, further opined, "We understand how old singers who need to get people talking about them go to such extremes."

It's no breaking news that artists have always been outspoken about their political and social views, and have more often than not used their star power and/or art to draw attention to certain issues, good or bad. But where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and defamation of character? What is the balance between freedom of expression and the rights of others?

While I am a huge fan of Madonna and have always admired the way she has impressively been able to reinvent both her music and image by continually pushing people's buttons, I don't necessarily believe she's the most qualified celebrity to dabble in politics -- especially when her so-called (subliminal) political statement is not only contradictory but devoid of substance and factual accuracy.

To kick off her world tour in Israel by pointing a rifle at the audience, only to later plead for peace in the Middle East, is in my opinion a ridiculous oxymoron. Belching out a few patronizing words at a pop concert will certainly not resolve the never-ending, complex problems in the Middle East, nor will it give legitimacy to Madonna as a credible political authority. Case in point: the Le Pen brouhaha.

Now, to play devil's advocate, the political stance that Madonna expressed via her video montage is not entirely out of left field. Not only has the National Front, under Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine's father, frequently been linked with anti-Semitism and racism, but the Queen of Pop has also currently been dating 24-year-old French dancer Brahim Zaibat, who has a North-African, Muslim, immigrant background. But while it might strike a chord for the singer, connecting Le Pen with Nazis on a huge screen in front of 30,000 fans is nothing short of defamatory.

Attempting to distance herself from her father's reputation of allegedly holding Nazi affinities, Marine Le Pen has been continuously gaining momentum on the French political scene. And her efforts to reform the party's image seem to have paid off. Have we already forgotten the recent French presidential elections? She came in third, earning a stunning 18 percent of the vote in the first round, held in April, beating the National Front's previous record, set by her father in 2002, when he surprisingly won his way into the second-round runoff with 17 percent of votes. As a source in the National Front party commented, Madonna's slur is insinuating that "a fifth of the French people [are] anti-Semitic and racist."

The point is that even if your name is Madonna and you have the uncanny ability to shock across borders, you shouldn't make false allegations based on your own personal judgment and perception. While I strongly support freedom of expression, I also believe it stops when it trumps the liberty and image of others, as in this case, where defamation of character is involved.

Now, I'm a French citizen, and although I'm certainly not a fan of Marine Le Pen, I am a fan of fairness and accuracy. What Madonna has actually accomplished (intentionally or not) is give Marine Le Pen her 15 minutes of world fame. Let's be realistic for a minute: How many people in the Israeli audience actually recognized the image of Marine Le Pen, let alone knew who she was? Sadly, the same goes for the rest of the world: How many of you follow French politics regularly? Perhaps if Marine Le Pen had been a reality-TV celebrity, everyone would have identified her in a heartbeat.

Shock for shock's sake is a total, useless waste of time and rhetoric, especially when based on ignorant arguments and unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, in today's celebrity-driven landscape, too many celebrities make politically incorrect faux pas and abuse their star power, feeling the need to randomly lash out and/or mindlessly express themselves without valid sources or proven facts to legitimately back up anything they say. What they should perhaps realize is that more often than not, they will find themselves the subject of their own ridicule. All I'm suggesting is for people, and not just celebrities, to think before they act and/or speak. As French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire -- famous for his advocacy of civil liberties, incidentally -- said, "People sometimes say: 'Common sense is quite rare.'"

But hey, bad publicity is better than no publicity, right?