Scroll through the public comments following any treatment of Lady Gaga's "Judas" video, and you'll find the pop phenom crucified on two Golgothas. She is not only castigated for her depiction of Mary Magdalene dallying alternately with her MainSqueeze Messiah and her heart-tug Judas, but also resented for appearing to rip off Madonna's trademark shock chops. If it weren't enough that the latter lady bears the name of the Blessed Mother to strut her stuff from stage to sanctuary (where she danced with abandon and kissed a black saint on the church altar in "Like a Prayer"), Gaga gets in the baptismal tub with Judas and Jesus -- and the race to the bottom is on.
(And just in case the audience misses the jacuzzi symbolism, Gaga-Magdalene's biblical bad boy perches an elbow on a six-pack of beer and pours his open can on her upturned derriere.)
From a strictly production standpoint, Gaga's got it all over Madonna on this one. Madonna-wanna deserves high marks for the herculean effort of jamming each frame with costumes, cast, choreography and crassness. It's Bollywood in Bethlehem on Red Bull, so don't blink. In the 1989 tabernacle tumbler, Madonna spends much of her five minutes whipping her hair back and forth and repeating a freestyle sock-hop jiggle with the straps of her cocktail dress forever drooping below the bra supports -- a wardrobe malfunction that's provocative only when a woman stuns at finding her fallen garment-hoist tickling the upper arm and demurely returns it to order.
We all thought Madonna had issued the ultimate checkmate when first alleging Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" was stolen from her own "Express Yourself," then performing a mash-up that overtly shifted to "She's Not Me." But the upstart was undaunted.
So no wonder the elder exhibitionist went all the way nasty with her lacy-racy reveal of a single nipple while performing 'Human Nature' live in concert in the apologetically Muslim Istanbul. Did Rome care after that when she dropped her pants to show off her ultra-toned buns-a-la-thong?
While those two duchess it out for supremacy on the stage of sass and sauce, one angelic counterbalance waits in the wings to complete the lady trinity. The unknown foil is The Lost Star, a Parisian pop artist born in the U.S. The contrast is worth a mention -- not because she is musically more gifted than her predecessors (and also not because she is a student of mine, learning IT basics from a fellow Boomer). In her single "Goddess of the Gospels," she is as reverent as any Franciscan nun declaring herself a bride of Christ, but her message is every bit as controversial. Hers is the devotion of one woman to the absolution of a disgraced sister. The Magdalene defies definition by the Catholic power elites.
The Lost Star's embargoed visual element (called a diaporama in her own parlance) is less motion picture than photo montage and also involves a wild-haired modern lady in heels wowing the sanctuary. In the next scenes of "Goddess of the Gospels," she is incarnated two millennia back in time, in rich color and cloth, to the familiar dinner scene with Jesus and his posse -- only this Mary is part of the boys' club bash. Rather than reinforcing the reputation of Magdalene as a harlot redeemed, The Lost Star impersonates the female apostle as sensually provocative but elevates her to the status of a revered goddess.
So, who is more audacious? The one who aims to correct the record, daring to paint Jesus's lady lover back into the sacrosanct Last Supper scene? Or the one who invents a narrative out of whole cloth with Magdalene two-timing her God?
The fascination with Mary Magdalene among contemporary women performers seeking to exonerate the so-called penitent whore has been mainstreamed by the popularity of pop idols like Lady Gaga and Madonna. But that walk of shame is flecked with the glint of lesser-knowns whose passions are no less keening. East Coast artist Katie Ketchum is another one, offering to split her time between Mary Magdalene and other notables in the one-woman shows she has created.
When "I Don't Know How to Love Him" was first performed in Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1970 rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, the blatant reference of a love affair between Jesus and Mary M. caused ripples. Today, Dan Brown's cult fiction hit The Da Vinci Code gathers more gapers to the private quarters of the master and his favorite disciple. But the fetish is grounded in fact. See Secrets of Mary Magdalene: The Untold Story of History's Most Misunderstood Woman -- to name one volume assembled by Dan Burstein and Arne de Keijzer with a faculty of esteemed contributors including an introduction by Elaine Pagels, renowned professor of religion at Princeton University.
Some of the world's heaviest thinkers on faith and history infuse this topic with a gravitas worthy of all the effort. The question is which flavor of Mary Magdalene you like best.