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Feb 16, 2006

More Sacrilege: Black Madonna

Guest Post by: notorious apostate

A Polish pop-culture magazine Machina has added to the recent spate of images that have caused consternation and angry reactions by putting on its cover the following image:

Black-Madonna-1

To understand the image it is necessary to get some background. The face of the woman in the picture is known around the world (the child is her daughter, Lourdes). The clothes, however, belong to another Madonna – the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, considered to be the holiest painting in Poland, with thousands of pilgrims walking across Poland to reach it every year:

Bm-Source

Not surprisingly, the image in the magazine is considered to be sacrilegious by many Catholic organisations, with the magazine coming under attack. Already a number of advertisers have withdrawn their contracts with Machina and the magazine faces the threat of being taken to court as religious feelings are protected in Poland.

It seems very likely that the original editorial decision was a calculated effort to create publicity for a magazine which is returning onto the shelves after a four year long hiatus. Still, the image can be seen as saying a lot more, given its context. Polish society has been rapidly changing over the sixteen or so years since the downfall of Communism. In that time it has become a capitalist society, with a new generation growing up that does not remember the days when the Church was considered to be the main protector of Polish identity in the face of the Communism that had been brought to the country on Soviet tanks. As such, Poland has been undergoing many of the same changes as Western European societies – the difference being that in Poland the changes have been much more rapid. To replace in the icon the Mother of Christ with the "mother of Lourdes" is, therefore, to acknowledge what is happening in Poland – one set of icons replacing another. The sharp reaction by the conservative Catholic elements in society to the cover must be understood not just as a reaction against a religious icon being used in what is thought to be an inappropriate way but, also, as a reaction against being told what they fear is the truth.

The fact that Machina may well end up worse off for its decision is only indicative of the problem with the claim that the way to deal with unwanted images (be they of Mary, Christ or Muhammad) is to boycott their publishers. No publisher in Poland would care about a Muslim boycott as the Muslim community is tiny while the Catholic Church still claims the (wavering) adherence of the great majority of Poles. The result is that the strong can strike back against what they dislike while the weak are open to ridicule or, in the case of the Muhammad cartoons, worse.

(image 1: Machina Magazine via drownedmadonna.com.  image 2: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna)

Comments

As an Australian brought up by Polish migrant parents, the significance of this icon is still remembered to this day. It not only inhabits the pysche of Polish Catholics, but also within the Polish community spread globally and united by Catholicism as a communal anchor. I'm curious to follow how this indeed pans out in Poland, the Australian experience would suggest outrage due to nascent Catholicism. But in Poland, now a vibrant global player? Could it act as a trigger for nationalism in contrast to the moderate impression of Poland by outsiders, or will it be subsumed as an introspection by Poles into globalisation. Very interesting !!

I'm thinking of the rolling stone cover with that guy playing the role of Jesus. What strikes me more looking at this is how similar these two "sacrilege" images are. They must fulfill some need in some vein of popular culture. It is just teen angst? Or is it something more significant?

Are pop stars angry? Are they acting out the anger of their fans? Do they have a point beyond selling music and sugar water? Or is this just assholerly?

Some of the best hip-hop on the planet is coming out of Warsaw these days. Isn't it odd how graffiti, rap and hip hop culture and have spread to every urban center? And that they have done this independently of the media engine that follows them? I think there is far more to poland than meets the eye.

I'm thinking of the rolling stone cover with that guy playing the role of Jesus. What strikes me more looking at this is how similar these two "sacrilege" images are. They must fulfill some need in some vein of popular culture. It is just teen angst? Or is it something more significant?

Are pop stars angry? Are they acting out the anger of their fans? Do they have a point beyond selling music and sugar water? Or is this just assholerly?

Some of the best hip-hop on the planet is coming out of Warsaw these days. Isn't it odd how graffiti, rap and hip hop culture and have spread to every urban center? And that they have done this independently of the media engine that follows them? I think there is far more to poland than meets the eye.

media magdalene ultimateing as
self scarifice

futurebird - I doubt that Madonna posed for this or endorsed it in any way, whereas Kanye West's Rolling Stone cover was a posed photograph, not a cartoon, and was vocally supported by him and he may have participated in the creation of the concept. Yes, they are both very similar, even to the point of the racial reversals, and the needs that they were intended to fulfill for the magazines were probably identical, too, but I don't think it tells you anything about pop stars in general.

I was brought up Eastern European Catholic and I don't find the cover offensive--merely amusing. The Black Madonna is known for her resilience and adaptability. She will survive this episode and probably even grow stronger as a result. What's really radical about the cover is the fact that the Christ Child is replaced by a girl. In that sense, the picture calls into question the subordinate position of women in Catholicism. Maybe that's why the Church hierarchy finds it so upsetting.

marysz, excellent point about Jesus' sex change. I would also add that this was no virgin birth, so the "divine" has been removed from the familiar iconic image, and an imperfect human now inhabits Mary's costume and posture. So does that elevate humans to God's level, or does it debase (and therefore corrupt) God?

Media cannot produce Pop-Culture. Media turns culture into commodity. Otherwise, Madonna has slid into PoMo freakshow and self-parody mode.

This brings to mind a certain Tibor Kalman piece
http://www.sfmoma.org/images/ma/exhib_detail/tiborocity3.jpg

If the Catholic Church was a---not "the"---protector of Polish identity before 1990, it is certainly harming it now. A very powerful and popular wing of Polish Catholicism is maintained by people who are comparable to American ideologues like Ann Coulter and Pat Robertson in their dangerous rhetoric and access to the government. (Check this for example.) No surprise that such people would be outraged by any version of, well, anything that doesn't conform to their narrow view.

That said, whether she posed for the shot or not, I would like to add that I really have no respect---none---for Madonna, whichever pose she strikes. The pseudo religiosity she cultivates does not sit well with the whole pelvis pumping thing.

Remember when John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus? (and got shot for it years later by that crazy nut who thought he was Holden Caufield) This shit is so passe; I can't believe I'm a member of this reactionary generation...

Marysz, its not only Catholicism which has experienced great difficulty dealing with women's subjugation. I would argue that controlling their sexuality especially holding 'them responsible for tempting men' has been a major consideration in most religions.

I read your link found it intriguing, the prose superbly enjoyable but the argument unconvincing. This is why I feel an alternative opinion is necessary. Unfortunately it will not be prosaic or as intriguing as your source so bear with me...

How women are subjugated is a question of form and degree, a review of religious (political) history answers many of the *why* questions at least for me.

Some pious adherents consider the accepted religious practise of female circumcision, to the wearing of the burka, barbaric.

Those same pious religious adherents who share different rigid concepts and beliefs of women's sexuality rejoice in their virtue.

This cover reminded me of a monthly Polish magazine published under communist oppression, widely noted for its superb artistic and literary content it was compared to the avant-garde publications specifically in Europe ( 1960- ) It was widely circulated internally, I wondered why it was never censored ?

Was the Communist hierarchy more tolerant than the Catholic hierarchy, might they have been less hung up on matters of sexuality ?

I believe Religion and Politics often mix so well its frequently impossible to distinguish which is the significant determining source from which decisions are made particularly in so called 'secular societies'.

Compare Communism (godless) and Capitalism (godly)
between 1917-1990 East vs West & Status of Woman.

In the former USSR and satellite countries women's equal participation and achievements particularly in the sciences was unparalleled, the degree of excellence equalled that of men and was astounding in comparison with their sisters in the Free World Countries
Truly a remarkable achievement virtually unknown in the West. I recall only stories of atrocities or failures as daily fare in the MSM from 1945-1990.

Might this little black girl be also a political protest as Poland moves further Right rewarded with US fighter jets and burdened with greater debt. Thus causing more down sizing in essential social services and shredding the social fabric as in the US, for which I need not give examples.

Polish youth enjoy 'their freedom of expression' but must also resent the loss of free higher education based on merit and comprehensive social programs which their parents experienced under the old regime. Few if any would make this hypothetical choice knowing the repressive means by which power was exercised. Its mostly the elderly that want the old days back for pension and benifits which now are severly restricted or unavailable.

After the UK, Poland is evangelical George's most trusted European ally. An extremely religious leader Tony Blair and Poland a nation dominated by religion both share the substantial Christian zeal and influence which thrives within the US. A majority of citizens in all three countries disagree with the disastrous foreign adventure their leaders have embarked upon, but finally a US majority have realized what UK & Polish majorities knew before the invasion of Iraq.
A fellow Canadian and former "W" speech writer David Frum would re-pen this an "axis for good", to twin his more famous "axis of evil" sound bite.

I continue to wonder why Western women in 2006 have yet to achieved the status, recognition or accomplishments in comparable numbers to those enjoyed over 60 years ago in many Eastern countries.

In seeking to redefine 'women's sexuality' by challenging the patrilineal origin of a 2000 year old religion, Western women in less than 40 years by confronting sacred dogma have made Roman Catholic theologians extremely uneasy.
With or without a White or Black Madonna the Roman Catholic church in the third word is threatened by the Evangelicals.

Whether investigating Religion, Politics or Sexuality as you know its advisable to ask the why questions, wondering whats in it for those who request or demand obedience often gets one closer to their real motivation, then by asking whats the payoff for me, may get one closer to ones own particular need or insecurity and then.....
The picture I find mischievously clever and amusing as well.

JANET, How is substituting Jesus for a girl a racial issue? In a capitalist society I think its rational to assume that this magazines motivation is profit driven.


RTBAG, that's some question glad I don't have to respond.




I have to disagree with jt from BC regarding the status of women in the old Soviet Block. What changed under the communist system was that women joined the work force. However, this was not instead of their house-work but in addition. The effect was that many married women slept only for something like four hours per night. They were not emancipated but made to work even more. This was because nothing real was done to alter the fundamentally sexist attitudes in those societies. The images of female pioneers driving tractors were just that - images. And as such, they were treated with as much seriousness by the populace of those countries as the rest of the propaganda. Indeed, it is only with the arrival of democracy that women have been able to organise themselves into independent women's organisations and to challenge traditional gender role-models. Jt's positive view of gender relations in the old communist block is typical of the effect that Soviet propaganda had upon many left-wing intellectuals who were dealing with the excesses of the capitalist system and looking for a better alternative. Much the same mechanism was at work in the east - a rosy view of the US is still common in post-communist Europe.

As to the fact that Christ is replaced in the picture by a girl, it is interesting to note that, in some commentaries, Lourdes is described as a boy. An interesting example of expectations winning out over what is actually in the image.

However, this was not instead of their house-work but in addition. The effect was that many married women slept only for something like four hours per night. They were not emancipated but made to work even more. This was because nothing real was done to alter the fundamentally sexist attitudes in those societies.

This sounds just like the US!

futurebird, that was my thought too!

Notorious Apostate, I definitely agree with your
"The effect was that many married women slept only for something like four hours per night" and a number of other points as well however

I am referring to the the female youth who graduated from medical schools and scientific institutions and into the space program.(In unprecedented numbers etc) I am not suggesting that the USSR was a Utopia nor do I suggest it as a model for social engineering.
Regardless of the political structure The USSR or Russia now or the West neither are havens of equality, they are all still Male dominated societies. Soviet propaganda had the same effect as American propaganda on me, I used the same microscope in reviewing their mythologies and historical records. Its when I often compare the stats and political rhetoric that I discover intriguing differences. I have probably learned more about the USSR from from what was excluded from Western Propaganda during the cold war period. A study of who paid what price in WW II, is an area I studied extensively and found to be at great odds with Western impressions of our heroics at Normandy etc. ( I'm not under minding the importance of our war effort as I lost my father in that conflict but Hollywood and most western histories tend to rather exaggerate our sacrifices)
Like the Peking review getting past the first few paragraphs of Soviet bullshit was my first lesson in political humour. I have found that the Eastern approach was to deliver information with a a rather crude hammer while our Western colleagues massaged me with a velvet glove. Regardless of the delivery system I found they however shared more in common, which I suspect is not all that surprising.
A number of my acquaintenances predicited what the CIA among other experts were ( supposedly) surprised when the Berlin Wall collapsed along with with the sudden demise of communism. At the time I was not as convinced but in retrospect without an axe to grind they were more or less right on the money.
So I have always preferred a double bladed axe when chopping through the historical records.

The Wittenburgdoor Door had that cover 10 years ago when Madonna was first pregnant.

http://www.wittenburgdoor.com/newsletter/Insider037.html

(Scroll down a bit)

The Wittenburg Door is a religious satire magazine written by religious people. It has turned out to be a failure comercially.


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