On November 2 1992, Madonna appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine, with the headline: The Selling of Sex – The New Voyeurism.
Here’s a snippet of the article inside, written by John Leland:
What if Madonna gave a sexual bonfire and nobody came? In the quiet before the inevitable storm a few weeks back, NEWSWEEK asked Madonna about the possibility of failure or, more grievous, inconsequence. What if she released “Sex“—her explicit coffee-table book of erotic photos and writings, celebrating sadomasochism, homosexuality, exhibitionism and other pansexual delights-and the public merely yawned? “If everybody yawned,” she said, armed for this and other contingencies, “I’d say hooray. That means something happened.”
It was one of those neat identity makeovers for which Madonna is justly renowned: after coloring the last nine years with her determination to engage our attention at all costs, here she was, Florence Nightingale, dutiful erotic night nurse, content to slip into the shadows once her services were no longer needed, the patient cured. Now that’s what you call spin.
But for Madonna and for the rest of us, this was no lark. A deft little way to make some money and grab some spotlight, “Sex” also promised our first barometric reading of a turbulence boiling in American culture. Call it the new voyeurism: the middlebrow embrace, in the age of AIDS, of explicit erotic material for its own sake. From Mapplethorpe to MTV, from the Fox network to fashion advertising, looking at sex is creeping out of the private sphere and into the public, gentrified by artsy pretension and de-stigmatized out of viral necessity. Canny marketers exploit it; alarmed conservatives, joined by many feminists, are trying to shut it down. In many ways, as Pat Buchanan asserted at the Republican convention in August, there really is a cultural war going on. “Sex” stood to claim the battlefield. Advance cover stories on the book in Vanity Fair, Vogue and New York Magazine heralded hot like you’ve never seen before.
And from the looks of things last Wednesday morning, “Sex” measured up. Dismissive reviews, splashed across the tabloids like news of Pearl Harbor, couldn’t stop the ambush. Bookstores, record stores, anybody who carried it got swamped. Priced at $49.95 and packaged in a Mylar bag that warned ADULTs ONLY!, the book sold 150,000 copies on the first day, out of 500,000 printed for American distribution. Who says we’re in a recession? Laurence J. Kirshbaum, president of Warner Books, called it “review-proof.” Many stores pre-sold their shipments before they arrived. Others couldn’t restock fast enough to keep pace with demand.
On September 29 1992, Madonna’s Erotica single was released to radio. Originally credited to Madonna & Shep Pettibone, Pettibone’s partner Tony Shimkin was later granted co-writing credit for nearly all of the Pettibone collaborations on the album, including Erotica. The debut release to feature the imprint of Maverick Records, the song was produced by Madonna & Pettibone.
As several leaked demo versions of the song can now attest, the track had gone through numerous incarnations before Madonna settled on lyrics that positioned her in the perspective of Dita – the alter-ego she had created for her Sex book. The song’s original chorus (“You thrill me…”) was reincorporated into the song when Madonna performed it during her 2006 Confessions Tour. Alternate verses were also used to create the track Erotic, which was included with the Sex book – these lyrics were also featured in a William Orbit remix that was included on the Erotica maxi-single.
French art director and photographer Fabien Baron designed the artwork for the single, the album and the Sex book. He also directed the Erotica music video, which included footage he had shot on Super 8mm during the making of the book. Baron recalled his first meeting with Madonna to discuss their potential collaboration in a 2009 interview with Hint Fashion Magazine:
“I met Madonna at her home on Central Park West to talk about working on her Sex book. It was very comfortable but very uncomfortable at the same time, which is a very interesting feeling. She’s very imposing and knows what she wants. She’s very informed and opinionated, which makes her genius. She takes you in and swallows you up — and you don’t mind it – you actually enjoy it. There’s an unspoken seduction that goes on. I was young…she was young, too – and beautiful. That was an unforgettable era. She put that book out at the best moment. She timed it very well…she knows what she’s doing. And such drive. Some people want to lift stones to see what’s under them. She’ll be on a beach with millions of stones and want to lift every one of them.”
On August 2 2008, Madonna appeared on the cover of Woman & Home magazine.
Here’s a snippet of Madonna talking about her work in Malawi and giving back to the world:
I first became involved with Malawi as I got to know someone who lived in the Ivory Coast. He was friends with Victoria Keelan, who had come to his rescue because there had been a water shortage in the Ivory Coast. She asked if he had an idea of someone who could help with the situation with the orphans in Malawi. He had something to do with the distribution of my children’s books in the Ivory Coast. On the back of the book it says that all the proceeds are donated to a children’s charity. So he thought, “Madonna’s interested in children”. He got in touch with me and that’s how the whole ball got rolling.
I think the criticism that celebrities face when they are tackling humanitarian issues is down to the cynicism of the public. People like to criticise. It’s human nature. But I believe that if you have one iota of compassion, you can’t ignore what’s going on. You have to figure out ways to be a part of the solution.
Everything that’s going on in the world is pretty scary. And people know we are living on borrowed time – whether it’s global warming, the 36 wars that are going on at any given time or terrorism. A lot of people in privileged positions are waking up and thinking it’s a little bit absurd to be thinking about what their next film is going to be. There is a lot of social consciousness going on and that can only be a good thing.
I certainly hope that people realise there’s a lot more to being Madonna than taking off my clothes. I hope that the SEX book [which came out in 1992] is not the only thing that I’m identified with. I have done and plan to do many other things.
On November 26 1992, a Paris Catholic group called Avenir de la Culture (The Future Of Culture) filed 2 lawsuits against Madonna and her publisher for corrupting the French youth with pornography and to have all copies of the SEX book destroyed.
The lawyer representing the group had this to say about SEX:
“The book is part of a destructive trend which shocks the morals of young people.”
On November 21 1992, Madonna’s SEX book was banned in Ireland (a month after it went on sale). The Censorship Board decided that any future shipments of the book should not be sold. Booksellers and fans voiced their opposition, but an appeal of the decision never occurred. Additional copies of the book were never made available, making the ban a silly waste of time.
On October 23 1992, one day after Madonna’s Sex book was released, it was confirmed that in Europe more than 100,000 copies had been sold, another 100,000 in England, 25,000 in France and the book was completely sold-out in Australia, not to mention North America where sales were topping 150,000 after a single day.