Of one thing we can be sure. Virginia Woolf - novelist, feminist, essayist, philosopher, diarist, icon - never starred in an even halfway decent rock video.
But if she had, you can be pretty sure that she'd have donned a T-shirt and jeans, let her hair hang loose, sharpened up her dance routines and told her deadweight husband Leonard to pick up his tweed jacket and get the hell out of it. She would, in a nutshell, have looked and behaved exactly like Madonna in the landmark American Pie video.
Sadly, Virginia Woolf never got to meet Madonna, never got to boogie on down like crazy all thru' the nite to such 20th-century classics as Holiday, Material Girl and Papa Don't Preach, never got to penetrate to the very heart and soul of Clinton's America. If only Woolf hadn't filled her pockets with stones that fateful December day and taken her final walk into the teeming currents of the River Ouse, she might have lived long enough to catch Madonna make her thrusting, dynamic debut with Like A Virgin on Top of the Pops.
Who exactly is Madonna and - perhaps more importantly - what does she signify? One thing she is most definitely not, and that's just another girly pop singer with a weak voice and nice tits. I mean - really! How can you say that? It's that attitude that makes me hopping mad. How can anyone possibly say that of her? How can you just sit there without bothering to check your facts or even think of the wider cultural implications and expect me to listen while you just slag off one of our major cultural icons of the past thousand years? I mean, really. I'm sorry, but if that's your bloody attitude, I'm leaving. I'm sorry but I am.
Let's deal in hard facts for a change. FACT: Madonna is born in 1958 in Rochester, Michigan. FACT: in 1984 she enjoys her first number one hit with Like A Virgin. FACT: within the space of a decade, she has become the key cultural icon of her time, a high-powered feminist intellectual capable of reinterpreting masculine sex-role fantasies in an ironic mode and thus empowering not only herself but all women into a complete reassessment of the feminist role from passive/submissive to active/dominant. FACT: in 1999, she wins a Grammy for best original song from a motion picture for her contribution to Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, an iconic feminist movie that effectively re-examines and revolutionises the role of women in late 20th century on-screen entertainment.
With keynote number one hits like I Wanna [Shake My Butt] (1987), Look At Me - I Wear [No Panties] (1991) and F-F-Fellatio! (1995), hugely successful concert tours such as the Bosoms Out For The Boys World Tour (1987) and her 1988 major autobiographical work of feminist iconography, Madonna In The Nude From Funny Angles, Madonna was to prove conclusively that the great post-war feminist battle had been won - and from now on it would be possible for young women wearing the barest minimum of clothes to make it big in the male-dominated world of entertainment.
In Madonna, I see a woman in a continual state of development, both artistic and personal, a woman who has engaged in a lifetime study of the struggle between men and women; and has recently embarked on a far-reaching examination of fame and its effects. Her insights into fame are indeed extraordinary: she has taught us something about the meaning of fame that we would otherwise never have guessed - the sobering fact that to be famous means being well known to a very large number of people you may never have met.
And having played almost every role imaginable - from sex-goddess to vamp to femme fatale to goddess-of-sex - she is now astonishing us afresh by turning her back on fame. Two years ago she issued that most intensely personal statement, Mama, I Don't Wanna Be Famous No More [Disco Mix] in which she appeared on satellite in her new role as sex-goddess in front of more than 500,000,000 people worldwide and sang - exquisitely, painfully - these heartfelt lyrics that were to signal a new beginning:
"Mama, I don't wanna be
famous no more
So I'll take off all my
And lay my brassiere on
(Chorus) So let's do it right
here, baby, Right here on my bed!
Let's do it right here?
Can't get you outta my
With this statement, Madonna has become the Whole Woman. With these words, she is saying that she now stands independent of frankly sordid male fantasies, belonging not to the world, but to herself. If only Virginia were still alive, I swear she would be the first to applaud.