I keep thinking about my long-standing feud with Madonna. It began in 1993.
The previous year Sinead O’Connor (one of the most underrated musicians of all time) performed on Saturday Night Live as the musical guest. At the end of a moving cover of War by Bob Marley, she famously held up a picture of Pope John Paul II, tore it into pieces, looked into the camera and commanded: Fight the real enemy. It was, as you can imagine, controversial. It was also, for teenage me, the best thing I had ever seen. O’Connor used her platform to call attention to the sexual abuse rampant in the Catholic church and covered-up by its leaders, though few people understood that at the time.
The response to O’Connor was predictably conservative and fueled by misogyny (multiple male celebrities said she should be beaten). She was dismissed as a troublemaker and hysteric. It would be years until the media wanted to pay attention to the horrors of the Catholic churches involvement in sex abuse and even longer before any action was taken.
A few months later, Madonna was the musical guest on SNL and she used her platform to mock O’Connor’s action. She sang some forgettable song and at the end of the performance tore up a picture of Joey Buttafuoco. It would be one thing if it was just the sketch. Offstage Madonna criticized O’Connor for being disrespectful, “I think there is a better way to present her ideas rather than ripping up an image that means a lot to other people.” People who prefer propriety over human beings are some of the worst kind of people, watch out for them. Nothing in the history of Madonna’s career revealed her to be more of a vapid fraud, than that moment. It proved, once and for all, that Madonna was all style and no substance. Another privileged white woman playing around with oppression and rebellion for kicks. She had no problem using sacred iconography as a sexy backdrop to her mediocre dancing, but say something real and she is immediately offended. I turned on her then and have never looked back.
I learned in that moment that I like earnestness and resistance and people who are willing to speak truth to power. I also learned that O’Connor’s command was a useful one to keep in mind. It is easy to lose track of the enemy. (I promise that impoliteness is never the real enemy.)
I’ve spent the last several months struggling to stay focused and to contain my rage. My rage over how unjust and terrible our world can be, and over how useless I feel. My rage is an amorphous blob that I carry around with me and often gets misdirected at something as insignificant as traffic, or bad writing.
I try to remember O’Connor and her command: Fight the real enemy.
We’re currently talking a lot about statues, which should absolutely be taken down, but if they were all removed tomorrow we would still live in a white-supremacist state. And I worry that their successful removal will signal to some that the fight is over or that they can stop paying attention.
Fight the real enemy.
We are spending too much time fighting among ourselves about language subtleties and strategic differences instead of educating and supporting each other. People fighting for good, even in imperfect ways, are still fighting for good. Help them do better. And when someone tells you to do better, listen.
Fight the real enemy.
The enemy is also inside of me. I am worried that some well-meaning (?) white people are spending too much time in stunned awe of the spectacle of racism that we are faced with every day of the Trump regime. If we look to our brown and black sisters and brothers, you see no surprise. They don’t have the privilege of being surprised. Of having to stay away from social media because it is too depressing. The privilege of getting to prioritize self-care and eating cake. White-supremacy serves all white people. It allows us to dip in and out of the political process when we feel like it. It allows us to attend a march to feel better about ourselves but to do little else to help anyone and then to justify that in a thousand different ways. Sometimes the enemy is in us, or in our family or friends. It might be the toughest enemy to fight. But we must.
Fight the real enemy.
We need to focus and be brave and to spend every day resisting the oppressive forces of our culture. Racism, Misogyny, Homophobia, Ableism, Classism and all of the other forms of systematized oppression that prevent us from perfecting this union.
And maybe someday we can go back to celebrity feuds, and wasting anger on bad drivers. But for now: Fight the Real Enemy.
Jennifer Quinlan says:
August 24th, 2017 at 12:30 pm
Excellent post. Thank you!
August 24th, 2017 at 12:33 pm
Wow… powerful words. I wasn’t sure where this post was going with all of the Madonna/Sinead references, but you hit the nail perfectly on the head and wrote about the thoughts screaming in my head during the past 7 months. Thank you for writing this and continuing to speak out.
August 24th, 2017 at 12:37 pm
Thank you. I love every word of this.
August 24th, 2017 at 2:10 pm
Thank you for reminding us of the mainstream’s beyond horrible response to Sinead’s powerful moment. Talk about being on the wrong side of history!!
What is the real enemy to you? For me, I think it’s hate that is born out of pain. I keep thinking about this article I read in the NY Times about a woman whose mom was killed because a bicyclist ran a red light and hit her at such a velocity that she died. Now, this woman finds herself yelling at bicyclists in NYC as they disregard traffic laws. Of course, the bicyclists don’t know she lost her mom recently. They’re probably just like: “That lady needs to take a chill pill!! I’m a biker! I’m a good person!!” Point being, I feel like we’re all like this. We’re all walking/biking around in pain and I just wish we could all be more gentle with each other…but sometimes, like if your mom just died, that’s really effing hard. MUCH LOVE, Amelia
August 24th, 2017 at 2:20 pm
Hi Am! And yeah, how do you be gentle with someone who wants to kill you because you are Jewish? And if they don’t recognize they are in pain or need help does it matter? And if we take a personal/psychological response to understanding people, is anyone accountable for anything? It doesnt feel like a particularly useful thing in the face of acute oppression. Useful to remember that people are people, but still. I dunno. I think of it more as a reminder that we each need to keep ourselves in check and our eye on the prize? Maybe easier to identify what is not the real enemy.
August 24th, 2017 at 2:42 pm
Maaaaaybe getting off topic, but this reminds me of Gandhi and MLK and the whole nonviolent movement and I think where things got to be so messy for them and their followers. Like, how can your opinion/voice/truth hold up to people touting theirs along with semiautomatic weapons?? And of course Gandhi and MLK were both killed. WHICH reminds me of this amazing moment in My Favorite Thing is Monsters where MLK has just gotten shot and there are riots in Chicago and one of the characters says something, explaining why people would destroy their own neighborhood: “Sometimes you need the outside to look like how you feel on the inside.” gah. it’s all so true and heartbreaking. #Ihavenoanswers #onlybookrecommendations
Rockin Arugula says:
August 24th, 2017 at 5:34 pm
I LOVE THIS! I also was a teen at the time, a huge Sinead fan and was watching the show when it happened. I remember thinking OMG in shock then YAAASSS! I was confused by the backlash, didn’t understand it and also remember the Madonna mockery, which was just plain dumb. Thank you for the memory, an inspiring post and for sharing your voice.
August 24th, 2017 at 6:47 pm
Couldn’t agree more. Thank you for putting words to what so many of us are feeling.
(as an aside – I was OBSESSED with Sinead in the late 80’s, but was on my junior year abroad when she was on SNL, so it didn’t really register with me. But Madonna… always a fraud, always a hypocrite)
Dena Testa Bray says:
August 25th, 2017 at 3:53 am
Beautifully written, Tim. I share all your sentiments here. Thank you for expressing them so well. Indeed, fight the real enemy. I send good wishes. Love and peace. D
August 25th, 2017 at 6:11 am
Thank you so much for this. We’re volunteering at a voting rights rally tomorrow. Just wish I could feel more certain that I am fighting in a positive way every day.
August 25th, 2017 at 7:25 am
Thank you for using your voice and platform to speak about the despicable things going on right now. As long as you are writing, Tim, I will be following along and cheering you on.
P Stout says:
August 25th, 2017 at 8:56 am
Thank you for speaking out.
August 25th, 2017 at 9:04 am
“My rage is an amorphous blob that I carry around with me and often gets misdirected at something as insignificant as traffic, or bad writing.”
Same here, Tim. More often than not, I have trouble directing my rage to something useful, and I constantly feel I don’t do enough. I live in Spain and, while the scenario is different over here, the issues are pretty much the same – just throw in the wounds of a ditactorship that have never healed because those in power say we must forget and move on.
The real enemy today was the father of a boy I used to tutor telling me I need to chill. Why did he tell me that? Because his son made a fucking disgusting comment about a lesbian student and I kicked him out because it was a repeated behaviour that I wasn’t going to tolerate. “You women are going too far with your feminist game.” I can see who his son learnt from.
I appreciate you for using your space to speak out, I really do.
August 25th, 2017 at 9:26 am
This. Thank you.
August 25th, 2017 at 11:21 am
Thank you so much for speaking out. Loved every word of this.
(I was through with Madonna when she co-opted/appropriated ball culture. She’s pretty gross.)
Marne Rogers says:
August 25th, 2017 at 11:34 am
I have had the Public Enemy song Fight the Power on my mind for 8 months now and can’t shake it. I need to do more than have a soundtrack in the background. Thanks for the kick in the pants!
Mary Jane George says:
August 25th, 2017 at 11:38 am
You are so right, always remember who is the enemy.
August 25th, 2017 at 11:51 am
Thank you for this. There is a lot of hate and unhappiness in this world which becomes more obvious the older I get. I also enjoyed your post on Dorie’s sables – it put a smile on my face during a very difficult week. I always enjoy your writing. And yes, I agree with what you wrote, and also that Sinead is underrated. I always loved her. “Last Day of Our Acquaintance” is just as powerful now as when I listened to it in my early 20s. That entire album is actually – and I am going to listen to it right now! She blows Madonna out of the water.
August 25th, 2017 at 11:53 am
I am replenished by your powerful message and all the heartfelt comments. Now….on to fight the good fight…….a day at a time.
August 25th, 2017 at 12:40 pm
Thanks, friends, for the comments and thoughts. Sending love to all.
August 25th, 2017 at 12:46 pm
Thank you for this beautiful and touching meagre. I am so glad you shared that story of Sinead O’Connor. Fight the real enemy.
August 25th, 2017 at 1:03 pm
Thank you for this thoughtful and thought provoking post. Very important words.
August 25th, 2017 at 1:13 pm
Hi Tim! I’m Amelia’s friend and even though I am a lazy slob in the kitchen I love your blog because of your perspective, writing, and your humor (is who you are). This post is so exciting to me bc 1) I remember watching Sinead’s SNL performance in my basement as a kid and and being absolutely electrified by it 2) I’ve always found Madonna to be a bit of an annoying gnat (although Ray of Light did have me there for a bit) and 3) I’ve been obsessed with the online hatred of our (disturbing, unsupportable, deeply problematic) president and how easy it is to call another human dispicable without actually attending to any of your own personal garbage – to clean up your own side of the street, as the saying goes. I don’t have any cohesive response to your invitation/reminder but I love this post so much for its reminder and for calling out how easy it can be to absolve oneself when the real work hasn’t yet begun. Thank you!!
August 25th, 2017 at 2:07 pm
Brilliant. Thank you.
August 25th, 2017 at 2:24 pm
A Perfect post on the imperfect truth. Gah! You are the best Tim. With great words and great recipes and love, how can we not win?!
August 25th, 2017 at 2:24 pm
A Perfect post on the imperfect truth. Gah! You are the best Tim.
August 25th, 2017 at 3:40 pm
Lovely. Also, it’s always nice to have my vague millennial annoyance with Madonna justified (pun unintended). I live in Salt Lake City which is the perfect breeding ground for complacency and manufactured ‘peace’. Perhaps this is why I read this with the emphasis on fight.
August 25th, 2017 at 8:57 pm
this feeling of helplessness is ruthless and undermining to the core. thank you for this post. as always you are able to bring me up and down and back around.
Chloe O says:
August 26th, 2017 at 6:51 am
Incredibly powerful piece. Every single word was a punch in the gut and wonderfully expressed. Beautiful.
K M Holman says:
August 26th, 2017 at 8:35 am
Wow, and Amen. Grateful for your sharing.
August 27th, 2017 at 11:08 pm
I just had to say what an amazing post. Very inspiring and a wise message. Thank you!
Kate K. says:
August 28th, 2017 at 10:28 am
This is why you are my favorite food blogger. Thank you so much for this.
August 28th, 2017 at 2:58 pm
thank you for this post. i also feel the rage and the need to fight the real enemy!
i also get really annoyed with bad/slow drivers:)
August 29th, 2017 at 12:53 pm
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Taylor Swift’s choice to remain silent during these current political events, considering her white supremacist fan base and the fact that she is Jewish. At the moment, I don’t think it gets more problematic than her.
August 29th, 2017 at 1:41 pm
As a teenager in the 80’s, I always thought Madonna was annoying. She somehow sold cultural appropriation and superficiality as a “genuine chameleon” personality worthy of adoration. Which apparently is the kind of oxymoron Americans love—-thus Trump: the president who they love because he “tells it like it is” while virtually everything he says is a lie.
I was sincerely disappointed to hear her speaking in Washington at the Women’s March in January, it was the only sour note of an amazing experience I will never forget.
I stand with you and with everyone who continues to fight the real enemy.
August 29th, 2017 at 7:13 pm
Anne-I like the connection to Trump you made. It is interesting. Thanks, friend.
Milan! Ha. Yeah, I don’t have much respect for people with a platform who choose to remain silent in the face of all of this bullshit. Also, the new single is tired. LOL
Hugs to everyone!
September 1st, 2017 at 1:58 am
I love you. xo
September 1st, 2017 at 2:27 pm
Hard times, yes. More and more we are isolated, seeing each other as the “other.” Anger is needed, but directed to the positive. Stomp a few times, then act, even if the act is standing in place when another attempts to push you or you want to push them; that is hardest. Thank you for putting your thoughts down where others can hear, share. We’re in hard times. There’s one film I recommend. It’s not political, directly. It’s about finding humanity, in everyone, acting to pull it out even after the most horrific experience a family can suffer (as one whose family went through similar). The documentary is titled “Beyond Hatred.” It is French, subtitled, about an hour. It is about being humane. As we stand strong and so move forward, we must retain our humanity. Otherwise, why bother?
September 3rd, 2017 at 5:16 pm
Yes, yes, yes. Your words are as careful and well-seasoned as your recipes.
September 3rd, 2017 at 5:47 pm
We always trash the people who put a mirror up to our ugly side. Sinead was right and she exposed our ugly side. I’ll add James Baldwin to this conversation, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Thank you for this piece. I’ll work to “fight the real enemy.”
September 13th, 2017 at 4:48 am
love this post, Tim!
September 19th, 2017 at 6:33 pm
Thank you! Beautifully said, and powerful. I also carry around the amorphous blob of rage, trapped in a queer, brown, female body. I know I’m not doing enough, , but I enthusiastically thank you for using your platform in this way! Love to you!