France: Madonna and Le Pen Spar Over Swastika
In France, pop diva Madonna and far-right spitfire Marine Le Pen, a pair of icons who thrive on controversy—and blonde ambition—may soon square off in court. During the pop star's Bastille Day concert on Saturday night at Paris's 80,000-seat Stade de France, a video montage included a giant image of Marine Le Pen, 43, with a swastika briefly emblazoned across her forehead. A spokesman for Le Pen’s party, the National Front, said in an interview on Sunday with a national newspaper, that the party would file a legal complaint in a French court this week.
The contentious montage, projected on a jumbo screen behind acrobatic dancers, has accompanied the song "Nobody Knows Me" during Madonna's MDNA tour. The full video includes fleeting flashes of global personalities such as Pope Benedict XVI, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and deposed Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Marine Le Pen's face appears flanked by anti-mosque protest posters, moments before an image of Adolf Hitler that is similarly emblazoned with a flashing swastika.
"We are obliged to react because Marine Le Pen has been accused in a very serious manner," National Front spokesman Florian Philippot said in an interview with the newspaper on Sunday. "But what seems to me even more serious is the trivialization of Nazism, of something that is horrible. They are, after all, diffusing images of Hitler during a show to be provocative.”
Philippot called the incident a "declaration of war" on Madonna's part against a segment of her own audience, which "obviously includes some of Marine Le Pen's voters." Asked by the Journal du Dimanche to explain press reports that the Stade de France crowd cheered the video, Philippot said he wasn't surprised, arguing that Madonna's live audience has been getting smaller over time, down to a knot of hardcore fans that idolize her "no matter what she does."
Attendance on Saturday was reportedly about 70,000, not a sellout.
The controversial clip debuted on May 31 in Tel Aviv at the opening show of Madonna’s world tour. Amateur video from the show in Israel quickly made headlines in France. At the time, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front's 84-year-old founder, said he would encourage his daughter to seek a million euros in damages for the image. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, didn't resist a dig at the pop legend, who at 53, is 10 years her senior. "Old singers who need attention—you can understand that they go to such extremes," she said, adding that if Madonna "does that in France, we'll be waiting for her."
The younger Le Pen, a lawyer by trade, began her National Front career running the notably litigious party's legal service. There is some speculation by French media that a legal complaint filed this week would inhibit Madonna from using the excerpt in question during her next French show, scheduled for Aug. 21 on the Riviera in Nice.
Nevertheless, it isn't certain the incident will hurt either woman. Madonna's provocative stage antics are well known and an integral part of her blockbuster 30-year career. During her current tour alone, she has flashed a boob in Istanbul and showed her bum in Rome. Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, has made good on her bid to rejuvenate her father's National Front in part by cultivating its David versus Goliath image, slamming elites to seduce disenfranchised voters struggling through the country’s economic crisis. After claiming the party’s leadership last year, Le Pen won 17.9 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential election this spring, a record score for her party. Still, her faction won only two seats in a 577-seat lower house in June legislative elections, allowing the party to claim with some justification that the voting system is deliberately unfavorable to the National Front.
Ironically, Madonna's provocative video montage will provide the National Front with a new opportunity to denounce liberal elites, blast extremism, and play David as Marine Le Pen looks to soften the shaved-head-and-bomber-jacket image the party couldn't shake under her father's stewardship. And, at least in the world of pop, there is no bigger Goliath than Madonna.