Madonna's Truth or Dare Is a Lot Less Shocking Than It Was 20 Years Ago

Although I'm a lifelong Madonna fan, I'd never watched Truth or Dare. But late Wednesday night, it came on VH1 Classic, so I decided I'd watch it until I nodded off in a comfy gray chair in my living room. To my surprise, I made it to the closing credits, and thus had to search for a crappier film to nod off to.

Truth or Dare is not a great film. As rockumentaries go, it's decent. It paints quite the rose-colored portrait of its subject. Yet it's a worthwhile time capsule in that it proves that Madonna in her prime (and maybe now) could wipe the floor with the likes of today's pop divas with her choreography and athleticism. But what mainly held my attention was just how not scandalous the film's more controversial elements would be if Truth or Dare were released today.

"Lawsuits have been filed over moments considerably less shocking than the ones Madonna cheerfully allows to be included in Truth or Dare," wrote Roger Ebert in a positive review of the film upon its release. Among the moments Ebert refers to are Madonna's sexy stage show being singled out by the Vatican as something that should be banned; a public masturbation arrest in her hometown of Detroit (or was it Toronto? See comments, where a reader takes issue with Ebert's account); and the artist playfully flirting with a squadron of gay male backup dancers in her hotel suite's bed.

The film mortified conservatives for portraying gay guys as gay guys, in essence. Yet the queasiness surrounding Truth or Dare's honest depiction of homosexuals simply wouldn't be present today. Twenty years on, it's the folks who are grossed out by 'mos who represent the lunatic fringe; when you've got Republicans voting in support of gays' right to marry, much less breathe freely, whatever heat the film brought back then is now cold as a bag of frozen peas.

To that point, Madge deserves her due for being among the first straight (with bi benefits) American celebrities to unabashedly embrace and celebrate gay culture. While Lady Gaga's activism is welcome and praiseworthy, she's doing it at a time when public opinion is on her side and the movement has made it to the altar. By contrast, when Truth or Dare came out, AIDS was still a death sentence and the closet all too comfortable.

As for the relative perviness of her stage show back then, while pining for a sexy black Jesus might still raise the Vatican's hackles today, generally speaking, Madge has been eclipsed in the titillation zone by the likes of Gaga, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Christina Aguilera, and Ke$ha, an artist of marginal talent who's nonetheless printing money by working a self-styled slut shtick (that might not be a shtick). And Spears, who's never been able to sing and doesn't really dance anymore, has staked her entire career on the ability to eye-fuck a crowd for an hour and change.

When blinking vaginas and breast cannons are shrugged at as the status quo and sex tapes are a way to advance, not tarnish, one's career, the hyperbole surrounding Truth or Dare looks pretty damn crotchety. And thank God for that, if not for Ke$ha.

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