With a thought-provoking and graphic video for her new song God Control, pop star Madonna set herself on a mission to raise awareness about gun control, but found criticism on the way.
The video, directed by Jonas Åkerlund, is over ten minutes long and follows a writer, Madame X (aka Madonna), writing a story about a mass shooting in a nightclub.
Its most powerful element is its juxtaposition of sounds. Before Madonna’s song kicks in, the video fluctuates between the clicks of a typewriter, the faint thudding of a nightclub, eerie anticipatory silences and loud, startling gunshots. At first it reminded me of a subpar version of Alan Clarke’s Elephant, another film about the mindless violence of shooting people: both shock their audience with the simple sounds of murder.
At the end of the video, the viewer is told to “wake up”, and the words “Gun Control Now” appear in white and red across the screen. This seems a little patronising, particularly as a large number of Americans are greatly active in the battle against the gun problem in the States.
And, indeed, the video has also been criticised by those who believe that Madonna has been taking advantage of what has been a very real situation to many (particularly those at Pulse nightclub in 2016) in order to gain views. Her response is predictable: she wants to make America a safer place for everyone, and is using her influence as a celebrity in order to do so.
It’s true that the video toes the line between tasteful protest and narcissism. Over the course of the ten minutes, the camera flicks back again and again to Madonna sitting at a typewriter, writing the words that many have been uttering for years, as though she is the first to ever have thought of them. Her dancing scenes in the nightclub where the shooting takes place seems particularly distasteful.
The idea that people will take more action if they see Madonna being shot in a nightclub in a fictional music video than their response to the frequent and non-fictional mass murders of children in the States makes us see the title in a potentially ironic light – God, here, seems to be how Madonna perceives herself. Does it take the imagined death of a pop star instead of the real death of children for people to take action against guns?