Sunday, June 13, 2010




: marked by scandalous crime or vice : villainous

This word derives from the Latin flagitium, meaning "shameful thing." While the above definition doesn't explicitly suggest this, M-W's example sentence references some FLAGITIOUS books, aka, erotica, which leads me to believe the "scandalous" nature of this word applies to content.

When I conduct a Google search for "FLAGITIOUS" books, I arrive at an article on [a christian review] called "FLAGITIOUS Corruptions." I want this article to be about porn, but it's not. It's about imagery and idolatry in the Catholic Church. And the website won't even allow me to read the whole article without signing up, which I am less than willing to do. The article's title refers to a phrase pulled from John Calvin's 1543 manifesto, The Necessity of Reforming the Church. This afternoon, the first thing I think about when I think of "churches" and "imagery" is Madonna's Like a Prayer music video, greatly criticized for its use of religious symbolism.

I suppose Madonna was considered somewhat FLAGITIOUS in general—her subject matter, her videos, her torpedo-like bustiers. She has done an amazing job at marketing the scandalous, pushing boundaries just enough to remain fairly classy, unlike Mariah Carey (that was a trainwreck).

The Like a Prayer album was the first tape I ever bought with my own money. I listened to this tape, for lack of a better term, religiously. I remember losing the cardboard insert and creating a makeshift replacement out of notebook paper; I wrote "Madonna" and "Like a Prayer" on the lined paper, along with a drawing of a pair of lips. I don't know why I drew lips—the original album art is of course a photo of a woman's (presumably Madonna's) torso, her hands resting precariously on the waistband of her light-wash denim (so late 80s) jeans. Am I about to unbutton these? she asks the viewer. Perhaps at age nine I somehow understood the sexiness in this image and attempted to translate that essence into a crappy rendering of lips colored in with a Crayola magic marker.

But—hmm. Something about this definition bothers me, and I think it's that I don't associate scandalous with villainous. To me, scandalous implies simply rocking the boat, drawing attention by way of the waves. Villainous is like, well, the work of a villain. A bad guy. Madonna is not the bad guy. She's just a recovering Catholic like everybody else.

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