Welcome to Celebrity Rockers Remedial School. Our topic today is How to Make News Without Really Trying. Before we begin, let's answer some questions from last week's lesson in career management. Milli Vanilli, your F grade on the pop quiz stands. Is Cyndi Lauper here today? She dropped out? Too bad. She could have learned something from today's lesson, which focuses on an artist who, without touring or making a single concert appearance, has managed to gain zillions of dollars of free publicity for an album of mostly recycled hits just in time for Christmas.

We're speaking, of course, of Madonna. Not since Michael Jackson has anyone so brilliantly worked the media—and Madonna has done it without acknowledged plastic surgery, attempting to collect the skeletal remains of celebrated 19th-century disease victims or building a shrine to Liz Taylor. Just a good Catholic girl with a song in her heart, a crucifix around her neck and a jiggle in her bustier, Madonna Louise Ciccone conquered the world with music, sex appeal and steamy videos.

Now, after seven years of ultrafame, there seemed little controversy left to stir. Boy Toy, Material Girl, Like a Virgin but Not Quite. Madonna had already exposed most of her body parts on video and, via unearthed, unauthorized photos, on the pages of Playboy and Penthouse. She had grappled With the great themes: teen pregnancy, crotch grabbing, spanking (she defended all three); toyed with voyeurism (in Open Your Heart), bondage (in Express Yourself), masturbation (during the Blonde Ambition tour) and stigmata (in Like a Prayer); and endured tabloid reports that she once spent nine hours "trussed up like a turkey" after a spat with then-hubby Sean Penn. Then there was that oh-so-close relationship with comedian Sandra Bernhard and a fling with the world's friendliest bachelor, Warren Beatty—which, mirabile dictu, began during the filming and lasted barely a nanosecond beyond the launch of Beatty's would-be blockbuster, Dick Tracy.

So what to do for an encore? Madonna's answer was Justify My Love, the video that, in what has turned out to be a marketing coup, was banned by MTV, the music video network that Madonna and hundreds of nameless female models in black lace underwear helped popularize.

How does Justify My Love differ from other skin-with-a-beat videos? Let us count the ways. Here's Madonna, in black bra, stockings and stiletto heels, putting the moves on her real-life boyfriend, model Tony Ward. Moments later she's lip-synching with Parisian model Amanda Cazalet, 25, who is dressed like a Nazi hooker with suspenders that barely cover her nipples. Now Madonna, Cazalet and Ward are offering free instruction in a certain Kama Sutra technique while two very androgynous gents pat each other more affectionately than football players after a big play. All of which has left fans hot, censors bothered and fearless news programmers lined up to air the forbidden footage. The "video single" will be on sale before holiday shopping malls close; could it have been teed up better?

The French director responsible for much of the scorch, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, locked the cast in Paris's Royal Monceau Hotel for two days in order to warm things up before shooting on the third. Cazalet took the assignment not for the scale pay, says her modeling agent, Robert Ferrell, but for (what else?) "the exposure." Cazalet enjoyed it so much she still carries a close-up photo of the Madonna smooch in her purse. "It's real lip-to-lip," Ferrell says. "It's great." Madonna agrees. As she told the New York Times, "I think the video is romantic and loving and has humor in it."

Any questions, class? Yes, the blond in the back?

"Why is it that people are willing to go to a movie and watch someone get blown to bits for no reason and nobody wants to see two girls kissing or two men snuggling?"

Uh, Madonna, what are you doing in this class?

—Steve Dougherty, Peter Mikelbank in Paris

  • Contributors:
  • Peter Mikelbank.