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Madonna's use of the n-word is more of the same

By Alexander Hardy, Special to CNN
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed January 22, 2014
Over her long career, Madonna has been a genius at reinventing herself. Take a look back at how her style has evolved over the years, starting with this shot of her as she was first emerging on the music scene in New York in December 1982. Over her long career, Madonna has been a genius at reinventing herself. Take a look back at how her style has evolved over the years, starting with this shot of her as she was first emerging on the music scene in New York in December 1982.
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Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
Madonna: Through the years
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Madonna's recent controversy should not be a surprise, the author says
  • Hardy: This is the latest in a career that borrows from what is "cool" in culture
  • Now, as a mother, perhaps she should consider the impact on her children

Editor's note: Alexander Hardy is a writer, teacher and cultural critic. He writes on race, sexuality, and observations in Panama on his blog, The Colored Boy. He tweets @chrisalexander_.

(CNN) -- On Friday, Madonna posted a photo to her Instagram account of her teenage son, Rocco, throwing a punch in a boxing ring with the caption: "Nobody messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!" she wrote below the picture, adding the hashtag "#disni—a."

Yes, of course.

When the inevitable public outcry began of her use of the n-word, the photo was deleted and reposted, its caption replaced with, in true Madonna fashion, "#get off my d—k haters!"

None of this furor is accidental.

The pop icon is no stranger to controversy, but now it may be time to examine the consequences of her latest cultural tourism in the name of reinvention.

Alexander Hardy
Alexander Hardy

In each of her many visual incarnations and cultural flings, Madonna has been predictably parasitic. She shamelessly moves on to the next character, having usurped all the cool or controversial parts of the previous one.

Now, there is her use of the n-word.

This lack of concern for the impact of her words is especially troubling because of her rainbow coalition of children, adopted and biological.

But this is Madonna we're talking about.

As rumors of a possible performance with Beyoncé at the Grammys next month swirl, it make sense that she's crept back into the news.

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This is the woman who embraced her title as the Queen of Obscene decades ago. This is the woman who bared all for her widely banned coffee table book "Sex," released alongside the "Erotica" album in 1992.

Madonna slammed for 'N-word' use

She has performed hanging from a cross, criticized the Iraq War and masturbated both on stage and in movies.

Lady Gaga may live for the applause, but Madge no doubt lives for the uproar.

She is as adept at generating headlines as she is at churning out chart-topping albums. And she's more likely to respond with a middle finger than a heartfelt apology. She stands firm in her decisions and historically doesn't back down from her statements.

I previously valued that very quality in her.

Madonna: 'N-word' hashtag was 'term of endearment' to son

As a dancer and former aspiring choreographer, I appreciate the bold spectacle in Madonna's live shows.

Her wildly successful Confessions Tour, for example, demonstrated the penchant for pushing creative boundaries that has kept me on board even when critics abandoned her.

But even that fandom comes with reservations.

It's expected that influences change as musical trends and interests shift. But Madonna? She has put in overtime to earn her status as cultural tourist-in-chief, cherry-picking the most catchy, marketable aspects of her current host culture for commercial benefit with little regard for integrity or respect of the reception to her behavior.

When she offended Hindus by wearing a bindi, which is symbolic of chastity and purity, while wearing a see-through top at a VMA performance, a spokesperson told MTV that Madonna did not "understand why [they] are upset."

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She defended her use of Nazi imagery during her MDNA Tour as being used to highlight "the intolerance humans have for one another."

Madonna has repeatedly demonstrated that she views cultural iconography, from dance styles to religious symbols, as artistic statements and sets them aside when no longer convenient.

In her early days, she mimicked Marilyn Monroe. Then came her Spanish fixation in the late 1980s with "La Isla Bonita."

In 1990, she introduced voguing to the world, a dance style made popular by gay black and Latino creators.

Then came bindis, saris, funky henna tattoos and ambiguous prayer-chanting magic on her "Ray of Light" album. She was a butt-kicking female Che Guevera type on the artwork of "American Life." Each image immaculately styled, each revamp merely enduring the life cycle of her current fascination.

Using the n-word on Instagram is just Madge being Madge. And her "I'm sorry if you were offended"-style nonapology doesn't indicate that she's learned anything from the backlash.

Would she defiantly brush off the same "term of endearment" were it directed to her black children adopted from Malawi, David Banda and Mercy James?

Has she become overly comfortable, having black friends, peers and black children?

This incident is less about Madonna being a racist and more about her continued lack of tact.

This would make a great teachable moment for her children about mistakes and consequences, in her latest reinvention as a humanitarian and mother.

But it should first be a lesson for Madonna herself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alexander Hardy.

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