Madonna | John Travolta | Michael Flatley 

Madonna Scores a Coup With Video Ban

Madonna, whom the New York Times tried to kill off a couple of days ago, is about to be bigger than ever.

Everyone who needs to, now knows that Madonna has a new album and single coming shortly called American Life. They know that the song ironically questions middle class values.

If you took a poll right now, Madonna would probably have a higher visibility than BritneyAvril and Pink all rolled together.

What happened? Madonna, who didn't come to be worth $100 million by accident, made a totally offensive video which no one will ever see. She then managed to get it criticized and banned by all the regular outlets -- and then voluntarily withdrew it from circulation.

Now, no one except diligent users of the Internet will get to see "transvestite soldiers" and "President Bush catching a grenade lobbed at him."

But you know American Life is now ensured at least a couple of very good week's sales at record stores when it's released on April 22.

I come here to praise Madonna, not to bury her. She is brilliant.

After 20 years of making headlines, she finally pulled off her greatest trick. I'm not being facetious. You have to admire her. She knows that record sales are kaput, that no one's buying anything.

She also knew, like all of us, that we were headed into war and that patriotism would be questioned. (I loved her press release that said, the video was made before the war and now it's inappropriate! She didn't know war was coming? When did she make the video, before Sept. 11, 2001?)

Madonna has always been the great interpreter of American culture. She released her song "Vogue," after "vogueing" had already been in and out. She is a cultural surfer who knows where to find the crest of the wave. Kowabunga!

Maybe you haven't heard "American Life" yet. I listened to it yesterday on the Web. It's very catchy -- and completely harmless. After all the hub-bub about it, I imagined that she was reading Chairman Mao to an electronic beat. But "American Life" is very similar to recent Madonna musical outings like "Ray of Light," "Music" and "Die Another Day."

The song has perhaps a catchier hook than any of them, but the lyrics are harmless. They will be sung mindlessly by waitresses under their breath at Kiwanis meetings. The song will wind up as a beer commercial in three years. There's nothing to it.

But Madonna knew the only way to get attention was to do something people would talk about. This used to be called a stunt.

Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, created this idea almost a century ago when he had to awaken the American psyche to things like toothpaste and automobiles for the first time. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud.

Madonna might as well be Freud. She knows every button to push. God bless her. If only every record executive could learn something from this example, the industry would bounce back over night.

We are not worthy.

Travolta's Basic Numbers Revised

John Travolta's new movie Basic, did less well than Columbia Pictures predicted it would on Sunday.

The studio claimed the very bad film's take was $12.1 million for the weekend when it gave its estimate on Sunday. But Monday's numbers, as I predicted in this space, showed that the film did only $11.5 million. Its total now, after a fourth day, is $12.3 million if those numbers hold.

DreamWorks, which has Chris Rock's Head of State a hair behind, must be seething over the Basic-ally bad accounting at Columbia.

Meanwhile, Gangs of New York is about a week away from becoming Martin Scorsese's highest grossing film ever. Cape Fear holds the record at $79 million. This should be some consolation at least to Scorsese and friends after being shut out of the Oscars.

Will Flatley Tap His Way to Broadway?

One of my favorite evenings before the great wave of Oscar hoopla was back on March 14. That evening a magazine called The Irish American threw a festive dinner at the Plaza Hotel honoring the elite of their brethren. Among them was Riverdance/Lord of the Dance star Michael Flatley, who arrived with a skip in his step despite a dark cloud over his head.

(There's a big controversy over whether he may have raped a woman or if she's extorting money from him. The disposition of it will be left to others.)

I can't say I'm a big Riverdance fan, but Flatley was incredibly charming. He said that he has extensive plans, including possibly bringing his hit Las Vegas show to Broadway. When he got his award, he spoke movingly about his family and his roots. He was a pleasant surprise.

But then again, so too was actress Fionnula Flanagan, who scared the bejesus out of Nicole Kidman in The Others. She was The Irish American's other big name guest for the evening. And New York Firefighter Captain Robert Morris got a Man of the Year award. His speech about the World Trade Center and Sept. 11 brought everyone to tears. Once you talk to one of the guys who lived through that day, nothing else seems to matter. They're all heroes.