. . . Or am I the female Edward Cowan?
So Madonna’s new album dropped this week. She’s fit, she’s 50. Kinda looks like she murdered Gwen Stefani and made a suit of her skin a la Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, doesn’t she?
Madonna and I, we have ourselves a tumultuous relationship.
Back in the college days, I took a class called “Race and Gender Issues in the Media.” Besides spending an inordinate amount of time discussing that hit new show, “Ally McBeal,” we had a panel debate regarding Madonna. The professor (who pronounced hegemony “he-JIM-on-ee,” as in “he-JIMINYCRICKET”) dragged a few of his students onto the auditorium stage to defend our opinions of her. Of the 40 students, there might have been five guys, and I was the lucky one chosen.
I said I thought Madonna’s hell-bent efforts to remain relevant were sorta contemptible. (This was after she became a Kabbalist but before she made out with Britney. Which, by the way, should we call the Kiss of Death, given Britney’s subsequent career path? Has any one artist so viscerally pretended to welcome her apparent successor into the fold, then watched as said successor collapsed into irrelevance as a competitor?)
I said I had no problem with Madonna’s work except for her utter lack of a musical identity. Her tunes served only as a vector to advertise herself, the way Diet Pepsi used “Brown Sugar.” Hers was background muzak writ large on her own career.
Mine was not the popular view. No one was begging me for a date after that debate.
Madonna was 40 at the time, and I was made to understand—and really, I do understand—that, whatever her artistic deficiencies, the fact that a female artist had not allowed herself to be chucked aside by the musical establishment was an inspiration to young women everywhere.
Now Madonna is 50. 50! And on the one hand, I’m still as annoyed as ever at her desperation to be noticed. I catch myself thinking: OK, she’s 50 now—if her career has been proof that she can remain popular for as long as her male counterparts, shouldn’t she also be settling into her “elder statesman” role? Maybe making quieter, more reflective albums? Instead of perpetually tarting herself up, insisting on her eternal youth? Since escape from the prison of youth is what female celebrities have been trying to manage for decades?
But on the other hand, there’s Mick Jagger, old enough to be her father, still shaking his hips. And there’s Bono, old enough to be an embittered ex-husband, still saving the world with his music and choice of sunglasses.
BUT on the other other hand, I believe that at some point both the Stones and U2 produced quality, significant music. Whereas Madonna’s music is about as ephemeral as it comes, calibrated to the times, just controversial enough to rate airplay but never so controversial as to be denied same. At some point Jagger was relevant for wanting to make love to your daughter; at some point Bono was relevant for wanting to make love to America; but at all points Madonna simply wants to make love to whatever pop culture tells her she should.
BUT on the other3 hand—the last hand, I promise—I find myself grudgingly impressed. As aggressively vacuous as her musical career has been, it’s still going. Like an unstoppable killing machine, it refuses to die.
I don’t have an auditorium full of idealistic coeds to castigate me now, so I need you—anyone—to help me map out where I stand concerning Madonna. Am I completely off base? Still fighting a war long since lost?
Or—or?—am I the male Madonna? I’ve always considered myself more Christlike in my aspirations, but hey.