It was my niece’s 13th birthday party and about a dozen 12- and 13 year-olds were playing a party game. (How heartening that children still do, when so often they’re all just staring at their phones.) The game called “Who Am I?” starts with a name stuck on your forehead (or back), then you have a limited number of yes-or-no questions to figure out which famous person you are. At the party there was one particular name that had the young guests stumped. They’d heard of this celebrity but didn’t know much about her. In fact the only thing they knew about her was that she was really, really old.
Then one of the 13-year-olds remembered something else. Wasn’t she the lady who fell on her backside on TV? At which point everyone started doing imitations of Madonna famously falling during her performance at the Brit Awards earlier this year. You may remember that wardrobe malfunction that made her tumble backwards offstage. My niece and her pals are among hundreds of millions who saw it happen live or later watched it on YouTube.
It took My New Old Self awhile to recover from this disturbing revelation: whatever one thinks of Madonna, she is famous among today’s youth only for being “really, really old” (turning 57 next month) and for her recent fall!
“It’s always sad watching a pensioner go down like a sack o’ spuds”
– one of many snarky ageist tweets on Madonna’s onstage accident
Madonna’s fans defended the “Legend who got back up”, tweeting that it was “Just an accident, nothing to do with age” and “It was the damn cape that made her fall”. I agree that her recovery should win a Show Must Go On award. And the poor woman was hurting. But little mercy was shown.
The attacks on Madonna are a double-whammy of ageism and sexism. Yet, as was most relevantly tweeted, “No one’s told the Stones or U2 to stop because they are ‘old’.” Instead it’s “Mick Jagger and 27-year-old ballerina girlfriend show they’re still going strong!” I doubt there will be enthusiastic headlines like that about Cougar Madonna and her Toy Boy when she’s pushing 72. (Mick and the ballerina will be celebrating his 72nd birthday next week.)
There are a couple of take-out messages here for those of us seeking ways to age well. Learn from Madonna what not to do. Firstly, no matter how long you spend in the gym (and she is reportedly there for hours each day) there will be critique, e.g of your veiny arms. They’ve been snapping Angelina Jolie’s veiny arms for a few years already and she’s only just turned 40.
Here’s another unfair rule: Lady Gaga can go gray but gray grannies can’t go gaga. The reference is to the fad for young women to dye their hair gray, launched by Lady Gaga. Who Madonna has considered her rival, despite the fact that the other wacky pop star is half her age.
Sure, it is sad that the Queen of Pop won’t abdicate gracefully. That the mother of re-invention won’t re-invent herself out of the competition, but keeps reinventing herself to stay in. What a pity that someone so incredibly inventive isn’t inventing new ways to move into her next stage of life. Nevertheless, I’ll defend Madonna when she’s called “a crazy old lady” – which started back when she was barely into her 40s.
“When she presented the Turner Prize, a modern art award in the UK, in 2001, Madge decided to drop the MF bomb. At like 7pm. We can only imagine this was because she felt a) like she was losing touch and needed to do something ‘edgy’ to restore her place in the pantheon of provocateurs, b) she felt inadequate at being a mainstream artist and wanted to be in with the cool modern art crowd or c) she really is just a crazy old lady. I’m going with c. I mean, have you seen her wrinkly forearms lately?!”
I’ll defend anyone who’s still daring to push limits when they’re no longer young. Madonna’s problem is that she tries too hard. She doesn’t get it that getting older means you no longer have to try so desperately. For most of us Of A Certain Age that’s because no one’s watching any more.
“Imagine, younguns, a world where you just don’t give a shit about looking stupid or what your friends think or falling down in public or impressing the Joneses or having to go along with the crowd to do things you hate. Imagine how awesome that would be. The liberation. The joyous freedom. The glorious sense of possibility. Well, if you’re lucky, that’s what getting older is.”
But Madonna still wants everyone to still look at her. I noticed in her latest music video there are intimate shots of the other pop stars who feature in it, all far younger, but no close-ups of her. So there’s no chance to check out wrinkles on her face or those arms that people can’t stop criticising. That same nasty gossip site chided Madonna to “stop trying to be edgy, cool and intriguing” but that’s exactly what she’s still trying to be.
“Shut up jealous bitches! I hope you are as fun loving and adventurous as me when you’re my age!!!! Hahahha let’s see”
Hashtag: “Bitch I’m Madonna” (I believe a comma is required but let us henceforth refer to it as BIM.) That’s what every cool person retorts when criticized, according to the DJ and co-producer of Madonna’s latest studio album – meaning that We’re All Madonna when we are dissed.
Indeed various top hipsters say BIM in cool ways in the video. The song BIM reportedly “addresses the singer’s detractors talking negatively about her longevity in the music industry”. Wrong. Nobody is dissing Madonna for being one of the best-selling female recording artists of all time for a long time. They’re dissing her because in the process she got older.
So Viva Madonna! (Who might get even more edgy and intriguing if she stopped trying so hard.)