As we all have probably noticed, there's a lot of stripping going on in the news, exposing big behinds, flat chests, pregnant bellies, etc. So, where is Madonna hiding? That's what I had been thinking -- there was no way she would leave the field of rapidly growing gangs of exhibitionists to untrained youngsters. Before I could even finish imagining another year without Madonna busting the scene, there she was on and in the new Interview Magazine, chatting about this and that.
And of course, since this is "Madonna Time," there was the ubiquitous spread of over-stylized semi-nudies, deemed provocative, but resembling more a glossy catalogue of an older courtesan who is afraid of losing her patrons. So somehow, this is almost a sad story -- not of victory, but of defeat.
You, Madonna, all of 56 years, can, with an army of hired help, still squeeze yourself into too-tight pieces of strange clothing, show your ample breasts or skip a garment altogether. We got it. And the message is, even when you have still a hugely successful career, tons of money, fans all over the world and four children, all you ever pine for is an approving: "She still looks hot for her age?" Really? Apparently, women, even older ones, still feel the call of duty to be on public view 24/7, naked or scantily clad, available and ready to prove their worth and their beauty.
But there seems something wrong with the picture. The very neatly coiffed yellow-haired lady in the Interview spread who sits in a shabby room on an unmade bed with an old TV on looks a bit bored, as in "done that, seen it all." And she has! The past is all there. The good ol' seamed nylons and the garter belts, a pin-up staple of the '40s and '50s, some shiny latex outfits, satin bras and sunglasses, long black nails, but out of nowhere also a cozy cardigan -- yes, life can get chilly! Yet, there's no fire in these images. They are cold and calculated; the mood is alienation that feels all too real.
Madonna always thrived on explicit images and in using her incredibly fit body like an instrument. It's gotten all a little more elaborate over the years, the temptress routine now needs more careful staging. And what was once an attempt at "pushing the envelope" has turned more into pushing her cleavage a few inches higher. (I can practically hear her squeal during dress rehearsals: "Higher, higher!" just like they did 100 years ago with the corset, yelling at their maid: "Tighter!"
What once looked like a woman with some charm and a dash of humor looks now like a plastic sculpture, soulless and actually uncomfortable. Come to think of it, Madonna looks like Cindy Sherman doing a Madonna impersonation.
The point is here: How hard is it to grow up and grow older gracefully? Very hard. Not just for Madonna. Because the availability of tempting tools and poisons for prolonging eternal sexy youth feeds the illusion that it is actually possible.
"Truth or Dare" was once Madonna's motto (and a real good documentary). Now, the truth is that she doesn't really dare to look the simple fact in the face that getting old is life, too.
But aging is also an interesting process, one that remains one of the last non-negotiable vestiges among the natural forces. And because it is in your skin and bones and suffuses your heart and mind, it can't be stopped or convincingly altered. No matter how hard you try. For a true survivor like her, aging could also be seen as a fabulous triumph and a celebration as well. And a perfect time to shed a cliché or two, especially the overused ones, because they tend to hang heavily around a performer's neck like a chain on a dog in captivity.
But it looks like Madonna opted out of wanting to change. So, what started out with "Like a Virgin" looks now more "Like a Hausfrau" -- alas with a naughty hobby. Somehow, the once aggressive porn-pics appear now pedestrian, have turned into a sex-burlesque, the type where a former dominatrix waits for the TV repairman in nothing but a mask on her face and a flask with whiskey in her hand. All of which would be really hot in an old age home.
So should we be worried that Madge will turn out to be the eternal stripper? Will there be a "Cher moment" in the near future?
But Madonna would never admit that she can't come up with fresh ideas. Ever since pop stars like her (and continued by Lady Gaga) started to decorate their musical offerings with the pretentious label "art", Madonna has used that self-styled seal of affectation relentlessly and unapologetically. She is a singer with a huge ego and an even bigger bank account who can stage any show of any kind in almost any country that will let her in and do her "art".
"I was attracted to creative people," she said in Interview. "You don't want to be the smartest person in the room; you want to be the dumbest in the room." Now, we don't want to be too catty and come up with a retort as cheap as "Well done. You've succeeded." But what we could say is that she certainly is always the most undressed person in the room.
Speaking of... It's funny, men have all the power in the world, publicly and privately -- and none of them came by it by dropping their pants for no reason at all. Maybe there is something powerful about being fully dressed? It's worth a try, is it not?
I have a dream! Not just about Madonna, but about women who dare to take back their bodies, naked or clothed, who don't give them freely to the slobbering masses. Because images of female bodies have been too often and for far too long generously scattered over the whole world. Fact is: naked, exposed people can come off as vulnerable and powerless. There are lots of routines for you, Madonna. Be bold and be old.