MIDWAY: Madonna, all in stride

One would have to be a fairly determined news avoider not to clock, at some level, that Madonna has just turned 50. Never mind that life expectancies have risen in the developed world, and living to one’s half-century is not the achievement that it once was; this is Madonna’s half-century, and attention must be paid.

The interesting thing, however, is how vitriolic much of this attention is, and where that vitriol is coming from. Take Camille Paglia, for instance, writing in Salon last week of the “horrifying paparazzi pix of Madonna’s wan face looking as resculpted as a plastic doll”, and of the

“brassy” cover image for Madonna’s latest CD, Hard Candy, “with that ostentatiously exposed crotch and hard-bitten face lolling its tongue like a dissolute old streetwalker... still hammering at sex as if it’s Madonna’s last, desperate selling point.”

Or Julie Burchill (not one, it is true, to be relied on for a consistent or fair point of view), who began by inveighing against Madonna’s “vile veiny hands, that sad stringy neck — yuck!” then proceeded to bring up the crotch shots in Madonna’s 1992 book, SEX. “Visions of that greasy muff, which one could easily have fried an egg on without benefit of oil, haunt me till this very day.” Germaine Greer, writing in the Sun British tabloid, called her the “elderly mother of Lourdes, nearly 12, Rocco eight, and David Banda, nearly three”. Since when did elderly mother become a term of insult?

What exactly has Madonna done to deserve this? Perhaps the answer lies in the hopes they had for her (and themselves) 20 years ago. In 1990, Paglia wrote that Madonna “has taught young women to be fully female and sexual while still exercising total control over their lives.

So Paglia castigates her for not maturing with grace; Greer for never being what she seemed:

“Madonna was a middle-class girl pretending to be tough, a religious girl pretending to be irreligious, a prude pretending to be a pervert, a control freak pretending to be out of control.”

In fact, she’s doing what they liked her for in the first place — going her own way, fighting her own fight, mores be damned. Trouble is, it’s their mores she’s breaking, and they don’t like it one little bit.