I propose a moratorium on jokes about Madonna’s age
So I’m one of those people who can’t deal with watching Big National Media Events without social media. Take awards shows. I’m sure some people find them interesting, but I for one view them as little more than excuses for famous people to give each other glitter-encrusted reacharounds while we plebes watch and drool with envy. But add some Twitter, a little Facebook, and bam! I’m transfixed by the event, or more specifically, the witty commentary that unspools on my computer monitor.
But there are times when event-driven social media lets me down, and last night’s Super Bowl half-time was a perfect illustration of that. Here we have Madonna, arguably one of the most successful pop artists of modern times, putting on a huge glorious spectacle of gladiators bouncing on their junk on tightropes and bringing out the magnificent duo of MIA and Nicki Minaj and recruiting Cee Lo Green to sing in what I consider to be one of the most sublimely perfect pop songs ever and just in general turning one of the most macho events in mainstream American culture into a total sparkle-fiesta of queered-out femmedom. In case you couldn’t tell, I thought it was fabulous.
Yet to look at my Twitter stream, you’d think that Madonna had lurched on stage wearing a flowered muumuu, a pair of slippers and her hair in curlers, and that the only thing keeping her upright was a walker. The old jokes went on and on and on and on. (And as my friend Salome noted, not a single peep about Motley Crue, who despite all being in their 50s were rocking like it was 1987 on the Sunset Strip.)
The sadly ironic thing is that people were cracking these jokes while she was dancing her ass off. I mean, the woman was doing cartwheels in a pair of boots with five-inch heels. (I’m sure her podiatrist was wincing, but anyway.) Do you know what happened the last time I tried to do a cartwheel? I pulled a muscle in my back and couldn’t stand up properly for the rest of the day. Did I mention that I did that when I was twenty-two? And I was barefoot?
So I’m thinking that anyone who wants to talk about how Madonna is ready for the glue factory at the ripe old age of 53 should be forced to prove that they too can do a cartwheel in heels without killing themselves before they can crack their oh-so-hilarious and devastatingly clever jokes.
Listen, I understand that old jokes can be amusing for youngsters to make. Just ask my husband. He’s 50 and I tease him about that all the time. (He also happens to be a super-foxy 50, so there’s that.) But the jokes underlie a really sucky trend in our culture, which is that we fetishize youth to such an extreme that we end up with 25-year-olds questioning whether they’ve wasted their lives (short answer: you haven’t) while ridiculing older people for for pretty much daring to exist in public.
Krista over at Stumptuous wrote this most-excellent rant the other day, in which she sang the praises of older women:
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.
I really wanted to excerpt the whole post, which is brilliant, but I won’t so I’ll just encourage you to go read it instead.
I’m not really that old – I’m only 32 – but I can relate to this. See, when you are a woman and you turn 30, you are inundated with all of these messages that basically suggest that a woman who is no longer in her 20s will be a shriveled up, bitter old crone who hates the world and resents those girls who are younger and juicier than her and will never, ever be desired by another man because she is just that decrepit. I mean, we ladies don’t freak out over turning 30 for nothing.
But because aging is one of those things we don’t really have much of a choice about, I went ahead and turned 30 anyway, and guess what? My 30s have been fantastic. I feel better looking, more interesting, more confident, more of everything. I have more experience in life, which means I am more likely to recognize bullshit when I see it and less likely to be afraid to call it out. If a dude doesn’t find me attractive, it doesn’t send me into a spiral of self-doubt and self-hate. I actually – and hold on to your butts, because it’s a doozy – I actually just. don’t. care.
Can I tell you what I think? I think that our culture, in its malevolent, person-hating way, recognizes that we ladies become more powerful and more confident and more awesome as we get older, and it freaks out and says, NO THAT CANNOT HAPPEN, WE CAN’T HAVE WOMEN BEING AWESOME, THAT WILL RUIN EVERYTHING. I mean, what could possibly be more threatening to patriarchy than a woman who recognizes bullshit when she sees it and calls it out?
So it looks for ways to undermine us. What better way to do that than by glorifying adolescence and making the rest of feel like we might as well go hide in a cave where we can eat crickets and wear capes made of lichens and not horrify people with our worthless, grotesque selves? (I find the sexualization of adolescence baffling. I think about myself as a teenager and I was so not at all sexy and just this gawky, sloppy mess in every possible way. The idea that those years were the years at which I was at my peak is just…really? Really?)
When we glorify adolescence, we are holding up people who are still at the mercy of not-quite-developed brains and whipsawing hormones as the apex of humanity. Teenagers have a lot of things going for them and I know a lot of fabulous teenagers, so I’m not trying to tear them down to make my not-teenage self feel better. I’m just trying to put this shit into perspective.
My point – and I do have one – is that with age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes power. When you shred on older women who refuse to tuck themselves out of sight like good little old women are supposed to do, you reinforce all of the bullshit ideas out there that say to be a woman is to be weak, to be submissive and to be stupid and you become complicit in a culture that seeks to deny women a very real source of power.
You can be critical of Madonna all you want. Lord knows she gives us reason enough to do so, with the way she treats the world like her own cultural buffet and fancies herself an expert on anything she dabbles in. But please, let’s lay off the woman’s age.