Madonna, 56, recently complained about the unflattering comments she receives about her age. It’s a scourge of not just popular culture but the culture at large, she argued.
“It’s still the one area where you can totally discriminate against somebody,” she says, “and talk shit. Because of their age. Only females, though. Not males. So in that respect we still live in a very sexist society.”
“No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black or dare to say a degrading remark on Instagram about someone being gay,” Madonna continues. “But my age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me.
She’s right … to a point. But she brought part of it on herself.
Ageism is far more accepted than most personal insults, no doubt. Yet Madonna is wrong when she says it’s exclusively a women’s problem. How many times were the Rolling Stones described as the “Rolling Bones” over the last decade? What about the snark that followed Harrison Ford when he hurt his leg on the set of the new “Star Wars” sequel?
You could pen an ebook with the number of Geritol jokes targeting the “Expendables” franchise.
Equal Opportunity Targets
Both men and women in the public eye are teased for refusing to grow old in private. We judge celebrities by a different standard, expecting them to retain their youthful glow in perpetuity. This critic has sat in movie theaters where graying ticket holders decried how “old” a particular actor looked in blunt, brutal terms.
The debate gets stickier where certain stars are concerned. The Rolling Stones represented youth, vitality and rebellion when they conquered the music world in the 1960s. Now, the band members are multi-millionaires who couldn’t be expected to put on a show like their younger selves once did. Nor can they credibly speak to today’s Millenials. Should they hit the stage without acknowledging the decades since “Paint it Black” charted? Just what is aging gracefully in the public arena?
Madonna’s talent, drive and ingenuity has kept her on top for decades. But it sure didn’t hurt that she was one of the ’80s loveliest pop stars. She banked on that quality then, and now is aghast when fans hunger for more youthful singers.
Where Madonna treads the shakiest ground is when she compares those old age cracks to racism. Does she expect to make age jokes so politically incorrect we dare not say them in public? Should free speech be clamped down so that stars like Madonna don’t have their egos bruised by cutting remarks?
Racism isn’t just about ugly epithets. It’s about decades of systemic oppression and its lingering effects. Playing the Just Like Racism Card is more shock tactic than logical argument.
Madonna would best serve the culture by showing what a 50-something star is capable of doing. Selling records. Writing killer hooks. Dancing with the intensity of a 30-year-old when the spirit moves her. And showing that with time comes enough wisdom to take ignorant comments in stride.