If it weren’t for Camille Paglia no one would care about Madonna. That is, Madonna Louise Ciccone. If you are old enough you remember the chanteuse from the 1980s, when she sang songs like Material Girl and Like a Virgin.
As it happens, Madonna has sold more records than any other female performer. She has enjoyed an outsided success and has a considerable fortune.
And yet, she is now 58 and the bloom, as they say, is off the rose. Since she can no longer compete with the younger singers—Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift—in the pop charts, she has taken to doing what today’s aging divas do: she is complaining. She has chosen to portray herself as a victim. Hollywood, she says, does not like her. The reason: sexism and misogyny.
Now, Camille Paglia, a great fan and supporter, calls out Madonna for her immature whining and tells her that she should try to age gracefully. You remember the old days, when people were said to have aged gracefully? I am sure that you do. According to Paglia, Madonna is aging disgracefully.
Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, Paglia notes:
In December, at the Billboard Women in Music Awards in New York City, Madonna was given the trophy for Woman of the Year. In a rambling, tearful acceptance speech that ran more than 16 minutes, she claimed to be a victim of "blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse."
It was a startling appropriation of stereotypical feminist rhetoric by a superstar whose major achievement in cultural history was to overthrow the puritanical old guard of second-wave feminism and to liberate the long-silenced pro-sex, pro-beauty wing of feminism, which (thanks to her) swept to victory in the 1990s.
So far, so good. Paglia’s larger point involves what is called ageism. Apparently, Madonna is outraged that nature has brought her to the ripe age of— 58. Of course, Madge does not really act her age. She has chosen to pretend that she is still young. Or, as Dylan said: forever young.
In Paglia’s words:
But I want to focus here on the charge of ageism that Madonna, now 58, leveled against the entertainment industry and that received heavy, sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media. Her grievances about the treatment of women performers climaxed with this: "And finally, do not age, because to age is a sin. You will be criticized, you will be vilified and you will definitely not be played on the radio."
I trust Paglia when she says that Madonna’s recent music has not been getting airplay because it is simply not very good. It is very difficult, at age 58, to appeal to teenagers. Need we explain this?
… famous performers of Madonna's level fail to get airplay not because of their age, but because their current music no longer is attracting a broad audience. When was the last time Madonna released hit songs of the brilliant quality of her golden era of the 1980s and '90s? Lavish, lucrative touring rather than sustained creative work in the studio has been her priority for decades.
As for the larger issue, Madonna has insisted on wearing vampy outfits that would be more suited to a woman thirty years her junior. Paglia explains that it derives from a youth cult. More saliently, she adds that has come about because of a cultural upheaval.
In the past few decades women have chosen to marry later. And they have had little qualms about jumping out of an unsatisfactory marriage. Thus, older women found themselves competing in the marriage market against younger women. The point is important. Kudos to Paglia for raising the issue.
The main problem facing today's aging women is not sexism but the lingering youth cult of the 1960s. Traditional mating patterns have been disrupted: Marriage is postponed by extended education and early career demands. Because of easy divorce, middle-aged women are now competing with younger women for both men and jobs — and thus are resorting to costly interventions to look 20 years younger than they are.
Undoubtedly,she is correct. Thus, Paglia is presenting herself as something of a scold. She is telling Madonna to act her own age and to embrace her maturity. Remember, with age comes wisdom.
Madonna’s revealing outfits are not fooling anyone. They gain a certain amount of attention, but this is not necessarily the right kind of attention:
If aging stars want to be taken seriously, they must find or recover a mature persona. Stop cannibalizing the young! Scrambling to stay relevant, Madonna is addicted to pointless provocations like her juvenile Instagrams or her trashy outfit with strapped-up bare buttocks and duct-taped nipples at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Gala in May. She has forgotten the legacy of her great precursor, Marlene Dietrich, who retained her class and style to the end of her public life.
Paglia suggests that women-- and even men-- should not pretend to be something they are not:
Women in or out of Hollywood who dress like girls and erase all signs of aging are disempowering themselves and aggressing into territory that belongs to the young. They are surrendering their right of self-definition to others. Men are not the enemy: They, too, are subject to nature's iron laws. For the sake of its own art, Hollywood needs less sex war, not more.