Thursday, June 1

crumbling icons

When I started working out about 10 years ago I was really into Madonna. Yes, I loved "Vogue," my all-time favorite music video, but what I especially loved were her triceps. I kept them in mind whenever I was at the gym, and though I've made a little progress, in 10 years I've failed to achieve that sculpted dream.

More recent shots of her triceps convinced me that her look of 10 years ago was now totally out of my league, not destined to be mine in this lifetime. But the look had changed: she had become uber-sculpted. Madonna seemed to have gone over the top in her drive for the perfect body and I didn't envy the unnatural new look.

In any case, ten years have changed my idea of what's appropriate, necessary or optimally desirable. In other words, I've lowered my expectations.

Not Madonna, though. If you've seen the video for her recent hit "Sorry" she's showing off her scantily-clad body with the pride of a woman 30 years younger. Yeah, it's trim. But for some reason I just don't enjoy looking at it the way I once did. Is this ageist? Something's been bothering me about Madonna's apparent need to flaunt her body, and this time it's not envy. It's more like disappointment. I'm thinking, "Why do you need to do this?"

Chris Rock, in his fabulous show "Never Scared" said it best when referring to Janet Jackson's stunt at the Superbowl. "You can't just whip out a 40 year old titty! That's your man's titty! 40-year-old titty--your man's titty! 20-year-old titty--that's community titty." Aging sex symbols really need to get that.

Semi-nude videos are fine for 25-year-olds who haven't yet developed the depth and wisdom to understand that their value lies ultimately elsewhere. Youthful beauty is the trump card for the young; if you've got it, flaunt it. But playing that card at 47 just looks skanky and bankrupt.

I said this recently to a 32-year-old colleague who didn't see my point at all; she just thinks Madonna and her body are still amazing. But I'm [ahem] around the same age as Madge, and I now see her as unseemly. It bothers me to see her acting like her booty is all that. She should know better.

On top of which, although she's still hanging on to her status as a cultural phenomenon, I haven't enjoyed any of her music for years. It's boring and bubblegum-ish. And why must she steal from Abba? Lame.

LA Times columnist Meghan Daum has articulated exactly my feelings in this excerpt from the Chicago Tribune, Madonna yields her body, soul to spirit of insecurity:
Madonna's career is now chiefly about her body, which has come to represent so much more than a model of physical fitness. By hovering around what looks like 0.5 percent body fat without any evident assistance from plastic surgery, extraordinary DNA or heroin, she represents both our greatest aspirations and our greatest source of self-loathing. As much as we might like to look like her, we know we can't. Worse, because her body has been carved out of 47-year-old flesh by sheer force of will, we can blame only ourselves for our inability to measure up."
Because I too wouldn't mind resembling a small race horse with cleavage, I decided to spend one day doing the Madonna workout, as best I could. ... I cut myself major slack for lacking the funds, free time and chutzpah to employ the personal trainers, chefs, nannies, drivers and spiritual advisers who allow Madonna, mother of two, to maintain her regimen. According to various reports, she practices two hours of Ashtanga yoga, follows that with sessions of Pilates or gyrotonics, and then spends a couple of hours running, swimming, horseback riding or doing karate.
Here's the sad irony of Madonna's current incarnation. Now that her career is merely a vehicle for her body, her blond ambition has morphed into blatant anxiety. Whether she admits it or not, this kind of insecurity has a way of bleeding over onto her fans. No wonder, then, that we haven't followed Madonna onto her latest dance floor. If she taught us anything over the years, it's that we don't have to surrender ourselves to perverse cultural ideas. Madonna may have forgotten, but we owe it to her legacy not to.
Those of us seeking models of graceful aging will have to look elsewhere.

And a recent update (July 21/06): Rebecca Traister (of Salon)'s take on the old fogy in concert: ttp://