Madonna unmade by motherhood
The singer's childish social media appeals won't help her win son Rocco back
Published 24/01/2016 | 02:30
Last Friday, Madonna posted a picture and a short message on Instagram. The message was: "Moving forward. . . Nowhere else to go." The picture, a selfie, was of the singer wearing a very sad face. Her mouth was downturned, her eyes were welling with tears. But just welling, not overspilling, not so much that they ruined her make-up and the sad face was a bit hammy, but then acting has never been Madonna's strong suit. In short, it was a bit embarrassing.
Embarrassing because she's a 57-year-old woman taking to Instagram to get to - get at? - her teenage son. Because it screams of trying to be down with the kids instead of backing off and being the grown-up and leaving kids' stuff to kids. And because, well, it's not very Madonna. Up to now, Madonna has done all sorts of things, but embarrassing herself hasn't been one of them.
Lately, though, things have shifted, and Friday's Instagram posting was only the latest in what could be called Madonna's social-media meltdown.
Friday marked the end of a bad week for Madonna. She has been leaving her concertgoers waiting for hours for her to come onstage during her Rebel Heart tour. She was accused of being drunk on stage in Kentucky, a claim she later denied, though amateur video clips show that while she wasn't necessarily intoxicated, she was rambling. She insulted fans in the American South by impersonating their accent, and then called her ex-husband the c-word.
She didn't name the ex, but she hardly meant Sean Penn, with whom she's been all pally of late. No, the more likely target was Guy Ritchie, The relationship with Ritchie was the only one in which she ever played the little woman, what with all the mockney "call me Madge" business, the "Mrs Ritchie" emblazoned suit to his film Snatch, and the humiliating reviews of her performance in his subsequent film, Swept Away.
But, worse than any of that is the fact that Ritchie now has the man in Madonna's life that means more to her than any of them: their son Rocco. And to humiliate Madonna as a mother, it seems, is the unmaking of her.
Before Christmas, 15-year-old Rocco visited his film director father in London and then refused to return to his mother in the States.
Initially, it was claimed that Rocco was sick of working on his mother's tour and that he was sick of being humiliated by pictures she posted of him on Instagram, such as one in his underwear with the hashtag "no sausage". Or another with pigtails in his hair, where he was flinching from the camera as Madonna held him in place.
It was revealed that Madonna was going to court to iron this out with her ex, but also a sort of backlash/defence began. Madonna started appealing to Rocco over social media.
At Christmas, Madonna sent the boy greetings as "the sunshine of my life" and she hasn't stopped since. After several "my enemy is a clown"-style quotes from Nietzsche and Marilyn Monroe, Rocco deleted his Instagram account, after, apparently, blocking his mother from it.
Earlier this month, she took to Instagram to say: "It's possible to be an entertainer and a good mother!!! Too bad we don't live in a society where many encourage strong independent single working moms!" The photo attached was of Lourdes, Madonna's oldest, lying across the laps of her mother, brother Rocco and brother and sister David and Mercy.
Madonna feels criticised by her ex and by her son and the fact that they aren't responding to her unhappiness is making her worse. She can't stop talking on social media and she's now referring to the unpleasantness onstage. Madonna, uncharacteristically, is out of control.
A self-styled rebel such as the chameleon Madonna isn't a free spirit. She's an exercise in carefully judged control. And control, according to "sources close" to the Ritchie camp, is the root of Rocco's problem with her.
Apparently, one of Rocco's major issues with his mother was how she treated him on tour. His presence with her was a mini-me style show and essentially narcissistic. It suggested not only that to be with her was what made the boy happy, but that to be like her was also his raison d'etre.
Rocco Ritchie is Madonna's second child. His older sister, Lourdes (19), has been mini-Madonna all her life; but a sort of souped-up, more refined Madonna. She is, perhaps, Madonna's ideal self. She went to French-speaking school, she wasn't allowed to watch TV or eat sweets or be unthinking; practising as her mother preached. It sounded like a rigid life, one that an adult might choose, but difficult if foisted on you.
Madonna and Lourdes have always come across as symbiotic, not least in the way they dress. Lourdes's offbeat dress sense speaks of an individualistic self-image, but not when you consider that her mother dressed very similarly at her age.
Why even the clothing line that Lourdes Leon launched in her mid-teens, apparently calling all the shots herself, is called Material Girl. In Madonna's house, it's okay to be a rebellious teen, so long as you're mommy's kind of rebellious teen.
Of course, what must also be hard for Madonna is the fact that Rocco's defection is not only a rejection of her rebel heart but what must seem like his embracing of his dad's more traditional domestic set-up. Last year, Rocco posed with his father as Guy Ritchie married Jacqui Ainsley, mother of his three small children. Ainsley is a pretty former model, who says in interviews that she knew at first sight that Ritchie was The One. She's like the Anti-Madonna, and to choose that conventional set-up must feel like a slap in the face to Madonna.
Blinded by hurt and humiliation, Madonna has overlooked that while teenagers like to rebel, they also like the comfort of conformity. They go a little crazy; but they like their parents to be dull, predictable and, if at all possible, silent.
Madonna will never be the first two, but maybe she could work on the latter. And leave social media to the kids, at least.