Eilis O'Hanlon: We shouldn't be shocked at Madonna's flesh-flashing
Star has ignited a debate on ageism, all while wearing more clothes than most younger pop idols, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
Magicians call it misdirection. It's the art of focussing the audience's attention on some small thing so that they don't notice another, much more important thing.
Madonna is a past master of the trick and, if her latest tour is anything to go by, hasn't lost any of her skill. Last week, it was the turn of Rome, where the pop superstar grabbed headlines by turning her back to the crowd, dropping her trousers, and flashing her thong-clad butt.
It's a pity it was a thong, possibly the closest fashion ever came to using tooth floss as an item of clothing; as Bridget Jones discovered, big pants are much sexier, being both cheekily unexpected and daringly counter-intuitive.
But by focussing attention on her still rather fabulous butt, what Madonna did was make the audience forget that she was wearing trousers at all.
Trousers, what's more, with fishnet tights under them. For Rihanna, 30 years Madonna's junior, that's about as tame as wearing winter woollies.
In fact, Rihanna probably doesn't even know what a pair of trousers is, most of her public appearances consisting, as they do, of her prancing about in knickers and not much else.
Britney Spears gyrates around in a bikini on stage; Christina Aguilera went through a stage where she could barely sing Baa Baa Black Sheep without simulating intercourse at the same time; Kylie Minogue had to dance around in painted-on gold hotpants for months to get that much attention.
The sluttification of modern pop culture is complete, but Madonna grabs just as many headlines with a quick glimpse of backside. Or a nipple, if you happened to be in the crowd in Istanbul.
Madonna is much tamer than she used to be, but that didn't stop the knockers (no pun intended) dropping on her from a great height for her antics. In the wake of Nipplegate, Piers Morgan, that paradigm of wisdom, was quick to tweet: "The most embarrassing, cringeworthy, desperate moment in the history of music?" Hardly.
Madonna herself once simulated masturbation while singing Like A Virgin on her 1990 Blond Ambition tour flanked by two male dancers in conical bras. Showing off less flesh in Rome than female Olympic athletes will be displaying soon in London doesn't even compete. But then Madonna had only recently turned 30 when she did that, and she's 53 now, a fact for which the critics do seem unable to forgive her.
Now, when they say that Madonna is "desperate" or "shocking", I presume they're using the words as synonyms for "old". How dare she still have a butt when she's old enough to be someone's mother?
That seems to be her real crime. Not flashing her butt, but actually having a 53-year-old butt in the first place. Not exposing her nipple, but owning a nipple that's been around longer than the Late Late Show.
One Daily Mail columnist actually said last week that "nudity at the age of 53 is not just gratuitous, it's gruesome". That's you told, granny. In a time when women are increasingly paranoid about their bodies, it's a disturbing message to be sending out. Whatever happened to the hippie dream of accepting ourselves as we are at every stage?
That could explain why I find Madonna's performances much more interesting now than they were back in the day. Twenty- and 30-somethings are always getting their kit off. There's nothing very surprising about it anymore.
It's doing it when you're supposed to have "grown out of it" that makes it so entertaining. Madonna is at an age where she's supposed to have gone all mad and gnarly like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, hiding out in her Beverly Hills mansion, reliving her long-gone glory days and provoking dry retching when she lusts embarrassingly after younger men.
Swanson herself was only 51 when that film was made, and wonderful she was, too; but it did rather set the tone for Hollywood, where men are allowed to grow old disgracefully and women are expected to accept they're sexless, wizened old hags before they leave their 40s. Madonna defiantly refuses to play along.
Undignified her behaviour may be; I long for the days of the Hay Code as much as the next prude. But Madonna's act is no more unflattering than Rihanna's. Being offended by one and not the other merely exposes the critics as ageist bullies rather than moral crusaders.
Besides, if I have to see any woman's butt, I'd much rather it was Madonna's any day. Hers is a backside with history, a backside with character -- and at least it is only a backside. Madonna doesn't also use it to talk out of, as so many younger pop stars feel compelled to do out of theirs. In fact, her backside should probably be listed as a UNESCO heritage site, in order to preserve it for future generations.
It's still looking great, after all. That bum is not only older than the Late Late, but ageing far better, too.
As for Piers Morgan, Madonna already delivered the coup de grace to that overpaid, overhyped public nuisance when he announced on Twitter that she was barred from his TV shows. "She doesn't even know who he is," a spokesman was dispatched to reply. Game, set and match to the old girl. That's another thing about Madonna. She always had a sense of humour. Perhaps the critics could try getting one too.