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At the Super Bowl, gargoyle Madonna performed alongside British “singer” M.I.A. To most everyone’s surprise, the show was relatively tame, with the stiff-looking 53-year-old prancing around with her oddly-clad team of backup singers, including a weird guy doing tricks on a wire (not Guy Richie). The most amusing part of the performance was Madonna disappearing into the stage, Wicked Witch of the West-style; as Jim Geraghty of National Review hilariously tweeted, “Wow, Bane got her in the end.” (For those of you who aren’t Batman aficionados, Bane is a Batman villain featured in the upcoming Christopher Nolan flick The Dark Knight Returns, who collapses a football field.) Personally, I thought it was just the earth finally swallowing up the scarlet woman for her prior blasphemies.
There was a bit of controversy, though: at the end of her cameo, M.I.A. flipped off the crowd. What was the point of that little gesture? M.I.A. is nowhere to be found for comment, but the rationale is pretty clear: nobody would have cared about M.I.A.’s appearance had she not decided to tell Americans to screw off. It was an attention getter. And it got attention. Mission accomplished.
This is how we do celebrity in America. Bad behavior gets you noticed; as you age, you go mainstream. M.I.A. is simply a less talented Madonna (if there is such a thing), 20 years younger. Undoubtedly, M.I.A. will eventually mainstream herself, and we will pretend she was never a problem.
She can follow Madonna’s path in doing so. When the Material Girl first popped on the scene with “Like a Virgin,” she shook up the world with her ability to shock. When she released “Like a Prayer” in 1989, people understood that her lyric – “When you call my name, It’s like a little prayer, I’m down on my knees, I wanna take you there” – was a veiled reference to fellatio, and that the song was supposed to transgress boundaries between the holy and the sexual. The Vatican actually condemned the music video. On Sunday, Madonna sang the song before an entire country, complete with backup choir, as though it were a plain spiritual.
America’s forgiving nature is wonderful. But that forgiving nature means that we’re often taken advantage of by celebrities, who act out in an obnoxious way and then demand our forgiveness over time. In fact, America is so forgiving that we don’t even bother asking our celebrities to apologize for past transgressions – we just assume they’ve matured. Madonna’s old now, but she’s just as nasty as she ever was – yet we treat her like a musical Judi Dench.
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