Turns out it's not easy being Madonna. Unless you fled to Siberia back when your stock portfolio went up in flames, you may know that the Material Mom's attempts to acquire another Malawian orphan for her collection have engendered an aggressive public outcry, complete with breathless accusations that she’s cutting red tape with her celebrity status and/or buying children for sport. This is hardly surprising: For the last 25 years, all of Madonna's actions have elicited pearl-clutching and outrage from someone, somewhere — the woman is the queen of using shock value to stay relevant. That she's now being asked to defend her every impulse, even expanding her family, is a pickle entirely of her own making: the perils of being so good at The Madonna Business that the public now believes everything Madonna does is business.
Madge, of course, has long been renowned as a master marketer who knows exactly how to springboard from one image to the next before people get bored and stop talking. Just when we got sick of the cone boobs and heavy petting of her "Justify My Love" years, she whipped out henna tattoos and acoustic guitar sets; when the faux-English accent and her sudden closeness with poncey sophisticate Gwyneth Paltrow became wearying, Madonna returned to crotchtacular gyrations in a leotard with greased up male dancers (and, occasionally, Justin Timberlake). Girlfriend loves attention — there is a reason she rarely wears pants anymore — and she is not afraid to ask for it. From the no-holds-barred documentary Truth or Dare to her quasi-porny book Sex, the Material One has never shied away from inviting us into her private affairs. Every step of her personal journey over the last 25 years seemed to mirror something in her professional life, making it virtually impossible to separate the two. We suspect that's exactly how she planned it — after all, you don't make out with a faux-Christ in a music video and then perform on a crucifix wearing a crown of thorns because you want people to seek your softer side. And if you think she didn’t realize that dating a hunky twentysomething named “Jesus” would result in thousands of pun-y Jesus/Madonna headlines, we’d love to tour the hole in the ground you’ve been renting.
But what makes Madonna a genius — her appetite for controversy; her skill at reinvention and self-promotion — is exactly what's now biting her in the obsessively toned ass. Regularly exposing all facets (and we do mean all) of herself over the years essentially trained us to look for a publicity ploy or ulterior motive in every move she makes. We're so accustomed to her personal life conveniently dovetailing with her professional aspirations that we jump straight to being suspicious of, say, why a 50-year-old woman fresh off dumping a twentysomething model — after a cranky divorce and an allegedly messy affair with A-Rod — would turn around and decide it's high time to bring another moppet into the fray.
In Madonna’s defense, she hasn’t whined to People that she’s terribly misunderstood, or that she can’t believe people ascribe to her anything but the most saintly of intentions. Instead, she’s tooling around Malawi in a $2,800 Chanel tracksuit, watching the column inches grow simply by virtue of doing whatever she wants, for whatever reason she wants. Was that her main goal in the first place? Is this, as we once theorized, an attempt to piggyback on the mad press Angelina and Brad have gotten over the years? Is it a mid-life crisis? Is she a woman with genuine maternal impulses who's just trying to help a child in dire circumstances? Or — most likely — is it a potent cocktail of all of the above? Nobody but Madonna can answer that question, but the fact reminds us that she’s the one who conditioned us to ask it. If nobody believes her answers, well, that's kind of on her.
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