When it was announced that Madonna would be performing at the Super Bowl half-time show, I responded with a shrug of the shoulders. I’m neither a fan of football, nor overblown spectacles designed to entertain a crowd that's full on Budweiser and Buffalo wings by the time the entertainment rolls around.
While I’ve never been a big fan of her music, I’ve always appreciated the fact that she’s one of the few artists out there who, for 30 years, has consistently been able to reinvent herself and stay relevant. That’s no small feat for a pop world so fickle it usually forgets who you are by the time your name has made it to print.
Despite my indifference, I caved and watched the show. It was a solid 12 minutes of fast-paced, perfectly-orchestrated, visually-stunning candy-coated entertainment, thanks in part to Montreal’s very own Moment Factory. Being the savvy businesswoman that she is, Madonna played up to her past, by showcasing her old hits, but also promoted her latest silliness, Give Me All Your Luvin', instantly propelling it to the top of the iTunes charts.
“Nicely played, Madge,” I thought. Everyone back to watching grown men in tights toss around a pigskin, while polishing off the last of the chilli.
Not so fast…. The tweets (it was estimated, an average of 8,000 of them per second for five minutes) started coming in fast and furious.
“Did you see that old lady gyrating on the dance floor?”
“I am praying there won’t be a wardrobe malfunction this time.”
“You know that times have changed when Madonna on her knees is no longer fun to watch.”
And on and on they went… many of them from friends on Twitter. People I follow and like.
I watched the tweets go by and my indifference for Madonna quickly became indignation on her behalf.
Bruce Springsteen was 59 when he performed at the Super Bowl. Tom Petty, 57. Paul McCartney, a whopping 69. Mick Jagger? No spring chicken either. Madonna, at 53, is ironically one of the youngest performers, and without a doubt, one of the fittest to perform, yet she was vilified for being too old. Notice a theme? All the previous names belong to men.
Where we disproportionately prioritize youth we send the message to our young women that they are relevant only briefly and superficially, like shooting stars. Liz W. Garzia
Ageism, it would appear, is much more permissible and socially acceptable when the target is a woman.
Madonna, who works out two hours a day to maintain her stunning age-defying figure, danced around in five-inch stilettos, did cartwheels, and leapt from a kneeling position to a standing one over and over again, yet many viewers (many who probably wouldn’t last ten minutes on a treadmill without calling the paramedics) dared mock her.
"I find whenever someone writes anything about me, my age is right after my name," Madonna said in the December 2011 issue of Harper's Bazaar.
"It's almost like they're saying, 'Here she is, but remember she's this age, so she's not that relevant anymore.' Or 'Let's punish her by reminding her and everyone else.' When you put someone's age down, you're limiting them."
“What does any of this matter, apart from the icky burst of mean-spiritedness?” asks Forbes Magazine writer, Liz W. Garzia. “It matters because your wives and daughters and sisters and mothers are going to get older, too. […] It matters because this ageist mentality translates to the images we send out into the wide world in TV and film, and where we disproportionately prioritize youth we send the message to our young women that they are relevant only briefly and superficially, like shooting stars. Or like pop stars.”
Madonna elaborated on the topic in another interview: “Once you reach a certain age you're not allowed to be adventurous, you're not allowed to be sexual. I mean, is there a rule? Are you supposed to just die?”
Madonna’s half-time show brought to the forefront the underlining sexism and ageism that still permeate a world that should – but still doesn’t—know any better. In that sense, Madonna at 53 – continuing to refuse to go quietly into the night-- is more relevant today than she ever was in her 20's.