What a slew of dispiriting headlines greeted the first morning of June this week: Charlotte Church splits; the departure of the only person in the British Cabinet generally agreed to be any cop whatsoever; the Gaza flotilla.
But it’s not all bad. There was one cheering headline amid the dross, like a clean duckling swimming happily and untouched in a giant puddle of BP oil: “Madonna helps free gay Malawians!”
That’s right: the singer I once watched masturbate on stage surrounded by Christian paraphernalia (it was my 12th birthday present — this is how important stages of life were marked in the 1990s, children) has, it was claimed this weekend, announced that she succeeded where international human rights law failed and effected the liberation of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza — imprisoned for 14 years’ hard labour for being gay — as successfully as she has destroyed various film directors’ careers.
But did Madonna actually save the Malawian couple? Let us embark on a mystery worthy of the denizens of 221b Baker Street, one we shall call The Mystery of the Celebrity Saviour.
Our story began this weekend when a large swath of the celebrity press spontaneously credited the singer with freeing Chimbalanga and Monjeza.
“Malawi Releases Gay Couple after Material One Protests” squealed E!, the entertainment news behemoth named after the substance one must be on to watch it.
“Madonna Saves Malawian Couple!” trilled another — apparently not having heard of the UN’s Ban Ki-moon, who met Malawi’s president before the men’s release.
But then, has anyone ever seen Ban masturbate on stage? Case closed.
My mind was wild with the possibilities. Perhaps we should send Madonna to Gaza to sort out that little squabble over there! “Madonna Brings Peace to the Middle East”: a headline with the definite smack of inevitability, I thought, seeing as she had claimed to have overturned homophobia and prison sentences in Malawi.
Except that the briefest of glances at Madonna’s blog shows this was not what she had claimed at all. Despite at least one celebrity magazine insisting the contrary, all Madonna did this weekend was announce that the Malawian couple had been freed from prison.
Yes, she said that she signed a petition; no, she has not said that it was the petition that liberated them.
This means that we have now reached a rather interesting pocket in time, where the celebrity press puts more store in the power of Madonna than Madonna does herself.
It may take a few minutes to digest this concept — but how this has happened is not difficult to fathom. I’m wary of sentences that begin with phrases like “Such is the power of celebrity today …” because celebrities have always held sway of some sort over the public, or at least the media.
But it is fair to say that celebrities are accorded more time and credit than ever. This is simply because there are more of them and if you’re going to claim Miley Cyrus is worthy of a cover interview then, logically, a celebrity of Madonna’s standing is capable of international miracles. To quote Albert Einstein (very D-list), it’s a question of relativity.
This ramping up of hysteria may also be why a (slightly) younger generation of celebrity thinks they really, truly are central to world affairs.
To wit, Jude Law recently whined-I-mean-protested that people are too cynical about celebrities who get involved in charities: “You talk to any charity, if they don’t have someone like Angie [Jolie. They’re friends, you see? Hence the ever-so-casual nickname] involved, they find it very hard to raise finances — very hard. People like her are a really important element to the jigsaw of getting things done,” he said, offering neither proof nor confirmation that he grasps why people find that reality so depressing.
But let’s not blame Jude (entirely). Blame the magazines that feed him his own ego and the charities and news stories that follow suit in thinking that a celebrity presence really is crucial.
Jude’s claim brings us back to the Malawian miracle and what makes it even more of a miracle is that some of us didn’t even know Madonna was involved at all — and yet, nonetheless, the gay couple was freed. Which is almost as amazing as the thought that, comparatively speaking, Madonna now comes across as almost modest. —