Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion L.A.
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Daum: Madonna's tone-deaf tattoo

There goes Madonna, classing up the joint again. To show her support of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl shot and critically wounded by the Taliban because of her advocacy for girls' education, the Material Girl (a.k.a. Madge, Esther, the Queen of Pop, the Hottest Bod in the AARP) took the opportunity during a recent concert at L.A.'s Staple Center to pull her pants down and reveal a (fake) tattoo of the girl's name inked across the small of her back.

Take that, Taliban! Mess with girls' education and you're messing with a 54-year-old pop star in a leather corset.

Malala was attacked Oct. 9 when Taliban militants stopped her school bus and shot her. She underwent surgery in a Pakistan hospital and was transported Monday to a medical facility in Britain. Meanwhile, the Taliban announced that if Malala does not succumb to her injuries, it will finish the job by killing her or her father. (Malala's father, a poet, is also an educational activist who owns a chain of schools.)

Malala was already famous in Pakistan. In 2009, when the Taliban shut down girls schools in her area, she began writing a blog for the BBC. Last year she became the first recipient of Pakistan's National Youth Prize, and Desmond Tutu nominated her for an International Children's Peace Prize. Meanwhile, a Pakistani group called the National Youth Assembly has appealed to the government to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize.

And if all that weren't enough, now Malala has received (quite literally) the ultimate stamp of approval in America: her name spelled out across Madonna's backside.

If only Malala were conscious and aware of this honor! How proud she would be to share the company of other recent Madonna causes, such as the persecuted Russian punk band Pussy Riot. How gratified she'd be knowing she was among the many straws at which Madonna is grasping as her latest album, "MDNA," delivers some of the worst sales of her career. How humbled that she provided an American woman for whom education was a given (and who even attended college) with an occasion to take her clothes off in front of about 20,000 people.

Madonna's activism has been particularly wearying of late. At an August concert, she superimposed a swastika on the forehead of French politician Marine Le Pen; the next month she "ironically" called President Obama a "black Muslim" while "endorsing" him at a performance in Washington. But somehow her co-opting of the attack on Malala leaves an especially sour taste in the mouth, and not just because it seems a wee bit tone deaf to honor a modest Muslim girl by stripping down to your underwear and displaying her name on your skin.

No, what's most troubling about Madonna's "Malala moment" is that it doesn't promote Malala's message as much as twist it.

With her head scarf and her earnest, un-primped face, Malala symbolizes the idea that girls can transcend their status as potentially exploitable sex objects. Madonna doesn't transcend objectification, she courts it. Sure, she tried to start a girls school in Malawi, but the feminism she's best known for is one that constantly plays with the archetypes of female sexual objectification: the cheerleader, the Catholic schoolgirl, the femme fatale, the dominatrix. She may intend it as cleverly transgressive, but to a lot of people — particularly those less accustomed to viewing everything through an ironic lens — it looks like plain and simple depravity

With her relentless self-promotion, envelope pushing and obsession with her body, Madonna is, in a very real sense, an extremist. And, sadly, that means she taps right into extremist ideas about "Western freedom" and what happens when women gain power, not to mention an education. In other words, by "supporting" Malala, Madonna might be putting the teenager even more into harm's way.

Of course, what matters most right now is not sexual politics but Malala's condition. Doctors call her prognosis good, but her treatment and rehabilitation could take months. In the meantime, maybe Madonna should find a new stencil for her back. After Tuesday's presidential debate, the word "binders" ought to fit nicely.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Would the GOP's healthcare ideas work? It depends on your definition of 'work.'

    Would the GOP's healthcare ideas work? It depends on your definition of 'work.'

    Just like in the 2012 election, every Republican candidate for president wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Some of the candidates have even come forward with ideas for replacing it, and we are beginning to get a sense of what Republican healthcare reform might look like.

  • Back to school, again and again

    Back to school, again and again

    Even in places that remain in touch with the rhythms of agriculture, few seasonal markers prove as heady, reliable and poignant as the reopening of school. Every September the crosswalks ripen with kids in their back-to-school clothes; the long yellow buses harvest our lanes and streets. First...

  • Return to New Orleans - an open hand, a welcome home

    Return to New Orleans - an open hand, a welcome home

    Like most people with people "at home" in New Orleans, I found myself both here and there in 2005. By late August, I was daily monitoring weather maps two time zones away. I watched how a "tropical system" gathered force, how it garnered enough ferocity to be granted a name. Katrina looked serious,...

  • A treasure hunter, an L.A. park and the curse of the severed hand

    A treasure hunter, an L.A. park and the curse of the severed hand

    Recently I took up metal detecting as a hobby. While Los Angeles is, of course, the greatest place to live in the world, our city parks are too new to offer much excitement for "dirt fishers." The East Coast, with its deep-rooted (though not-so-deeply-buried) history, is more fertile.

  • Making the Gun Free School Zone Act better

    Making the Gun Free School Zone Act better

    For the last 20 years it has been illegal in California to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of an elementary or secondary school or on the grounds of a college, trade school or university, whether public or private. The Gun Free School Zone Act, which paralleled a similarly named federal measure,...

  • Weighing the Iran nuclear deal: far from perfect, but the alternatives are worse

    Weighing the Iran nuclear deal: far from perfect, but the alternatives are worse

    The historic agreement reached after 20 months of negotiations between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers holds out hope that for the next 10 or 15 years the ability of the Islamic Republic to develop a nuclear weapon will be significantly limited. It is far from a perfect deal, it promises...

Comments
Loading
70°