Dear Camille Paglia, The Art of Aging Gracefully is a Process That Requires No Interpretation
That’s why it’s art
Social critic Camille Paglia recently penned a scathing essay for The Hollywood Reporter, where she blasted the three women I love most in the world — Madonna, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez (yes, in that order) for not possessing the admirable attributes of icons like Jane Fonda and the late Lena Horne when it comes to aging.
Paglia denounced Madonna’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Billboard Women In Music Awards where she was deservedly bequeathed — Woman of the Year. Paglia bitterly described Madonna’s delivery as a “rambling, tearful acceptance speech that ran more than 16 minutes”, and went on to mock the legendary pop star’s confession of being on the receiving end of “blatant misogyny, sexism, constant bullying and relentless abuse” throughout her enviable career.
The esteemed academic spared no expense at making her case as she descriptively and insultingly degraded and downgraded the woman that she once bestowed as “the future of feminism” back in 1990.
It is now 2016, and the years are never that kind as they accumulate with a vengeance that is splattered all over everything that you once depended on for survival.
As a reluctantly “aging” Generation Xer — I can attest to the almost spiritual process of being separated from the one you have loved for so long, who seems to be disappearing before your very eyes. You are forced to redefine the person standing before you — and the relations are new and not necessarily welcomed or even reciprocated, but there is no other way to exist.
I grew up worshipping Madonna and I made that abundantly clear not too long ago in an essay I wrote where I praised her for literally curating the soundtrack to my Wonder Years. She was bold, sexy, loud, vibrant, and one of the worst singers to ever blaze the scene. We certainly didn’t fall in love with her vocal range — we were seduced by the lovely audacity of her existence and how that reality evolved her into a cultural phenomenon.
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Mariah Carey on the other hand was and still is a powerhouse despite her New Year’s Eve snafu — which was propelled into the gnashing machine of social media and the venemous judgment of Paglia who chided “The Voice” for stuffing her mature frame into a “needlessly risqué nude bodysuit” that forced her to embarrassingly resemble “a splitting sack of over-ripe cantaloupes.”
Jennifer Lopez, the multiple-threat superstar who has consistently managed a high-powered schedule that has remarkably been devoid of the cliche pitfalls of stardom, was also brutalized for daring to pair up with the much younger and less note-worthy “rapper” — Iggy Azalea for what was outlined as a “crudely, repetitious, faux-porn ‘Booty’ video — at the over-the-hill age of 45.
There is plenty more where that came from but, I think you get the picture.
Paglia who is basically a few years older than my mother is seemingly out of touch with the notion that “age really is just a number.” She refers to the grand dames of a time that was set up to deliver those types of women. Standard gems like Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren were raised by the studio system — and therefore carried over those instructions into their quaint demeanors. They embodied a service to maintain the purity of womanhood and when they failed to maintain those expectations, which in Bergman’s case was a notoriously scandalous and almost life-altering event — it symbolized the desire to re-evaluate the fringes of feminism by streamlining what it means to be a woman who is beautiful enough to enjoy her worth — without succumbing to the overwhelming challenges.
Paglia also mentions the usual suspects of the present who she praises for being “graceful, aging veteran stars” — the likes of Helen Mirren, Sharon Stone, Charlotte Rampling, Judi Dench and even Lucy Liu — all made the distinguished list of women who aren’t afraid to tastefully embrace womanhood in their later years — by steadfastly refuting the temptation of “cannibalizing the young” in an effort to remain pathetically relevant.
I would be open to consider Paglia’s argument and demonstrated frustration if her tone were considerably less derogatory and more balanced — with perhaps a sprinkle of empathy for the subjects that she chose to publicly vilify. It is no wonder that she specifically recruited them for her masterpiece. All three share similar characteristics — that have gratifyingly endured over time and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The art of aging is exactly that — it’s art.
There is no proper interpretation that exceeds the personal endeavors or preferences of those who are forced to perform such a hefty undertaking for the world to see and vandalize. The irony of it all is that these celebrated targets have never wavered from the silent contract they signed — with us — as witnesses — as they were becoming what they have become.
Madonna’s appetite for attention at the expense of the men she proudly devoured and spat out once the flavor got too bland was her signature move — along with the haughty aesthetic that she refuses to retire because why should she? We would never dream of mounting the steps of the MET Gala dressed in an ensemble that displays butt cheeks encased in racy lace — and we shouldn’t have to imagine it.
That role is assigned to the star who wore a white wedding dress and humped to a ballad about virginity.
JLo is just dope and Paglia is probably envious of that fact. How can you not admire a gorgeous woman who looks at least a decade younger and knows it, which is why she is maximizing the great years she has left.
The disconnect with pop culture is heavily strewn all over Paglia’s piece which is both comical and off-putting.
Comical because she assumes that Jennifer Lopez is seeking out the young talents for collaborations in order to appear “cool” and “trendy” when it is actually the other way round. JLo is the shit! Everyone who is anyone knows it — and her rumored romance with Drake is an entertaining interlude, but we all know the finished product will verify why she can’t be fucked with.
Especially with a “Booty” that puts any twenty-something to shame.
It’s off-putting that Paglia would shame a woman who has worked hard to earn her millions and fame, based on her decision to continue to use her stunning assets to heighten the WOW factor with each passing year.
Mariah Carey is deliciously divalicious and she most likely would throw out her famous “I don’t know her” rebuttal if she read Paglia’s harsh review. Carey doesn’t need anyone’s approval because her vision has never faltered. It’s disheartening that Paglia chose to mock her fashion choices as if that has ever been the barometer of youthful zeal. For a woman whose career has spanned two decades — with a slew of stellar hits that will stand the test of time — not to mention the documented approval of an industry that keeps shifting without unearthing her solid foundation — it is appalling to watch her swiftly reduced to a bombastic cliche based on her need to play up her appeal.
“Women in or out of Hollywood who dress like girls and erase all signs of aging are disempowering themselves and aggressing into territory that belongs to the young.”
That may apply to those of you abiding by rules that are restrictive and absolute in nature. As a woman “out of Hollywood” I tend to believe that regardless of the way I clothe myself — if the attitude is distinctively precise in execution — without hints of desperation or pitiful self-indulgence — I can pretty much fend off the wrath of literary bullies like Paglia.
These women spend way too much time confining their arguments to lanes that are frivolously narrow — for the purpose of not crashing into the die-hard provocateurs who are contentedly and expressively viable to the point of idolized inspiration.
“They are surrendering their right of self-definition to others.”
This is the way Paglia chooses to end her rant and it’s surprisingly weak. If anything — the three heavyweights that she tries to juggle into her misfired theory of why middle-aged women obstinately reject the betrayal of maturity — are essentially revered for their shared ability of not giving a damn what anybody thinks about their overall presentation or allegedly diminished status.
Famous people are punished for their fame whether they carry themselves like the Duchess of Cambridge or wrap themselves in bejeweled saran wrap as they dangerously surpass The Big 5–0.
Aging will never be a graceful act that can be interpreted for the viewing pleasure of skeptics who are armed with verbal ammunition and a pressing need to grade accordingly.
The body is not a reliable interface for social scorn because it is subject to ongoing revisions that at times involve our input but generally we are left with a shell that only the spirit can save when all else fails.
The mind rarely matches the deepening lines or the lackluster complexion or the faded jet-black hue of your tresses that are now ravaged by a grayish- yellow reminder that the clock is ticking loud enough for everyone to hear — and all you want to do is drown out the noise.
Paglia’s graceless three are doing just that and it sounds and looks like they are winning. And hopefully so will I.