Free Dartmouth
On Madonna Here and There
10/14/2006 10:20:00 AM | Jared Alessandroni

Karen Finley weighs in on Madonna adopting a young Malawi boy:

The Material Girl has transformed into Material Mother. The public viewing, the gaze of mother MADONNA, giving the African toddler a "better life" is the new, politically correct, version of maternal colonialism.

As my friends know, I'm deaf in my right ear because when I was one, two, and three, I was in an orphanage in Colombia where repeated untreated ear infections left my ear drum permanently damaged. In fact, one of the reasons I become physically sick with the Horatio Alger (Jr.) bullshit idea that with pluck and determination, anyone can be anything, is that I spend every day of my life facing the fact that everything that I earned, from my Ivy League degrees to my current assets and comfortable lifestyle, would have been a distant dream had I not been adopted by them, here. If I were there, no matter how hard I worked, how plucky I was, I would not be here - whatever value judgment you have on here or there, my peaceful, affluent life, their civil war, poverty, and drugs. Even if you call it valid (the life I would have there), you cannot pretend that I, through my choices, my will, or even my effort, could have achieved what I have here, over there.

Now, for the colonial argument to work, we have to accept the possibility that being there is just as valid as being here. The problem is that it's not a logical comparison - my parents didn't adopt me out of Colombian culture, history, or anything - they adopted me into their lives. Had my parents in Colombia been highly educated, wealthy, loving people, this would have been colonialism. Had they been just loving, this would have classism. But take away all these factors and you have a scrawny kid who has no parents, and two loving parents who couldn't conceive a child of their own. This isn't colonialism, it's the best possible solution.

But - and I hate to talk about celebrities as if their actions mattered in some special way - Finley's attentions are valid in that Madonna is a symbol of our cultural beliefs. (She is also shrill and obnoxious to refer to Madonna as the Material Mother, as if it was fair or constructive to compare her maternality to a persona she cultivated 20 years ago.) Is Madonna's saving of the boy colonialism? Women have babies to keep men, get out of the house, because of some inexplicable malaise, because they just feel they should, and mostly, frankly, by mistake. If Madonna's justification were just for publicity, that would scarcely be a colonial problem. The colonial problem is whether Madonna believes that the Malawi life, the life there is less valid than the life here. If she didn't, she'd do something colonialist - she'd set up a school to teach the Malawi kids to read Shakespeare and throw away their spears. No one seemed to mind that Oprah did just this, talking in her magazine and in interviews about the cloths used to make the girls' dresses: "they're what I'd happily have in my own home."

Madonna isn't making sure the Malawi children wear the right blend of cotton and polyester - she's taking one who needs a home into a home that has love to spare. If the child grows up to be a "mall rat" as Ms. Finley fears, or if he becomes active in politics and social justice, or if he just sits at home and rocks the PlayStation, good. If she loves him, and cares for him, good. If we vetoed all child-rearing that would lead to shallow children, we'd lose most of Long Island, California, and major swaths of exurbia. In the worst light, Madonna might be grand-standing, she might be making up for her mother's death (Ms. Finley, you JERK calling that out), or she might just feel moved about the plight of so many of African children without parents because of AIDS and other African health disasters and want to do raise awareness and bring one child into her home. She might just have felt the inexplicable yearning for a child. Whatever it is, it's not fair or reasonable to call it Colonialism.

Maybe you don't care for Madonna personally - as if you know her or something - or maybe you think the recent spate of celebrity adoptions is just bad because they're trying to make a point - whatever you believe, there are thousands upon thousands of scrawny little kids out there with no one to care for them, and most of them will grow up in poorly run, abuse-prone orphanages at best or starve to death alone at worst. Can't we at least give her and everyone else who adopts the benefit of the doubt and just the least bit liberal, progressive respect because she looked at the sea of children in desperate need and, just like the man with the star-fish, said, At least I can help this one.

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As another adopted child - bravo. I'm no Madonna fan either, but, thank you, Jared.

By Blogger Nathan S. Empsall, at 6:58 PM  

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