What Does Madonna's 50th Birthday Really Mean?S

Saturday, August 16, is Madonna's birthday. She will be 50 years old. Hank Stuever pondered the life of the woman often called The Material Girl in a must-read article for Sunday's Washington Post. He writes: "Madonna turning 50 is not about Madonna. As ever, it's about the rest of us, who are always caught watching Madonna do whatever it is Madonna currently does, even if when whatever Madonna is doing is nothing more than growing old." And he's right: As a work of art, she has always been more of a mirror than a unique sculpture; reflecting the signs of the times back at adoring fans who would copy and interpret what she copied and interpreted. Stuever recalls August of 1985, when "Lucky Star" was a hit:

The Madonna thing came, at first blush, with so much that was good: glad rags, vintage stores, granny sunglasses, costume jewels, trench coats — that Salvation Army insouciance, which, any real student of fashion and culture will tell you, Madonna had just stolen from everyone else. The Madonna thing came with clear directives: Express yourself, be yourself, winner take all.

From street fashion to Vogueing to sexual liberation and religion, Madonna has touched upon a broad range of subjects. But who among us has not? Later came "Madonna as the extremely shrewd CEO of Herself Inc.," writes Stuever; and after that: Madonna and Child. Then, about 10 years ago, Madonna got into Kabbalah. She "became the sort of insufferably enlightened old lady who is only too happy to tell you what she's too good for. She's like those women you run into at play groups and the farmers market, only she is worth $600 million," writes Stuever. He recalls a Madonna concert in which she sang "Imagine" by John Lennon:

"'Please listen to the words of this song,' she ordered us. 'We have to change the world.' She said this as if the audience had never before heard "Imagine" or thought about the lyrics. When you give Madonna your money now, what you're buying is a thrilling opportunity to bask in her audacity: You must listen to me. We must change the planet, together, each one of us. I have to get on my jet now."

Stuever admits that "Madonna is someone you have to hate in order to love." Apparently, part of being a Madonna fan is complaining about how terrible her music is, and then working out to it. And now, beyond the divorce rumors, what's making news is Madonna's face. "Experts are called in, diagrams are made, and nobody seems to say, well, she's 50 you know," Stuever writes. And this is an interesting facet of the Madonna mirror; this will be a tricky chapter in Madonna's book of life: The one in which we realize that if she is no longer the sprightly, mouthy young thing she once was, we must not be either. If we're disappointed in her for not being a perfect, mythological icon — for being (gasp!) human, who do we really have to blame?

The Age Of Madonna: Touched for a Very Long Time [Washington Post]