It was just about two weeks ago that the first reports surfaced that Madonna was adopting an African baby. Now, the adoption is being challenged by African child welfare organizations that claim Malawian law was side-stepped for preferential treatment, the child’s father is claiming that he was duped into signing away parental rights and Madonna finds herself immersed in a controversy that may be the least welcome of her career.
With controversy swirling, what is a sincere woman to do but… go on Oprah, of course! Like good mothers in similar circumstances the world over, Madonna set up a satellite feed into the Chicago studios of the Oprah Winfrey Show so that she could decry the evil influences of media while utilizing… well, media. If you didn’t see it, you missed a masterwork of public relations. The ploy was clever in that it allowed her to raise the specter of a villain who is disliked even more than she is — the media — while setting up a necessary ally in her attempt to discredit the boy’s father, who has claimed she duped him into approving adoption when he only wanted foster care.
It was a delicate dance for the aging hoofer and she almost pulled it off. Asked by Winfrey to recount the circumstances surrounding her interactions with the father, Madonna was careful to point out that Malawian law requires next of kin approval when an orphan is up for adoption, but people in the orphanage weren’t sure whether the child even had a father since he had never visited the child all the time he was institutionalized — even when the baby was fighting off malaria [didja’ get that? He’s a bad father.] But she couldn’t go too heavy on a poor uneducated third world man who has already claimed to have been roughed up by her, so that’s where the media comes in. “I believe the press is putting words in his mouth,” she proffered in a sympathetic tone, “Terrorizing him”. To which Winfrey signaled how her audience should see the issue by saying, “Yes.” Madonna then said, “the media has brought nothing but chaos to his life.” She, of course, had nothing to do with it.
Apparently there has been some issue about whether she cherry-picked the kid, who is not HIV positive, from an orphanage with many who are. I assume this because when Winfrey asked her a simple question about his health she launched into an extended story about how she had chosen him from a photograph long before she ever knew anything about his health and HIV status. Prep from her handlers was a little obvious on that one. For the most part, though, she hit on the points she intended to make: Malawian law unclear, father confused by press, kid will grow up with lots of benefits and return to Malawi whenever he wants. She seemed very frustrated by the whole mess.
I don’t doubt for a minute that she’s surprised at the public second-guessing of her generous act. Living so far inside her own head (“I don’t read newspapers or watch television,” she told Winfrey) she cannot imagine that others have a view of her that she hasn’t created for herself. When Angelina Jolie adopts a black child no one’s alarm bells go off because it is in keeping with a consistent pattern of commitment that she has made to people in the third world in many public forums for many years. But the Madonna adoption, like so many of her interests, seemed to pop out of nowhere. It was for this reason that one of her talking points on the Winfrey show was to make clear that she has been thinking about Africa for a whole 2.5 years: her “attention” got “turned” to Africa during around the time of the Live 8 concert. Since then she has invested in development efforts there led by Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs and it was during this period that she decided to adopt and became aware of the child she calls David. She denies copycatting Angelia Jolie — never even met her she says — but, honestly, would she even know if she was copying her? This is a woman who built a career on borrowing from others (“Vogue”) and making it her own.
To the public, the woman who has dabbled in any number of personas — trying lifestyles and personalities on like hats — reads as inauthentic in everything she does. One minute she’s appearing in a book of soft-core porn and saying she won’t be satisfied until she’s “bigger than God” (and even that was remodeled from John Lennon’s “Beatles are bigger than Jesus”), the next minute she’s calling herself Esther and preaching Kaballah, then she’s tricked out in English squire riding gear and writing quaint children’s books, followed by a stint on the cross for a stage show. It’s not that maternal generosity seems out of character for her as much as that there doesn’t seem to be any consistent character there at all, besides one rooted in narcissism. Why shouldn’t people look closely when her latest incarnation, saviour of black children, cuts so close to so many areas of sensitivity and affects people who are innocent of manipulation?
Issues of going around Malawian law and/or social tradition aside, all that really matters here is what is best for the kid and intentions are not nearly as important as outcomes. Her fundraising for social programs is a good thing and for all we know Madonna may be the world’s greatest mom. The only people who can speak to that are too little to speak at this point in time. But they won’t be forever…