Go on, admit it, you laughed, didn’t you?
When Madonna was yanked off the stage by a dancer pulling her cloak during her finale performance at the Brit Awards, you gasped in horror for one brief moment and then… you laughed out loud. Then you pressed 'rewind' and watched it again. And then once more for luck. Because it’s not often we get to watch a celebrity fall flat on their face – or in Madonna’s case, flat on her back.
The fact that we were watching a 56-year-old mother of four fall downstairs and smash to the ground - that this was not normally something we would or should find funny - did not seem to occur to us. That every newspaper, website and TV station in the country (indeed, the world) is still laughing along with us probably doesn’t help either.
But actually the entire Madonna-is-a-goner episode betrays a sadistic streak in our national psyche when it comes to women who don’t do what we expect them to do.
Because Madonna is not someone that we like. We might admire Madonna – a self-made multi-millionaire who has stayed at, or near, the top of her career for three decades. A woman who is still regarded as a big enough star to close a major awards ceremony 31 years after her first hit single. What’s not to admire? But we don’t like her.
Madonna doesn’t play the game. She doesn’t do what she’s supposed to do. She defies social norms; she refuses to age gracefully and stop trying to have the body of a 20-year-old. She won’t put her middle-aged body away under layers of beige cardigans like she’s supposed to 'at her age'. Instead she flaunts her bare breasts and her bottom to the world at every opportunity. While women of her advancing years are supposed to be moaning about their middle-aged spread and their lack of sexual adventures with their balding middle-aged husbands, Madonna laughs in our faces.
We just don’t like a woman who not only won’t play by the rules, but who makes up her own rules as she goes along - a woman who appears not to care what we think of her. How dare she?
So instead of pitying this middle-aged woman in her moment of danger, pain and embarrassment, we laugh out loud. We laugh and we laugh and then we rewind the TV and we laugh all over again. It’s the only power we have over a woman like Madonna. And we don’t like that – even more than we don’t like her.
Julia Hartley-Brewer is a broadcaster and columnist