I was not yet a teenager when Adrien Brody won an Oscar, bounded up on stage to collect it, and was so excited to take that little golden statue home that he just had to smooch presenter Halle Berry to express it.
It was 2003, and I was too young to read think pieces in the New Republic or editorials in the New York Times. I did not yet have a Twitter account, and it would be years before I could debate the muddiness of verbal consent in a coherent conversation. But I was old enough to know desperation when I saw it. I had been around the block and the playground and the elementary school cafeteria. I had seen social suicide up close and personal. Unlike Halle Berry and my mom, it was not pretty. That night, I watched the kiss on live television and cringed.
Since then, you and I have witnessed public embarrassment of every stripe. As citizens of the Kardashian nation, we have survived nipplegates and televised weddings and too many seasons of The Bachelor. Today, cries for attention are even louder than they were a decade ago. I double dare you to watch the E! network tonight. You will go deaf.
This week, the noise is thunderous. Proving her lifelong commitment to provocation, Madonna grabbed and kissed Drake on stage during his performance at Coachella on Sunday. As countless GIFs can attest, the rapper was at least somewhat alarmed, and the stunt made international headlines.
CNN reported, “Madonna smooches a flailing Drake at Coachella.” The Telegraph got more creative, dubbing the controversy “50 Shades of Granny.” Rita Ora defended the Queen of Pop and thanked her “for fighting all these ageist battles.” Later, Drake took to Instagram to explain the encounter: “Don’t misinterpret my shock!! I got to make out with the queen Madonna and I feel [100%] about that forever. Thank you Madonna.” Nice save, Drizzy.
Earlier this year, Madonna more or less anticipated the controversy in Rolling Stone:
[W]omen, generally, when they reach a certain age, have accepted that they’re not allowed to behave a certain way. But I don’t follow the rules. I never did, and I’m not going to start…. [I]f I have to be the person who opens the door for women to believe and understand and embrace the idea that they can be sexual and look good and be as relevant in their fifties or their sixties or whatever as they were in their twenties, then so be it.
She has a point. It’s true. Despite a shift in the fashion community, mainstream media is ageist. But does that societal bias explain why we winced this weekend? Did we recoil because Madonna is too old to be sexy? Or, did we shake our heads because she is too old to make the same mistake that Adrien Brody did? Isn’t desperation unattractive at every age? Is it desperation? It’s definitely a loud reminder that it’s never okay to land a surprise make-out on someone who is, regardless of the venue (on stage at Coachella, for example), at work. Let’s talk about it.