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Why is Madonna’s age being blamed for her Brit Awards fall?

reaction to Madonna's fall at the Brit Awards

Last night, Madonna fell down a flight of stairs at the Brit Awards, and the internet went into meltdown.

I wasn’t actually watching the show, so my initial impression, just from scrolling through my Twitter feed, was that Madonna had turned up in a zimmer-frame, and had some age-related incident, which had caused her to fall over. I found that quite surprising, because at 56, she’s hardly geriatric, but the tweets I was reading told a different story. “Is it just me,” one girl tweeted, “Or does anyone else think Madonna should just give up now? She’s too old to be on stage anyway!” “This is what happens when you don’t act your age,” said someone else. More tweets repeated jokes about stairlifts, and smugly asserted that Madonna is just WAY too old to be performing – I mean, what do you expect from someone as old as her, anyway? Obviously she’s going to fall, or do something stupid! That’s what “old people” are like!

Intrigued, I did a quick Google search to see what had happened, and, well, I’m sure you’ve all seen it, but here it is anyway:

I don’t know if I watched a different video from most of the people I follow, but what I see is a (potentially serious) accident, caused by a dancer pulling on Madonna’s cape. It later transpired that the cape was tied too tight, which meant she couldn’t release it on time, resulting in her falling backwards down the stairs. In other words, something that had absolutely nothing to do with her age: just an unfortunate accident, which could have happened to anyone. Well, anyone standing on stairs, surrounded by devils and wearing a giant cape, obviously. And honestly, from what I saw, Madonna was lucky not to have been seriously injured. I mean, that HAD to hurt, right? But she got right back up, and got on with the show, as if nothing had happened. The internet, meanwhile, almost couldn’t handle the hilarity.

Twitter reactions to Madonna's fall at The Brits
Twitter reactions to Madonna's fall at The Brits
Twitter reactions to Madonna's fall at The Brits

 

“Quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said someone on my feed. “Stupid Madonna,” said another. Oh, internet: why ya gotta be so disappointing?

Look, I’m no Madonna fangirl. OK, I used to be: when I was 12. These days, though, I don’t follow her career at all: I couldn’t even name her latest single. So I’m not saying this from a “don’t you dare criticise my hero!” point of view, and I also don’t consider myself to be particularly self-righteous or sanctimonious either, although I realise I’m probably making myself sound that way. I’m just plain old depressed. Depressed by the fact that people can watch a woman fall down a flight of stairs, and declare it to be the funniest thing they’ve ever seen. Depressed by the knowledge that once women reach “a certain age” they’re expected to quietly retire from public life: to give up successful careers, and just accept that they’re “too old” to be of relevance. Madonna didn’t fall because she’s “old” – but a huge amount of people reacted as if she did, and I find it really sad to know that you can be one of the most successful artists of your generation, but if you’re a woman of a certain age, your achievements count for nothing: you’re just “some old woman.”

Would a man have gotten the same reaction, I wonder? If Tom Jones, say, fell flat on his back down a flight of stairs, would people split their sides laughing and go, “Well, that’s what HE gets for being old!” Or say it had happened to Taylor Swift, or Lady Gaga? What would people have said then? I’m guessing a good number would STILL have laughed, because some people are just like that, but I also think that Madonna’s age seems to have lent this a comedic edge that would have been lacking had it happened to a younger person. Her age has allowed them to make jokes about hip replacements and stair lifts, and OMG, isn’t old age just a HOOT?

Not everyone is like that, of course. Once the initial flurry of, “HAHA SOMEONE FELL OVER!” tweets had died down, my feed did start to fill up with people expressing concern, or praising the professionalism of a performer who presumably hurt herself, but who got right back up again. I’m glad I follow those people: they help to balance out some of the rest – some of whom I wouldn’t have suspected of such total lack of empathy, or such breathtaking ageism.

I don’t see myself as someone totally lacking in humour. I’m not particularly PC, and I’m embarrassed to admit that there have been times when I’ve found myself sniggering at something totally inappropriate. I get it: sometimes you see something, and your first instinct is to laugh, even although you know it’s not actually funny. We’ve all been there. (And yes, I totally re-played the video multiple times, and shouted to Terry, “OMG, you have GOT to see this!” I’m not proud.) I think it’s a shame, though, that the internet amplifies those reactions, and makes them seem “the norm”, so people reach a point where they think nothing of posting things that are actually quite cruel, in a bid to say something clever.

And if the sight of someone falling down a flight of stairs really IS the funniest thing you’ve ever seen in your life… well, maybe the joke is on you.

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31 Comments
  • Jessie M (@fashionlimbo)
    February 26, 2015

    Funny how I experienced the same feelings as you Amber, and had to blog about it too. I also felt depressed, mostly daunted by the amount of hate I expected to see on my newsfeed. I’m happy to report I must follow some like-minded thinking people, because almost everyone mentioned how Madonna behaved like a pro. However, I didn’t click on any of the trending topics, many, that refer to her fall, so consciously I’m ignoring the vitriolic side of things. I’m tired of it, and like you, depressed at the usual reactions. I saw the fall live, it was extremely scary, I gasped and stopped breathing.

    This new world we live in allows for the most horrible thoughts from the saddest, hate-filled individuals come to life. Sexism is at an all-mighty high, because of social media. You can say anything, and that sells, creates trends etc. If people didn’t like Madge, a decade ago, they could simply choose not to buy her records, or purchase concert tickets. Now, their take is publishing hate and cruelty to the world to see.

    I’d love if you could read what a wrote, because we are thinking the same way. I don’t get the agenda of “one must die when hitting 50”. No fun, no skimpy dressing, no holidays, no sex for anyone over 45, especially if you are a woman. Give Rubin a squeeze from me, and thanks for thinking and writing like this xxx

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      I was really surprised to see the things people were saying – I didn’t go into the hashtags either, until I sat down to write this, so it was people I follow, and wouldn’t have expected it from. Sad to see how normal it is to some people to laugh at someone falling over, or mock them for their age…

      • Chris
        March 6, 2015

        Perhaps all the nasty people writing the cruel and ageist comments have a plan how to never get injured or get old. Maybe they’re going to do the world a favor and leave this planet before either if those things happen.

  • Retro Chick
    February 26, 2015

    Well that’s exactly what went through my mind when I saw people talking about it on social media as well, and when I watched the video I thought “what a pro to just get back up and carry on”.

    I’m even seeing now people claiming it must have been a publicity stunt because apparently her career is on the slide.

    I’m just going to sigh deeply.

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      Ha, I’ve seen those theories too! “How do we know the cape wasn’t padded, and it was all just a stunt?!” *headdesk*

  • Laura Sheppard
    February 26, 2015

    Excellent article.

  • Linda B
    February 26, 2015

    Thanks for writing this, Amber. I am a year older than Madonna and I really am seriously irked at the attitude of those bozos who made fun of her–but even more, saddened by those who think someone of that age is washed up. So not true. Thanks for your support of us 50 somethings.

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      I find it absolutely infuriating the some people insist on reducing people (women especially) to just their age: we’re all so much more than that!

  • Terry
    February 26, 2015

    Well said. I totally agree!

  • Ashlea
    February 26, 2015

    Preach it girl.

  • Porcelina
    February 26, 2015

    Yup, I agree with Gemma, “What a pro”! She missed a few seconds, and then she was back up on those high heels, because she’s a true professional and she wouldn’t have lasted this long in the industry if she wasn’t! And it shows what great shape she’s in that she was only down for a few seconds. I’m not her biggest fan either, but I admire her professionalism. And how well-trained those dancers are not to rush over and start fussing – the show must go on!
    x

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      I bet the dancers were panicking! She handled it amazingly well, though – I bet she’s sore today!

  • Sarah Rooftops
    February 26, 2015

    Completely agree. Even if people weren’t targeting her for her age, it irks me how quick the internet can be to point fingers and laugh when something doesn’t go perfectly. As if any of us gets through life without an embarrassing incident (or handles those incidents as professionally as Madonna seems to have done).

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      Oh God, yes – I sometimes feel like I just roll from one embarrassing incident to the next: thank God they don’t happen on TV!

  • Nellie
    February 26, 2015

    Really well said, and I think it needed to be said. I appreciated your honesty in this post because it encourages us all to look at our own behavior a little closer. Unkind behavior is still unkind whether it is toward a stranger or someone we know. I love how you ended this, because those people are also hurting themselves by their lack of integrity.

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      ” Unkind behavior is still unkind whether it is toward a stranger or someone we know.”

      This is so true – I actually quite often see people saying things about celebrities that I know they’d never say about someone they knew: it’s as if they think celebrities aren’t human beings or something 🙁

  • Emily
    February 26, 2015

    Brilliantly said! Thank you.

  • Helen
    February 26, 2015

    Brilliantly said Amber! Her age has nothing to do with it. I don’t like Madonna’s music per se, but admire her stamina and the fact that she is still working hard, and producing music. Go her!!!

    • Amber
      February 26, 2015

      Thanks, Helen 🙂

  • Stephen Williams
    February 26, 2015

    More and more, I contemplate leaving the Internet behind.

  • Katie @ Stunningly Mediocre
    February 26, 2015

    I have to say, there is NO WAY I could have fallen like that and gotten right back up to keep going. She is a consummate performer.

    I feel like some version of this would happen to a man as well – we are very agephobic, in many parts of the west, and I think we’re a little too eager to mock people who are older than us just for having committed the sin of living. I definitely think there is a level of… vitriol, I guess is the right word, that we are definitely seeing because it’s Madonna that we would not see if it was Tom Jones. We are eager to mock people as they age, yes, but we are always salivating to mock a WOMAN who insists on continuing her career past when we deem her expiration date to be up. This is more true in show business than in anywhere else.

  • TinaD
    February 26, 2015

    Madonna has been such a media juggernaut for the last 30 years, the schadenfreude isn’t surprising, particularly in this troll-happy culture. It isn’t nice either, but I do remember similar sarcasm when Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire doing the Pepsi commercial, so it may not be a gender thing so much as a fame thing. Madonna has had incredible staying power in a business full of one-hit wonders. (Anybody know where Spandau Ballet is now?) (I must say, though, I agree with Edna Mode’s argument in the Incredibles–no capes!)

  • Erin Burrows
    February 26, 2015

    Excellent article. I couldn’t even bear to watch the video, having fallen down the stairs on two occasions and done serious damage to both ankles. I can still feel that memory of that second before landing. Hope Madonna is okay.

  • Maria
    February 26, 2015

    All these ageist geniuses missed the obvious fact: a 56 years old woman fell down a flight of stairs *backwards * and got back on her feet in no time… And they say she isn’t fit for the stage at her age? Did they see the same video as us indeed…

  • Joyce
    February 27, 2015

    Thank you for your sharing.
    http://www.modaventa.com/

  • Livia
    February 27, 2015

    Hi Amber,
    I totally agree with you! And I like the fact that you wrote a post about it.
    x

  • Fran
    February 27, 2015

    No one ever says anything about the Rolling Stones, do they? And they are on average fifteen years older than she is. You’re perfectly right: it’s all about gender. Jagger can get on stage and shake it like it’s 1968, but if Madonna does it all the pearls are clutched.

  • Manuela
    February 28, 2015

    First of all I do not think that a person of 56 should be considered old. What is my great auntie at 93 then? A fossil? I am impressed that she promptly stood up and kept on singing, she is really a pro and has probably muscles of steel (a lot of younger people would have been seriously injured by a fall like that).

  • Jen
    February 28, 2015

    Using bullfighting imagery to look cool and edgy is not funny. It’s what she does that ages her. If Kate Bush fell over nobody would laugh because Kate Bush isn’t trying to be cool, she just is; therefore ageless. There are other female singers over fifty who’s age isn’t mentioned when they perform we just accept them as the artist they always were; Chrissie Hynde (sp?) comes to mind, Dolly Parton, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith. Of course fifty something is not old, and nowhere near retirement age anyway, and yes, people are cruelly, and for comic effect talking about Madonna like she’s eighty, but I think it’s not really about her literal age, but what she perceives herself to be that they are having a go at.

  • Steff
    March 3, 2015

    I was surprised by the onslaught of internet nastiness and age-ism too, but like you say once that initial wave passed there were people being more supportive too. I did laugh at the suggestion it was a stunt – the lyrics of her song are tailor made for the fall, but watching it it’s hard to believe even Madonna would go that far, it’s a miracle she wasn’t seriously injured!

  • Collette
    March 4, 2015

    I totally agree!! A week later and it’s still being talked about negatively, poor Madonna. I wrote a post about 7 things we can learn from her as women
    x

    http://indie-birdie.blogspot.co.uk/

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Why is Madonna’s age being blamed for her Brit Awards fall?