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We’ve all seen it. You walk into a room and your kid is standing on a glass-topped table or the back of a chair to change a light bulb. You ask in exasperation, ”Why didn’t you use the step ladder?” He explains, ”This works just as well.” Then, you hope the lesson is learned as you talk it over together on the way to the emergency room.

If you haven’t experienced this particular unintended use scenario, think back to times when your roommate asked where the hammer was after he noticed the television’s picture wasn’t as sharp as the day before; when bothered by a piece of meat wedged between your teeth you used an old fish hook instead of floss; or to avoid a trip to the emergency room for a broken arm, you fashioned a splint out of a tree branch and duct tape.

It has been said that fully appreciating the hazards of the unintended-use doctrine, and the thumb, are what separates us from lower primates.

Which brings me to Madonna’s recent public acquisition … excuse me, adoption, of a one-year-old African child. A child, mind you, with a father who is alive and well. Impoverished, yes. Imprisoned, no. Available for raising his child, yes. Raising his child in a material world, no.

To date, I have been under the impression the intended use of publicity by entertainers was to enhance their marketability. Granted, the adoption of a poor child could be the act of a kind-hearted soul, but this particular post-Angelina Jolie adoption, smacks of a purchase. Andrea Peyser at the New York Post called Madonna’s adoption of the African toddler a ”freakish slave auction.”

And a very public purchase thanks to Madonna’s bizarre use of her publicity team.

I’ve read (how could Madonna’s PR superstars have allowed any of this to be public knowledge?) Madonna’s advance party selected 12 Malawi children, who were then presented to Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie until one lucky contestant was ultimately selected for adoption. And, to cut through the Malawi adoption legal red tape, Madonna is said to have agreed to spend $3 million on a center intended to help hundreds of Malawi orphans she has not yet adopted.

Is this the intended use of publicity? Was this a public relations coup? I would have thought this would be the very thing to do behind closed doors, in the dead of night, on the QT, all on the hush-hush. This is the hammer and the television scenario, right?

But, my initial reaction did not account for the ”Material Girl,” factor. Madonna did attain great fame by vocalizing Peter Brown and Robert Rans’ unforgettable lyrics:

Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me
I think they’re OK
If they don’t give me proper credit
I just walk away
They can beg and they can plead
But they can’t see the light, that’s right
‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash
Is always Mister Right, ’cause we are
Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl
Some boys romance, some boys slow dance
That’s all right with me
If they can’t raise my interest then I
Have to let them be
Some boys try and some boys lie but
I don’t let them play
Only boys who save their pennies
Make my rainy day, ’cause they are
Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl
Boys may come and boys may go
And that’s all right you see
Experience has made me rich
And now they’re after me, ’cause everybody’s
Living in a material world
And I am a material girl
You know that we are living in a material world
And I am a material girl


Back to my assumption that a public relations ploy such as this (Madonna’s publicist Liz Rosenberg is running up the billable hours on this event!) is meant to enhance the client’s marketability; I suppose there is synergy here in this particular case. The client is known as the ”Material Girl,” and if she is to build on that image, the appearance of the purchase of a human being would tend to reinforce this idea. Also, when this adoption/acquisition story first broke, I have to believe DJs all over the country were playing ”Material Girl” over and over – the royalties must be rolling in as a result! Bingo! A marketing success, right?

Still, the image of yet another millionaire entertainer plucking an impoverished child from their homeland is repugnant to me. It smacks of shameless ”me too” narcissism played out on a world stage in the form of a publicity stunt intended to evoke images of a ”New and Improved!” version of Mother Teresa.

This use of publicists to make us even more aware of how craven and needy for attention celebrities can be, is probably not a good idea. Whatever bad impression I had of Madonna before now, it has measurably declined. In terms of ”image reduction surgery,” this is Michael Jackson bad. This is Tom Cruise bad. And the funny thing is, they are all deeply concerned about their public image. Still funnier, they have at their disposal the best public relations experts money can buy.

Which brings me back to the damage that can be wrought by using people or things in ways they were never intended. Publicity, like a hammer, has its place. But if wielded at the wrong time and in the wrong place, it can cause damage not even duct tape can repair.



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“Is Hollywood in your hamper, too?”

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