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Why the Material Girl's Friends Become Immaterial

March 12, 2000|Dave Gardetta

Has a country of fans--or at least a country of magazine editors--ever cared so much about the "best friends" of a single celebrity as they do Madonna's? In this month's Vanity Fair cover story, "Just Great Friends," readers are entreated to all the happy coincidences that make the pop diva and actor Rupert Everett such, well, great friends: both were "gifted, ambitious, unvarnished live wires set loose in Hollywood" in the mid-'80s; both speak in italics, their own language; and both are "minorities." (The latter description of gays and women comes from Madonna herself, who is--after Madeleine Albright and Oprah--arguably the third most-powerful woman in the world, but whatever.) Of course, the non-couple have their differences. He goes into snits, we learn, while she's unable to process the word "no"; she's hopelessly meticulous, while he's "lazy and unpunctual."

"Rupert, she's going to dump you," a nation sighs. Why? Because we have all been down this glossy road before. There was the long fling in the early '90s with Sandra Bernhard, a walking caricature with a treetop screech of a voice. Then came Rosie O'Donnell. And each time, as we bided our time in the 12-items-or-less line, the stacks cried out: "What Makes Them Such Great Friends?"

It is hard to think of fascination like this equaled in the annals of modern celebrity. ("Kate and Bogey--Why Are They Smashing Pals?"; "Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles: What Makes Them Click?") That's because these were people whose personhood maintained a center of gravity. Fully formed, they didn't leave us chasing down ciphers, or friends, to understand their inner lives.

In contrast, Madonna's identity is about as stable as box 103 on the periodic elements chart. Boy Toy, Material Girl, Catholic provocateur, sex pinup, mother, Evita--the woman has shape-shifted so many times, there's no trace left of the original DNA. Her morphing makes us as uncomfortable as Spock's ears, which is why we endlessly look to her friends for assurance. They anchor her. The leggy Bernhard helped us deal with her sexuality, Rosie let us know she was still one of the gals, and Everett now informs us Madonna still has "a lot of vulnerability," though we'll never see it. It's just as well. Imagine that cover: "Madonna and Richard Simmons--Why Are They So Close?"

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