Skin Deep

ever been a fan of the diva Madonna.

Admittedly she is a very good businesswoman and self-promoter, but her unrelenting self-reverence garners disdain from these quarters.

Plus, she can’t sing. Which explains why she has never been seen on stage with Aretha. And the use of her sexuality in lieu of actual talent makes her look simply like a gentlemen’s club dancer with a blue-sky budget.

And yet, when I saw her the other evening on the flat screen, I felt terribly, terribly sorry for her.

She was booked on Letterman (aka the infamous WorldWide Pants), ready to spar in their usually entertaining fashion. But as she walked on set I groaned aloud for the poor Catholic girl. It was clear that she had undergone facial surgery. And despite all of her millions, not a very good cutting at that. Her once attractive face was locked in fixed rictus, as if she was forever on Sunset with the sudden realization that an out-of-control semi was heading directly for the hood ornament of her limo.

This event is becoming more and more common. A face you have known for years vanishes, and something strange takes its place. And it triggers the unsettling feeling that the person who once occupied that face is gone as well. As if departed. You know, like how we felt watching Michael Jackson’s agonizing transformation for two decades before he actually did depart.

And that is sad. Even when it’s Madonna.

Dramatic cosmetic surgery is like a bad toupee. It immediately undermines credibility, no matter how wonderful the person under it happens to be. It is as if the person is saying, “I am going bald, or wrinkly, so I am going to do something about it, then act as if nothing happened and assume you don’t notice.”

This, by the way, goes for breast enhancement as well. (Eyes up here, boys.)

These dramatic transformations broadcast the notion that the subject was literally uncomfortable in their own skin. But instead of creating the desired impression of newfound youth and beauty, radical work simply makes you want to hug them and say, “You were, and are, great. You didn’t have to do this!”

Not to play the cliché and damn cosmetic surgery in toto. Patients of all ages have a new zest for life due to its benefits. Help for accident victims and correction of minor deformities can be miraculous. But where is the line? I called my buddy Ben Marcus, who is an actual cosmetic doc, for some philosophical perspective.

Ben counseled, “It’s why I like practicing in the Midwest. Folks know the difference between getting a little something done at sixty to look a ‘good’ sixty, instead of getting something done at sixty to look thirty. Which is how you end up looking like Joan Rivers.”

Or a burn victim.

Boomers spawned the youth culture. Before our collective adolescent tantrum in the ’60s and ’70s, adults were in charge and young people were barely worth consideration. (For verification, watch HBO’s Mad Men.) Then all of a sudden Bob Dylan, The Beatles and youth in general grabbed the cultural tiller, and things have not been the same since.

Looking young is perpetually in.

But now the generation that canonized youth is old. Bob Zimmerman and Richard Starkey are pushing seventy. Mick Jagger is sixty-five.

And Madonna, a nymph at fifty, feels compelled to shove sadly back at Father Time with the surgeon’s knife.

In our defense, Boomers are redefining old in some good ways.

A healthy old. An active old.

But not in Madonna’s case. Her vanity cannot defeat time.

No matter how hard she tries, she will never be twenty again.

Or a virgin.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Comments? Questions? Write