When Madonna went on Oprah Winfrey today to "set the record straight" about her controversial adoption of a Malawian child, the subject of most immediate interest was not her new baby. It was her new accent. The singer’s speaking style had long ago morphed into a strange, inexplicable Britmericanese. But there was something different today, a rounding of the vowels, the faintest elongation of the Rs–was there some Irish in there now? I could swear there was: at the end of words like "December," just the hint of a brogue–"Decemburr."
Was Madonna trying, sub- or fully consciously, to borrow a little aura from Bono and Sir Bob Geldof? If so, nicely played, Ms. Ciccone! No one does charitable unimpeachability like the Irish! When you want to go saintly, Go Bragh!
Not that she necessarily needed the linguistic help. We have seen that Winfrey can be a vengeful goddess when crossed. But she can also be a benevolent one when she so wishes, and today she lent her fellow celebrideity the use of her cloud from which to hurl thunderbolts of self-defense. Appearing by satellite from London, and toting along professional-looking pictures of adorable new son David with her other children and husband Guy Ritchie, Madonna answered charges that she essentially used her wealth and fame to accelerate the adoption process and muscle a child in an orphanage away from his still-living father.
Intent but composed, she said that, contrary to press reports and interviews with David’s father, she had met the father, who thanked her for "giving his son a life," and noted that David had been in the orphange since he was two weeks old. It would not be entirely seemly, of course, for a superstar multimillionaire to accuse a poor father in a Third World country of being neglectful and a liar, so she instead found a reliable enemy–the media. The press, she said, must have bullied the father, applied pressure and guilt until he changed his story, and in so doing, threatened to hurt not just David but all the children of Africa. "Shame on you," she closed, "for discouraging other people from wanting to do the same thing."
And it’s hard to disagree with her–hard, because Oprah made no serious effort to give voice to Madonna’s critics (she had no dissenting voices on the show, not counting a few headlines flashed on camera and her own disdainful phrasings of their critiques). Also because, well, we’re all a little afraid of Oprah, and one got the impression she would be really, really pissed if you did disagree with Madonna. The camera repeatedly cut to Oprah during Madonna’s answers–were those tears welling in Winfrey’s eyes?–as she nodded and interjected support: "Yep!" "God bless you for that!" "That’s a brave thing that you did!"
For Oprah’s studio audience, anyway–and presumably a good chunk of home viewers–that was enough; they backed Madonna with so much applause you’d suspect they’d gladly hand her their babies. Everything is copacetic, it seems, between the two uninymic celebrities, and therefore between America and Madonna as well.
Let’s just hope for Madonna’s sake her story holds up. We’d hate to have to see Oprah go all James Frey on her.