I don't mean to brag, but sometimes when I travel it causes an international incident. Maybe you've heard, but there was this one time when I tried to get a too-big bottle of contact lens solution through security. It caused quite a kerfuffle. TMZ? Everywhere. I'd elaborate, but I'm trying to forget that era in my career. So if you'd like to learn more, visit my Wikipedia page. It's described under the subheading, "Artistic Legacy and Controversies."
This week, though, I was totally upstaged by two separate celebrity travel scandals. First Madonna went to Africa to build schools for the poor, was accused of being high-maintenance, and got into a war of words with the president of Malawi. Then Jay-Z and Beyonce went to Cuba on vacation, which upset people because the US government has imposed certain sanctions on travel to Cuba ever since the 2004 release of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. (Wait. That's why we're still not into them, right?)
Yesterday Jay-Z even released a new song, "Open Letter," defending the trip. But also suggesting that he got special "clearance" from President Obama, which the White House denies. (Note: naughty language ahead.)
The general media narrative can be summarized thusly: "HEADLINE: Rich and Famous People Are Self-Entitled and Think They Deserve Special Treatment. Be Reminded You are Ordinary." Fair? Not? Which star, if any, deserves criticism for refusing to stow their ego in an overhead compartment?
WHAT'S YOUR MOTIVATION?
Madonna founded her nonprofit Raising Malawi in 2006, around the same time she adopted her son David from the country. A few years later she adopted a daughter, Mercy, and made a documentary film about Malawi: I Am Because We Are. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, and Madonna was there to see ten recently completed schools built by her organization. (Though the Malawi government has taken issue with her referring to them as schools, instead characterizing them as ten "classroom blocks.")
Left: Madonna and child in poignant t-shirt, just kind of caught in a moment, everybody.
The world is very angry at Madonna for being an evil, bloodsucking beast who insists on not dying after 1989, so the adoption of her kids and her subsequent charity work has long been criticized as affected celebrity posturing and desperate attention-seeking. Which is weird, because about thirty years ago Madonna invented the art of getting attention by tugging at yourself and panting loudly. So this whole contractually-obligating-yourself-to-small-human-beings-and-501c3-organizations rigamarole seems like an awful lot of work in comparison.
Jay-Z and Beyonce went to Cuba on a federally licensed "people-to-people" cultural tour, one of the only ways that Americans can legally travel there. These trips require tourists to stick to a detailed, pre-approved itinerary of educational activities. But three Cuban American members of Congress asked the US Treasury to investigate the licensing of the trip, saying the travel program is often abused by rich people who just want an excuse to wear wicker hats and smoke cigars on the beach. But of course, Jay-Z and Beyonce would never do that, even though their educational trip just happened to correspond to their fifth wedding anniversary. What are you, a conspiracy theorist or something?
The documentary "I Am Because We Are" is available free and in full through YouTube.
Madonna sent a poorly handwritten letter to President Joyce Banda when she arrived in Malawi. "If you have any time in your very busy schedule to meet that would be great," Madonna wrote on her own logo-stamped stationery, stopping short of asking whether there might be an Au Bon Pain or something nearby where they could grab a sammy. The letter was rightly criticized as being way too informal an address to a head of state. Banda's office blasted back with a much longer, more erudite takedown of Madonna's alleged diva-like behavior, saying she wished the government had "rolled out a red carpet and blasted the 21-gun salute" (harsh) and comparing her behavior to that demonstrated by visitors of "equally dazzling fame," like Chuck Norris. (Way harsh.) Apparently President Banda didn't know about the letter, and is furious that it went out. It's also worth noting that President Banda's sister is the former CEO of Raising Malawi who was fired in 2011 amid accusations that she misused funds for things like car payments and golf-club memberships. So, thinking these ladies aren't total besties right now in the first place.
Madonna has since taken to defending herself via Instagram, posting photos of her trip to Malawi with pointed, passive aggressive captions. "President Banda stop spreading lies about me!" reads one. "I don't see any red carpets here!" goes another. Girlfriend is displeased. She's totally de-friending Banda on Facebook.
Jay-Z and Beyonce did not receive special treatment, says Everyone in Washington, DC. The US Treasury, which approves those special "people-to-people" educational excursions to Cuba, says it didn't even know that the couple was part of the trip. That's funny, cause I'm pretty sure Jay-Z and Beyonce don't do much that doesn't involve letting people know that they're dealing with Jay-Z and Beyonce. And that's not me hating, okay? That's just me having been awake for the last ten years.
And according to the White House, President Obama did not intervene on Mr. & Mrs. Carter's behalf, despite Jay-Z's trip-related boasts in "Open Letter" that he's a "boy from the hood, but got White House clearance..."
"Hear the freedom in my speech ... Obama said, 'Chill, you gonna get me impeached. You don't need this ... anyway, chill with me on the beach,'" he continues.
Hold up, hey, said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury," he guffawed according to reports. "It's a song; the president did not communicate with Jay-Z for this trip."
Maybe not. But Jay-Z seems pretty comfortable telling the world that rules were bent on his behalf, and if you have a problem with that, poor person, you can kiss his big fat bank account.
"Wanna give me jail time and a fine, fine, let me commit a real crime," he raps in "Open Letter."
An educational trip, indeed. Feel like I learned a lot about you, J.
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