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Spare some sympathy for Madonna. Not a lot, mind you. Celebrities are better cushioned against life’s slings and arrows than the rest of us, and the flamboyant U.S.-turned-British pop star is a super-mega-celebrity. Still, the pillorying she has suffered in recent weeks is unreasonable.

Anyone would think the woman had incorporated into her latest concert tour a routine in which she sings while hanging on a mirrored cross, wearing a crown of thorns.

Oh, wait, she did do that. So there’s actually plenty to pillory — but we’ll get back to that. That’s not what the true-blue Madonna Haters are up in arms about just now. The thing that has really focused their attention is her frivolous, selfish wish to adopt a 13-month-old, motherless Malawian boy whose dirt-poor father had turned him over to an orphanage. How shocking is that?

In truth, it’s a triple-gold-plated stroke of luck for little David Banda, as his father has recognized — after initially recognizing it, then wobbling a bit when the human-rights people whispered in his ear, then rapidly re-recognizing it when it occurred to him that Madonna just might change her mind if he kept insisting his son would be better off with the jolly orphanage folks.

Perhaps it takes a father to figure out that a life of means, education, the best medical care and whatever else Madonna has to offer — including on-the-record parenting skills — is worth leaving Malawi for. According to the latest reports, he is still nervous that everything might fall through, despite the fact that David is already in London. A rights group has sued in Malawi to block finalization of the adoption, and Yohane Banda has gone to court to protest the suit, which has been adjourned, as well as other moves like it.

“I made the right decision,” he told The Associated Press last week. “I am glad he’s been adopted, and every day I am happy knowing my son will lead a better life.” He even slaughtered a goat so the whole village could celebrate, he said.

That’s Dad’s perspective. So what is it that bothers the anti-adopters? It turns out that most of them are not opposed to adoption as such, even foreign adoptions. Non-celebrities bringing home unwanted babies from Chinese or Romanian or Guatemalan or even Malawian orphanages are fine in their book.

The critics’ problem is with this adoption. First, they dislike Madonna’s supposed motives: Oh, she’s just jumping on the celebrity adoption “bandwagon,” they say, toting home an African baby as a “trophy” or “accessory.” Two questions are in order: How do the critics know what her or anyone else’s motives are? And even if they were right about celebrity adoptions, would it matter? How many babies are conceived accidentally, after no thought whatever? It hardly makes their parents less likely to do a decent job looking after them. The same goes for those lucky trophy babies.

Second, critics have expressed concern that Madonna and her husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, may have received special treatment in Malawi, that authorities “speeded up” the adoption process and bent “residence rules” for them. Madonna’s lawyers are presumably on the job with regard to these allegations, which she has denied.

But here, again, one has to ask: Even if the process was fast-tracked, so what? Perhaps the critics think that officials need more time to find out who Madonna is, or whether she has a good health-insurance plan, or whether she maintains a stable household. Who’s being frivolous now?

It’s hard to avoid the impression that this adoption has caused outrage mostly because it’s Madonna doing the adopting, and causing outrage is what Madonna does. As we have said, there are many reasons to be ambivalent about her as an (for want of a better word) artist. She is a vulgar exhibitionist and a natural-born publicity hound. Her performances are notable mainly for their consistent bad taste. She is a so-so singer and a downright horrible actress. Even her surprisingly prim and proper children’s books are second-rate, saved mostly by the fact that she can afford the world’s best illustrators. That is not to say she can’t pull in the fans on nearly all fronts. Her career has reaped pure gold for an amazingly long time. But that doesn’t make it commendable.

In the matter of David Banda, however, all that is beside the point. A little boy born into the most unfortunate circumstances has scored a winning ticket in a glorious lottery. As far as he’s concerned, the rich publicity hound who found him in that crowded Malawi orphanage is nothing short of a fairy godmother. Who in their right mind would snatch away the chance she is offering him?

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