They're readying her obituary. The Associated Press and appropriate daily newspapers. It is macabre, knowing that a 25-year old's imperviousness to convention is reckless enough to make the final recounting the facts of her life anything but a failsafe against a plane crash or a crazy fan. The news organizations need to get it right; right is tough in a scramble. Better to research and be ready. Especially when the young woman in question is the highly tabloidable Britney Spears, the once Lolita in knee socks, grinding and taunting “Baby… One More Time,” now tragically erratic MILF out of control.
Is Britney Spears this bubblegum Courtney Love - without the intellectual punch nor the musical cred? After all, he had her Timberlake, but he found a far more forgiving exit strategy. And yet. Yet, naughty school girl girls who don't get the right kind of spanking end up indulged to where there's no compass of appropriate, allowed or even encouraged to do what they will until the warp destroys the ability to function in this world.
In that freefall, it seems, the cries for help, the erratic acting out, the jagged dents in any sort of reason are deafening. So loud we can only stare on frozen, then titter once the moment has imploded. But what's left is a voyeurist's fetishist, crying “look at me,” even as she's incapable of functioning.
Is she a freak? A narcissist for whom anything is possible? A mentally unstable young woman whose fame and money masked the issue until it was beyond critical? And if it's the latter, and she's reached majority, how does one pull her back from the edge? Especially since there is so much fiscal reality riding on her next stumble, tumble, fall and…
Britney Spears keeps the lawyers busy, the courts in the news, the tabloid tv and weekly magazines buzzing, Perez Hilton hopping. It's about the sustained gaze of the trainwreck slow-mo-ing to its twisted, obvious conclusion. A loud crash, metal collapsing and pounding into itself, the wreckage a colossal, steaming, molten mess that can be picked through for months…
There is an old joke about the old Jewish man who marries the 19-year old. Coming back from the honeymoon, his best friend cautions him to be careful, that all that sex could be lethal. Shrugging, the newlywed cavalierly retorts, “Hey, it's okay… If she dies, she dies.”
Indeed, if she dies, she dies.
For our ennui and entertainment.
After all, Britney's always jumpstarted out shock centers. Right from the forbidden frosty virgin schoolgirl tease to the MTV snake performance, kissing Madonna on the mouth, writhing and shimmying in the most prolific pole dancing manner… When the true insane clown posse hijinks began: marrying her friend from back home for 50 hours, crotch shotting the paparazzi in the company of Paris Hilton, GI Girling her own hair in a markedly downscale salon, weeping to Matt Lauer and invoking “I'm country” as if it's a license to be responsibly retarded - and mocking people from small rural towns and backwaters everywhere who live straight up and work hard.
Hey, give Britney a break. Or don't. Let her twist…
Because aside from the bulls-eye for a nation's libido, the undulating girlwoman also served as a rejoinder to those girls who'd work hard, try to be people. Her message was “be a skank, see where it gets you.” And if those girls who weren't so hot, so taut, so slick found themselves grappling with an unattainable new standard - one that wasn't grounded in merit, but apparent Party Barbie/Girls Gone Wild ethos - there's a certain inherent pleasure in seeing the implosion played out, painful episode by painful episode.
She thinks she's all that…
Used up and then some…
Even the volcanic response to her MTV Awards body - at worst a size 8, and still far from the nation's average of 12 - speaks volumes about what we value. And how much we resent it, too.
In the real world, there are other things… Jobs, family, friends, coping. It is not one endless party behind a velvet rope where we can be so much more all that than the herd churning to be like us. Although with fame now being about the ease of recognition instead of achievement, becoming one of them Is easier than ever. Just ask Tila Tequila, or any number for Reality Stars from “The O.C.” to anyone on “Celebrity Rehab.”
Rehab is its own set of issues. Certainly for Spears, who has checked in, checked out, dispatched a manager for encouraging it, then been bounced by a management firm for her inability to be respectful and cognizant of one's obligations… always a sign of girl not gone wild, but addicted.
Addicted to what?
Fame? Bold-faced living? She does love playing for the cameras.
Drink? Drugs? Partying? The stories are legend.
The drama? If a little girl keeps working and starting fires to get attention, doesn't each achievement or crisis have to be bigger to get the desired result.
It is all of it, most likely. Where it leaves her parents, ex-husband Kevin Federline, who hardly seems the choice of a sober-person, nor a fraction of early beau Timberlake, anyone concerned about those two little boys is an uncomfortable balancing act.
In Al-Anon, there is the notion on focus on you, do not enable the addicted person. Make sure you're safe, no one gets hurt. The trouble with the very famous is there's always an enabler who will do whatever to have proximity, because proximity gives them privilege - and privilege to the out-of-control commoner, especially one who exults in basking in reflected glory is its own addiction.
No amount of humiliation, nit-picking or teeny annoying demand will run the sycophant off. They have found their access point: they will cling by any means necessary. Tape worms are more independent.
So, that question: what about the family? Well, their hands are tied. To watch this go down has to be the ultimate heartbreak. This is somebody's daughter… and those parents love that bright-smiled, blond-headed cherub with the far-flung personality and will to sing.
Even Federline, who took the ride and had the time, has to recognize that his sons deserve to have a healthy, functioning mother. Having the talk with them in 10, 12, 15 years about who their mother was, and why she isn't here any more can't be something he's relishing… if he's thought it through that far.
In a licentious world, though, it's all about thrills. It's all about where the next hit, high, can-you-believe is… Any time, it's somebody else's misfortune, it allows us to reassure ourselves that we're impervious, we're not that bad… never could/would be… So in our cloak or morale high-ground and superiority, we click our tongue against the roof of our head, shake our head and protest that “It's so sad…” when the fact is it's really some kind of life jacket in our own pool of indulgence.
If Britney dies, truly, who cares? How would her passing impact most of us? We don't know her, don't rely on her for our living, don't even really listen to her music - as recent album sales suggest. She is our mocking board, the person we've been able to count on for a pop culture punchline whenever we've needed one… But what does that mean, really?
So we can talk about cultural erosion, white trash aesthetics becoming the status quo of which we are so much more than… We can sigh and say there was so much promise, feigning tragedy where most everyone had shared the “she's done wha…” discussion…
We can actually do something. We can stop embracing the freakshow consciousness that causes us to pause when the news is bad, the slut-embracing pseudo-sexual-insurrection that's all in the streets rather than being a slower burn in the sheets, the reckless rebel oh-yeah entitlement that seems to be so desirable, and turn towards things of real value: kindness, intellect, laughter that's not mocking.
Britney Spears, regardless of what happened, has ceased to be human to anyone except her family. She is a little Disney wonder who caught the national libidinal shift in a way no one has since Madonna and wasn't smart enough - unlike Madonna - to handle the ride. Whether it was heartbreak fueled or not, her wicked bad-ass romp over the last years is a rebellion from… handlers? keepers? the good girl definition that had followed her? fear of being normal?
It almost doesn't matter. She played to the paparazzi, the sexual zeitgeist and now that which made her is poised to consume her. We can't know how it is to be chased and hunted in the name of a picture, and yet…. How often does she play straight to them? And just because you're complicit in the picture, it doesn't mean you get to pick when and how they shoot you - especially if you choose to mount one of the most public meltdowns since, well, Anna Nicole Smith.
Once upon a time, privilege meant responsibility. John F Kennedy espoused “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Those days are gone, and with it, the ability for many of our brightest stars to negotiate the twisted path between reality and the sparkle that is the fantasyland of fame.
As for me, I'm sad. Sad the media's been reduced to this, sad that good artists, actors, musicians can't get space, while we wear lobster bibs waiting for the next dangled or dropped morsel of misstep. Sad that a young woman got so caught up in her own backdraft she's being sucked heels over head to her own demise. Sad that we as a culture can't turn away, can't turn towards something more… and send the message of what's valuable - trashy, sleazy, party, greedy, entitled, mean-spirited and condescending - further and further into the future generation's sense of the things that matter.
Britney Spears shouldn't die. She should get picked up by the scruff of her neck, then sent somewhere she can't use privilege and fame to scam her way out of the work. Hard as it might be, it'll save the life she deserves to live… and she does.
Sometimes reaching into the places that're hollow, hurt, abandoned is the roughest thing we can do. But is it any rougher than being some kinda brokered media whore whose encouraged to - in the long run - harm oneself for the sake of the people feeding on you? When you look at it like that, and also consider the message it sends the zombies paralyzed by Britney's latest escapade, it's amazing the shift.
But that shift…
That shift will resonate, then exponentiate. It's not an easy thing. Nor popular. But it is perhaps the only morally sound course of action left. Well, beyond getting the facts right should our nation's newspapers suddenly have to package the reprise of a life squandered in the name of gossip mongering and entertainment.