Britney Spears Briefly Transcends

27 02 2008

I want to talk tonight about the icon of Britney Spears. Right now, the girl is clearly a tortured soul trapped in some sort of nightmare. She can only seem to rest on a bed of nails. Anything she does is blown out of all proportion. She goes shopping, the paparazzi follows. She goes to visit her children, they get video from helicopter.

It’s been clear that she has been crashing and burning for quite some time. For some reason or another, the fame and glory and riches that came with being an international pop star took their toll on her quickly and heavily. She’s not alone—many other people seem to be “celebrity disasters”—but she is today’s meteor.

In the supermarket, I happened to glance at the cover of one tabloid, and I was instantly struck by the picture. The picture, I think, allows Britney to momentarily transcend ‘celebrity disaster.’ I think in this one instant, she represents something much much larger. Consider the picture:

Briteny Spears

Ignore the text, the sidebar, and the title. Focus on the woman you see. Her eyes are red-rimmed and glassy. Her sweater is pulled up into her hands as if she is seeking comfort in it. She is not the first woman I’ve known to be in a situation of desperation and depression because of what she felt the world expected of her, and she is in no way the last. She is (sadly) neither the first nor last woman I have seen or will see in that exact position—upset and seeking some form of comfort.

When I see this picture, I don’t think about the train-wreck that is Britney Spears. It instead is a picture of a large number of adolescent girls and young women I’ve known in the past ten years. I’ve known a significant number of women who have been institutionalized, and I am aware of more. This may be especially prevalent at Hampshire College itself, because Hampshire tends to select for the more eccentric and crazy, but I think there are incredibly insidious and poisonous pressures that many women across all social boundaries are subject to in one form or another.

When we look back on the icons of the 2000’s, I think we will end up looking back on at least this particular picture of Britney—not as Britney Spears—but as an icon of what our society expected of young women and what it put them through if they didn’t meet those expectations. I worry that most will be too blinded by the blaze she leaves through the sky to learn any important lessons. It’s been especially heavy on my mind with Dora’s death (though I truly don’t know the cause of that).

People roll their eyes at me when I try to explain this, because, you know… it’s Britney Spears. She’s such a farce. How can she also be an icon? I want to know your opinions.

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2 responses

27 02 2008
Cos

Your comparison makes me think of Britney as Buffy. Joss Whedon intended most episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be metaphors for traditional teenage issues – despite all the larger than life fantasy and saving the world, Buffy and her friends deal with the same things:

Your mother doesn’t understand you and wouldn’t understand what it is you go out and do at night.

You’re enthralled and falling in love with someone completely inappropriate.

The most important thing in the world is about to happen but you have to tend to some chores first.

Take out the vampires and demons and impending destruction of the world, and you can find the parallels to everyday life, and to the teen version of everyday life, where so many of these things are brand new.

Britney’s life isn’t fantasy, but it *is* larger than life, on a world stage, full of things most people never have to deal with. What you’re saying is, if we strip away all of that, we can see things that we or our friends have in our lives.

27 02 2008
Jacob

What you’re saying is, if we strip away all of that, we can see things that we or our friends have in our lives.

That is exactly what I’m saying. I’m also pointing out that it’s being catapulted to a national stage (international? I hope not. I hope people from other countries don’t have patience for this kind of crap), but no one is slowing down to say, “Hey, wait a minute—that Britney is a 28 year old girl who needs affection and help.” Instead they’re saying, “Watch that super star go super nova!”

Does anyone look at the picture and think, “Hey, I know that girl…?”

I like that analogy with Buffy. I wonder what she would think if she was watching this. Would she feel a kinship between herself and Britney? I think that’s stretching a bit too far. The one difference here (well, two) is that Buffy is fictional and fights vampires, so it’s almost easier to look past the personal problems (for me), while Britney is real—and this kind of craziness happens to other real people as well. I’ve known some of them.

I don’t think I’ve known any vampire slayers, which is a shame but probably better for my physical and emotional health.

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