Thursday, March 1, 2007

Bashing Britney: The Face of a Shameless Industry

By Alexander Billet

I am loath to defend the likes of Britney Spears. I, like many others, cringed when MTV dressed her up as the sexist stereotype of the naughty schoolgirl and billed her as "wholesome." I shuddered when the media subjected us to the minutiae of her personal life, from her tour squabbles to K-Fed. I almost vomited when I heard her thoughts on the Iraq war: "I think we should trust the president." And when Rolling Stone or MTV names her the “best female artist” of any year it makes me want to blast my Janis Joplin records out of sheer protest.

But this needs to be said: the coverage of Spears’ very public meltdown is disgraceful. It is depraved, sexist, and exploitative. And while it may go without saying that she has always represented the most shallow and shameless side of the entertainment business, this whole debacle has given us a chance to see how sinister and ruthless that business can be.

Over the past several weeks, we have played the role of accidental voyeurs as Spears’ sanity has dissolved like alka-seltzer in a pool of lava. The in and out stays in rehab, the late night emotional breakdown in front of her ex's apartment, and of course the head shaving and tattoos, all with photographers in tow. Every outlet, from Entertainment Tonight to People, has signed up with the newly formed Bash Britney Brigade. Never to be outdone, the online section of Maxim magazine (that shining beacon of post-post-post-feminism) has compiled a list of roles that Spears can attempt now. Needless to say, it’s not too flattering.

And yet, this same magazine at any other given time would be salivating to plaster her across their front cover. It is profoundly sick and twisted that the same publications that ogled Spears’ breasts and asked if they were real, that chronicled her status as a virgin with pornographic fascination, and somehow assumed the right to declare her an unfit mother can now be laughing with such glee over her obvious distress.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen this, and it won’t be the last. Millions of teenage girls dream of making it big as a pop star. Record execs have their pick of the litter when finding “the new teen sensation.” Spears was just lucky enough to fit into their Barbie-shaped mold. But in the record business, dreams are only important as long as they make money. At age 16, when most kids are worrying about their driver’s license and getting caught drinking by their parents, Spears was being thrown into Catholic schoolgirl and Lolita outfits on the cover of every major music magazine on the planet. What's worse, she was presented as an example for young girls.

Playing two conflicting roles—the available sex kitten and the virginal role model—all under the constant watch of an unscrupulous and intrusive press would drive anyone up the damn wall. But now that she has buckled under the weight, Spears has become a pop diva pariah. And despite the lurid details the tabloids are willing to share about Spears’ life, the one thing they won’t touch is their own longtime role in driving her to the edge.

The message is clear: if she’s disposable, so are the rest of us.

It's hard to believe that Britney Spears would have cured cancer in a different world. But when dealing with an industry and a society that exploits the hopes and dreams of ordinary people, it is worth asking ourselves what people like her would amount to if those dreams (both hers and ours) were fostered and nurtured.

Pity Britney. Screw the industry.


Funeral Director said...

Hear, hear. I've worked in the music industry for many years and I've seen many a "Britney" come and go. They are all disposable like a tin of baked beans.

The only faces never changing were the ones of the sleazeballs with the contracts behind the artists and the sleazeballs with the cameras in front of them.

Screw the industry? Agreed, but also a "screw you" to Joe and Sally Normal who pay for those trainwrecks, whine for news and gossip and keep said industry going. Screw Maxim, People et al. as well- along with their readers: no demand, no market.

Woodstock said...

I am a gay male radical feminist who loves Britney's music. I have been horrified by how she has been treated, not just since the recent events but for the past several years.
Britney is a graphic illustration of what women suffer under patriarchy. The powerful music industry is part of it. Women who step out of line get attacked ,whether its the Dixie Chicks political views,Melissa Etheridge being denounced by right wing radio talk show hosts for her lesbianism,or in the past the attacks on Joan Baez for her antiwar views.
I have been coping with the death of an older woman friend recently,one who greatly influenced my own thinking. She once pointed out that in patriarchal society,women were labelled either Virgins or Whores.
That applies so well to Britney. Once she became an adult young woman,one aware of her sexuality and no longer the cute little Mousketeer she got labelled a Whore. And when she admitted to having had sex before marriage(after responding to a past question and saying she wouldnt) the sharks went on the attack.
Male celebrities are not treated like that.That is so telling. The old sexist double standard still is strong.
I read once in some piece of writing from the feminist anti-pornography movement that the "puritan and the pornographer: both shared the same view of women's bodies-that they were shameful and evil.The first wants censorhip and control of women's sexuality. the second wants to display and exploit womem for the gratification of male desire.
There is nothing shameful or evil about female bodies(or male) or about sexuality. But there is hundreds of years of patriarchal conditioning, from religion especially, that sends this message.
Listening to Britney's music or watching her videos represented youth and joy, and yes sensuality.She represented the Maiden Aspect of the Triple Goddess on some level,a nymph, an elevn princess.
It is hard now to look at her smiling face on CD covers and know that now she is a bruised spirit.
All this happened to a world famous pop star. It happens in its own way to women every day.