As I'm sure you've heard by now, the trainwreck that is Britney Spears made a stop at the MTV Video Music Awards over the weekend, and it was everything you'd expect and worse.
As her life has slowly unravelled before our eyes and millions of cameras, I've quickly found myself in the camp of just feeling sorry for her. I'm not typically one who pities those who are given everything and piss it all away of their own volition, but there are times when I feel complicit in their self-destruction. I don't read TMZ myself, but I read people who do. And where there's a demand for salacious details of people's private lives, there are going to be writers and photographers to fill that demand. As such, there's an element of Schrödinger's cat in a breakdown such as Britney's, which is to say that the act of observing it necessarily affects the outcome. When you're an 18 year old superstar, living your life completely in the public eye and developing an addiction to that praise and attention, it's probably pretty difficult to find your way when it's time to develop a private life.
All of that is prologue for this article you should read in Salon by Rebecca Traister. As she goes on to point out that we are all guilty, not least MTV and Britney herself, she composes some moving paragraphs which are staying with me.
As has been pointed out before, she embodies the disdain in which this culture holds its young women: the desire to sexualize and spoil them while young, and to degrade and punish them as they get older. Of course, she also represents a youthful feminine willingness -- stupid or manipulated as it may be -- to conform to the culture's every humiliating expectation of her.And that's the part that gets me. Let's give her a break. And Lindsey Lohan into the bargain. Are we Romans watching the murder of Christians in the Coliseum? If we stop watching, she'll have no choice but to try to get her life -- her real life -- back on track.
No one would think that the performer, whose music has historically been catchy, but whose live performance appeal has rested on her super-fit ability to writhe around in athletic dance routines that could only succeed if rehearsed with Waffen-level discipline, could pull this off. She was hired by MTV to attract viewers eager to see her make an ass of herself. And she was complicit in her own public flogging, apparently doing nothing to prepare, making no effort to learn the words to her own song, or the dance moves she was supposed to execute.
There was also the harsh but deserved criticism of her performance and, more horrendously, of her physique. Spears, it seems, two children and five years of self-abuse later, no longer pleases the public with her hourglass shape. No, her ill-fitting outfit showed off a figure that was not as compact and pink as it was when she was a teenager. Sure, she looked better in a bikini than probably 98 percent of the Americans sitting on their couches and howling at her, but she was no longer porn-star perfect. And in the American lexicon, that equals fat. Wonder why your daughters have eating disorders and hate their bodies? Maybe because they're reading reports that label the thin young woman dancing around in a bra and panties physically unappealing and obese.
When I was a kid, my mother told me a story about some men she once saw on a lake in northern Maine. They were in a motorboat, chasing a swimming moose around the lake. They chased it and chased it and chased it until, finally, the moose got so tired and confused that it drowned. This, of course, was the idea: torturing an animal too stupid to swim for shore until it died, all in the name of good fun for the guys at the wheel.
I know my plea falls on deaf ears, but it warrants saying.