John

First Brad, then Heath, next… Britney?

In Celebrity on January 24, 2008 at 8:52 am

britneyspearsdriving1.jpg

(Pic from TMZ.com)

In a rather weird quirk of coincidence concerning the death of young Hollywood, last week featured a couple of op-ed columns on the public’s fascination with Britney Spears. The bigger of the two headlines involved Jon Friedman’s Media Web, and his atrociously, but attention-grabbing title: “Britney Spears is heading toward a tragic end”, in which he declares how the Paparazzi are determined to hound Britney until she’s dead, much in the same way that Diana died.

I don’t believe it’s so far-fetched. Remember what happened to Anna Nicole Smith and Princess Diana? Even if you don’t blame the paparazzi for Smith’s demise, there is no way to defend their glee in exploiting her fame after she died.
The paparazzi aren’t interested in covering Spears’ story with any acknowledgement of her right to privacy. The fiasco has spiraled completely out of control, well beyond the bounds of acceptable good taste by any reasonable standard. What’s especially unfortunate is that her two small children will eventually pay a big price.

The Spears train wreck is so fascinating and lucrative that it has ensnared the mainstream media, too. CNN’s “Larry King Live,” no stranger to tabloid television segments, examined the psychodrama in gruesome detail on Monday night.

This story seems destined to end badly for Britney Spears. If indeed the paparazzi hound her into an early grave, you can count on them to go on “Larry King Live” and the like, express their distress and offer sympathy to the Spears clan.

But they’ll mostly just feel sorry for themselves — because they’ve killed the golden goose.

Then a few days later, Peter Wilby from The Guardian wrote a critical review of all this Britney madness, asking the public to stop getting obsessed with Britters, not that his comment will come to much avail in these E! Channel and Perez Hilton days of media.

Since Spears was carted off to a Los Angeles hospital two weeks ago – after police were called to make her hand over to Kevin Federline, her former husband, the two children of whom he has custody – the redtop appetite has shown no sign of diminishing.

… Spears allows every reader to play psychiatrist, offering counselling to her and her family and choosing between bipolar, multiple personality and attention deficit from the range of mental disorders that may be diagnosed.

I would not accuse Spears of faking what appears to be a mental illness, any more than I would accuse Kylie Minogue of faking cancer. But as both cases show, the celebrity industry, with the connivance of the news outlets, is capable of turning any kind of illness (except, I suppose, things like irritable bowel syndrome) to its advantage.

One is reminded of Oscar Wilde: the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Spears’s latest single, Piece of Me, shot almost immediately to number two in the UK charts. She’ll be on the cover of next month’s Rolling Stone. If she performs again, of course, it will be part of an “amazing comeback”. What price the tickets on her next concert tour?

So I’m not sure that you should avert your eyes from this life “unravelling before the world” (the Sun again). It’s cruel, it’s ugly, it’s tasteless and, as always with redtop stories, a lot of what’s reported is probably plain wrong. I wouldn’t, to be honest, read Britney stories myself if I weren’t writing this column.

But it’s a bit like boxing: what’s worrying is not so much what it does to those directly involved as what it does to the spectators. Celebrity is the biggest cultural phenomenon of the age. The industry behind it deserves more scrutiny.

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