That got your attention, didn’t it? I paused as I wrote it, looked it up to make sure I wasn’t completely far fetching this one, and indeed, saw that one of the definitions of rape is the “violent, destructive, or abuse treatment of something,” I realized that I am not off. Not in the least. I read it and thought, yep, that is what’s happening to Britney Spears, on the daily, for everyone to see. And because no one is fussing in the least about this (save for a “crazy” YouTube fan), we’re all complicit and participating.
Of course, I am not supposed to care about this. Though Britney and I are both twenty something year old women, I am black, poorer college educated and an artist. Those first two commonalities—age and gender—however, are enough to keep me interested in what happens to her.
I think of her partly because she’s been thrust in my face, whether I want to see her or not. And anytime I can awarely tell that I’m being inundated with any kind of image (or image of a person), I start wondering.
Strange how 2007 has spelled the demoralization of Spears, against a specific landscape of young, rich, blonde haired (Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, and lets throw in Anna Nicole Smith who is older than them but significant all the same) white women. Though they have all had exhaustive on-screen and on print time this year, Spears eclipses them all as her fall from pop “icon” graces, fall from sanity, and fall from mothering have been well scrutinized.
Though there have been equally important mediated events regarding black women, in this one week, no less (Anucha Browne Sanders victory over Isaiah Thomas and Madison Square Garden in the sexual harassment trial, the tragic death of Nailah Franklin, a younger black professional woman from my hometown that got perhaps more press than any other missing black woman prior to), I turn to Britney. It feels odd. Because, again, I am not supposed to care.
Comic Sarah Silverman jokes that at 25, Spears has accomplished everything she’s going to accomplish in life. That her demise has garnered interest and reaction from so many makes me wonder if there could ever be anything political to get people this up in arms. Then again, there is something quintessentially political about how she has been treated.
Classic media critique arguments offer that there is as much to learn from what is given the lion’s share of attention from what is not. Perhaps there are countless other events that are wilder craizer and stupider than anyone could ever project or imagine Britney to be—the current health care, educational and military systems immediately come to mind.
You get the feeling that she’s being positioned as, made an example of what you’re not supposed to be (Think of how Jerry Springer’s immensely popular talk show became a site for us to look down on poor/working class peoples). Fat, classless, poor mother, wild, pop tart, crazy, stupid—all signifiers that have either been outwardly said or implied about Spears. Yikes.
Being young and female have not simply made her fair game to be regularly picked apart, they have determined the tone in which it has happened. It’s been quite harsh—when she performs, her body is up for debate. When she does illogical things as a parent, she’s questioned. She cuts her hair and her mental health is questioned. Most of us can’t have a “serious” discussion about her because the mere idea of her is considered silly. A spectacle indeed.
It is not to say that she hasn’t actively participated in this spectacle—clearly, she’s repeatedly made decisions that, in part, have added ignition to her public demise. No, the partying, drinking and drug use probably weren’t wise decisions. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a teen or twenty-something who doesn’t face these same issues, directly or indirectly, as a part of their newly adult lives.
In the same way that professional athletes are simultaneously loved and hated for their entertainment functions and how much they get paid to entertain us, people “hate” Britney now. As if her money should somehow buffer her from these things that frame the rest of our daily, average lives.
In a remarkable blurb in the NY Daily News (10/4/07), Forbes.com was quoted as having analyzed six months of celebrity magazine covers (Us Weekly, Star, etc.) on which Spears appeared on 18. While Jennifer Aniston (another younger, rich and famous blonde white woman)’s face gracing the cover of the mags boosted sales to 5 million copies, apparently Spears causes sales to slump. That this is even the focus of the article speaks volumes about the sort of scrutiny and expectation toward young, blonde women that is acceptable. Would we ever hold any male celebrity to this particular type of scrutiny?
As a black female, I’ve always been somewhat aware of society’s odd, historical relationship with young, blonde, white women. But Britney’s recent travails make it impossible not to notice that there’s something off here. It makes me uncomfortable.
Suddenly, the literal and figurative deaths of Marilyn Monroe, Jon Benet Ramsey, and Anna Nicole Smith make sense. Though the particulars of their lives and deaths vary, in many ways, they were marked as soon as they were born white, blonde and female.
I don’t know that it’s extreme to say that the pop culture machine is “raping” Britney. But as my mom says, “You gotta call a spade a spade.” True, she is being picked apart and dissected because she is a rich celebrity. But the way in which it’s happening is because she is young and female.
And that we simply sit and watch doesn’t help.
(I played the professor card and made my Racism & Sexism students read it in class)