Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oops, They did it again

Or, Why hating Britney plays right into the hands of Them

When people -- critics and casual observers alike -- denounce Britney or any other pop starlet, they approach the given pop tart from an auterist perspective, which in all such cases is mistaken. In more pejorative terms, yes, she's fake, but for every teenybopper who thoroughly enjoys Britney-qua-Britney, there are just as many critics who aim their vitriol at a whole lot of nothing, which is what "Britney Spears" is. Or to look at her another way, she's a lot of everything, way more than what a single human could be, and thus, merely a victim of the cultural phenomenon that springs forth from her very image.

The performer whom we saw slogging around on the VMAs is not a single individual; she's a simulacrum of a person, a simulacrum that consists of a matrix of music producers, sound engineers, stylists, makeup artists, and trainers, and most importantly of all, her handlers and marketers who orchestrate her public persona. The actual person (if such a person exists, and I have to admit to anti-essentialist po-mo prejudices against the notion of the Self -- more on this later) who goes along with the body known as "Britney Spears" probably has some limited amount of creative input into her official artistic persona -- and almost certainly autonomously influences her tabloid persona to a large degree -- but in the overwhelming glare of paparazzi and 24/7 gossip coverage, no businessperson with a lick of acumen would let an erratic and coddled girl-child call more than the occasional shot, merely out of courtesy, to sustain a profitable career.

That said, I don't think the "real" Britney at this point is much more than a young cash cow who's been exploited to the point of acting out in a spectacularly public flameout. So directing any ire at her for whatever crime against taste, that's exactly what her handlers want -- she takes the heat while she helps them rake in the dosh while keeping her squarely in the center of public consciousness. Don't like her music? She doesn't write it. Don't like that she's all image -- and a highly sexualized and fetishized one -- and no "substance" (whatever "substance" is)? Even if the vapid pop tart image is a front for some Machiavellian image-making, a just-out-of-her-teens ex-Mousketeer probably isn't savvy or self-confident enough to come up with the idea. Don't like the fact that despite her lack of musicianship, she continues to be a big seller? She's not buying up her own records, and it's not like she's backwards-masking subliminal messages into her music to get the young girls and middle-aged perverts to lay out the cash for In the Zone or to Yvan Eht Nioj. The real perpetrators of "Britney Spears'" crimes against taste are off to the side, counting their money and laughing, because they're the truest beneficiaries of the "any news is good news" maxim. The real Brit is just a Southern girl getting ground up in the engine of commerce and anti-celebrity worship.

Indie rating: Britney Spears - "Toxic"


Beckylooo said...

I can't believe I'm actually gonna disagree with you on this one, because in theory, I totally agree, but here we go...

The thing is, girl fired all those people making money off of her. What we saw the other night was the man behind the curtain. What happens when a poptartlet believes her own hype and thinks she's an "artist" who can go it alone.

Yes, the real culprit is the machine. You're spot on there. But you can't negate Britters culpability in her own demise.

Leee said...

You know more about Britters than I do! I didn't know that she fired her handlers, that's an excellent point. Still, I have some sympathy for her -- the experience of growing up as Teen Sensation Britney Spears and all the attendant institutional factors would've done an irreparable number anyone. At that point, personal responsibility melts in the face of institutional determinism, which you see in heartbreaking detail in the fourth season of The Wire. Some kids manage to escape the game, but most get caught in it; the analogy doesn't hold quite as well with pop tarts, certainly. For instance, Brit's dark twin Xtina has stayed much closer to Madonna's (saner) early- to mid-career trajectory, I think, though she courts controversy in a tamer and less frequent way than Madge back in her heyday. (I'll admit that I'd definitely entertain buying a nudie coffee table book of Xtina erotica, but until then, tamer sticks as a label.) At the least, though, it's an interesting comparison to make between the two tarts (and with Madonna).

But don't get me wrong -- I don't exactly feel sorry for Britney, cos she's a lost cause at this point (dropping the anti-Self philosophy for the moment) and my tears and anxieties are saved for the Dillon Panthers and the corner kids on The Wire.

Beckylooo said...

God I love that you can find away to work BritBrit and The Wire into the same comment.

I TOTALLY feel sorry for Britney. She's a sad sac. Just because she brought it upon herself doesn't make it any less depressing.

I gotta tease out the xtina comparison though. While I don't dig her shit, there's no denying the chick is obscenely talented. AKA She can actually sing which is WAY more than I can say for Britney and Madge. I've actually felt/hoped for some time that as xtina gets older and starts actually LISTENING to those Etta James tune she says she so reveres, she'll hear the difference between singing powerfully and vocally masturbating and start to make some really awesome soulful records. Could be a pipe dream though.

Either way, I feel bad for the lil tart from Kentwood.

Leee said...

Totally agree on Xtina's vocals. Supposedly she's turned a new leaf, and hearing "Candyman," yeah, she's knocked it down a couple notches, but she still oversang in her universally lauded (wtf you critics?) cover of "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." Until she tones it down even more, she's still the American Celine Dion, i.e. I wish "vocally masturbating" was as sexy as it sounds.