Monday, January 03, 2011

Captured By Britney Spears' Abyss

The syllabus of The New Inquiry now has a link to a 2008 Esquire magazine piece - it was supposed to be an interview, but morphed in to ruminations far beyond anything captured in the interview itself - to accompany a now-famous photo-shoot, Britney Spears in as little as possible, yet again tantalizing and teasing an America so wrapped-up in a whore-madonna complex it may never find its way out again. The article, by well-known pop-culture critic Chuck Klosterman, hits all the right points in discussing Ms. Spears, yet it seems to me that he misses something that would have been more obvious had he not been present for the photo shoot before doing the interview. I'm not blaming him; Lord knows, had I been there, even with that translucent screen keeping the rest of the world away, my guess is my thoughts would be addled. All I'm saying is that, when trying to "figure out" Ms. Spears and her place in pop culture, her history as a constantly manipulated cluster of social and cultural symbols is really what is important about her.

Since her emergence in the late-1990's as that most dangerous female creature for most men - the not-quite-of-legal-age yet nevertheless undeniably sexy young woman, either unaware of her sexual appeal, or using it to achieve her own ends - she has rarely moved forward in either her private life or career without those movement being scripted, covered by the ubiquitous tabloid press and paparazzi, with attendants including personal assistants and publicity directors carefully feeding stories, even contradictory ones, to those same tabloids. In other words, even in the very-public emotional and personal meltdown that followed not long after this interview was published, we should remember that Ms. Spears is far less an individual than she is a brand, perhaps even an industry unto herself.

Getting caught up in what Britney Spears thinks or says about her public image misses the fundamental reality that it this image has been carefully cultivated, kept before a public eager to finally pierce the veil (as it were). When Klosterman asks her about her sexuality, and Ms. Spears insists she doesn't think about it, in all likelihood she is correct. Since she was a child appearing on The New Mickey Mouse Club, Britney Spears has been a commodity. The entertainment industry in all its facets - music recording, television, photography, the music video - has attuned itself to her. My guess is Britney Spears has no idea how to live any other way than what others would see as exploited, dehumanized, hyper-sexualized, and finally foisted on the public with its various sexual and interpersonal neuroses. What "Britney Spears" has to offer by way of reflection on any subject matter is irrelevant not because she as an individual is irrelevant.

As an individual, sad to say, "Britney Spears" does not exist. No matter how many pictures we have of her, we are looking at an empty space, the contours of which are filled in by masters of manipulation. Stripping away the facade, we come face to face with the best example of Nietzsche's abyss that stares back at us, dragging us down.

Virtual Tin Cup

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