Monday, September 8, 2008

It's Britney, Bitch

Which Britney is better? The non compos mentis, not in-control one that wobbled around on the stage of the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards or this year's model, dressed like a fishing lure, who sanely and graciously accepted three awards for the truly dire "Piece of Me" video?

Everyone loves a good comeback, especially when the person coming back has so much to come back from. We have a soft spot for tragedy that is tied up in voyeurism and our relentless need to exercise our God-given right to schadenfreude. Ms. Spears has provided blockbuster entertainment value while at the same time proving the uncomfortable truth that sanity can be snipped away as cleanly and easily as a lock of hair. From the time Ms. Spears publicly shaved her head and looned about with an umbrella, her troubles have been the stuff of both comic legend and cautionary tales.

For this we can thank the Internet, and also, to a lesser degree, MTV, whose decision to book an obviously unstable Spears for the 2007 VMAs cannot escape the charge of sangfroid. Spears showed up, mumbled, wobbled, and did her best impersonation of a black hole, without a hint of the poetic about it. No Montgomery Clift, no James Dean, nothing lyrical; Spears is closest to the Elizabeth Taylor who choked on a chicken bone during her own fuddled years.

Both Ms. Spears and Ms. Taylor were child stars born to play out their lives in the public's curiousity shop, with the former lacking in any of the early elegance Ms. Taylor displayed before her vulgar Burton era. Neither has any sort of message appended to her work or her personal weltanschauung; they are both stars of a peculiar form of American documentary that transcends whatever marketable talent either possesses. Ms. Spears has always suffered excessive contrivance and she continues to do so even as she appears to be healthy enough to once again prove that acting is never going to be her strong suit.

The VMAs opened with a creakily scripted scene involving Spears and Superbad actor Jonah Hill, who allowed himself to be torpedoed by the most unfunny dialogue since, well, last year's VMAs. Spears served herself up (and was served up by MTV) as processed cheese, junk food that begs to be ingested and expulsed. By Spears's recent standards this was pretty good stuff, even supporting our ongoing national campaign for illiteracy.

In the video, Spears shimmies and gyrates, tasking and taunting: She understands that she is tabloid fodder taken as individual body parts; her ass is quite literally on the line. Yet you come away from "Piece of Me" with the feeling that Spears hasn't quite understood that the video is half about anal sex, the proverbial piece of ass, and is more about giving the middle finger not to the media but to lube.

Spears received three awards for this video, and each of them seemed like a lifetime achievement award and an act of contrition for last year's wolf-throwing. Not that there was all that much competition; it couldn't quite be called an upset. This wasn't the US Open men's semi-final. There were other name brands shimmying other name-brand booty, but they hadn't made a concerted display of crazy over the past year and in all probability no one would really care if they had. Would anyone take much enjoyment from seeing Jordin Sparks held on a 5150, not once but twice? Yet with Spears, it was almost delicious, as much for what appeared to be the incompetency not just of the singer but of the medical establishment itself.

It takes quite a lot of madness to reach that level; by modern standards it must of necessity include not just drugs and alcohol but sex, child endangerment, whirling helicopters, and mental illness. And the way to come back from this is, of course, to lose weight and demonstrate that one can keep one's latest hair extensions both blonde and intact.

In Spears's case, there appears to be something of a power kick going on, in which she and MTV artlessly colluded in 2007 and more gracefully this year. If Spears needs anything other than medication, it is a performing renaissance outside of Oh, No, They Didn't, the Internet's biggest junior high school cafeteria. There, amid further evidence of a coming Armageddon, Spears reigns supreme in a glut of grammatical errata. With her every move documented in the excited jumbles of modern Morse Code, Spears is seen not as someone who needs saving but as someone who saves American youth from boredom. Her oversaturation is exceeded only by that of the Bush administration as a favorite topic of the New Media, which must now be extended to include like gossip sites and blogs where anyone can become an instant journalist, ethics and education aside.

Despite her multiple wins, Spears did not perform at the awards. It seems as if MTV were willing to take a gamble only on her ability to walk upright and not slur. This was product placement of damaged goods, and in some way mirrors the careful reintroduction of comestibles following an outbreak of salmonella. So long as the product is assured to be presently free from pathogen, it is a given that we will take it back, chew it up, and feed it to our children.


WendyB said...

I'm delighted to see Britney doing better, and not just because she forgot to pay for one of my rings during her bad period! I just wouldn't wish her problems on anyone. And I thought MTV was horrible to have her on last year when she was obviously not fit to perform. They were looking to benefit from her suffering.

Suzanna Mars said...

WB, I'd forgottten that Britney oopsed a payment for one of your fabulous pieces.

Benefiting from suffering is the plague of the Internet; somehow we are all on television with our blogs and our sites and our comments and our book deals. Britney has never struck me as being particularly smart and the new video is one more example of that and in its own way just as damning as the earlier VMA appearance, even as she herself seems on the straight and narrow.

K.Line said...

I think this post is fantastic, S. The parallels between E Taylor and Britney are spot on. (Only compound German words can really describe what's been going on with this young woman over the last year!) Describing Britney from before as a black hole is so spot on. I am amazed by what she's pulled out after such a short time - given her degree of mental illness. I just wish she'd told MTV to fuck off, though.

enc said...

Product placement is right. Spears had to make this move for her own "career," and MTV had to do it to make sure they scooped everyone else with this hot commodity.

What a great post!

susie_bubble said...

"Product Placement of Damaged Goods".... a quote that could be applicable in SO many ways....