Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Body Poltics of Britney Spears

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For the longest time I have avoided this topic mostly out of disinterest but also because I was not sure exactly how I felt. Well the tides have turned and I MUST say something.

A few days ago one of my very close feminist friends informed me that Britney Spears had lost custody of her children and what a good thing that is. It was more than a bit disconcerting to hear someone for whom I have a great deal of respect so openly revel in the pain and suffering of a woman who lost her children.

I'll be completely honest, I have not kept up with this story so feel free to inform me if I am misstating something. But I wonder why Americans are so delighted by Britney Spears' very public destruction.

Here's what I know about Britney:
-she became a star in her early teenage years but had been in the spotlight for some time prior to that
-she [her image, likeness, etc.] is owned by a music production company
-after she became famous, this production company turned her into a sex symbol and cashed in
-she got married had two children and was in the spotlight then for her changing (i.e. not teen-aged) body
-having been in the spotlight for the entirety of her adult life she had a bit of a breakdown (very likely postpartum depression) and chopped off her hair (symbol of her feminine beauty) and became a pariah for people who expect very different behavior from their pop stars
-this and other odd (i.e. non-feminine, non-maternal) behaviors cause her parenting skills to be called into question
-her most recent stage performance was a bit of a disaster and questions about her weight began to circulate [i.e. people calling her "fat" (seriously?? her?)]
-her now ex-husband gains full custody of her two children

This is what I know.

The first thing that pops into my mind is: why do we delight so much in witnessing this young woman's destruction?

The same country that made her a star, the same people who turned her into a sex object and loved watching the sweet, blonde virgin take it all off, the same people who keep buying the magazines, watching the gossip shows and utterly invading her privacy are now stunned and simultaneously pleasured by her destruction.

Now I have never been a fan of Spears' music and I think that her body politic is extraordinarily problematic especially since she is simultaneously marketed to young girls as an idol and to men as a masturbatory fantasy. But note how I write that "she is marketed" as if she is no longer an independent entity but a piece of public property. Not long ago one of my friends and I got into a debate about whether Spears' chose this life path. My friend argued that she deserves what is happening to her because she chose to become a part of the public domain. But remember, she was but a child when she made that choice and she hardly could have anticipated the hyper-sexualization and invasion that would come along with that "choice." Further, does anyone really deserve that kind of dehumanization?

Spears most certainly is owned by a production company who is making a nice tidy profit off of all of this "self-" destruction. One has to wonder if the motives behind her sexy rise to fame and her shocking downfall are not just another part of the scheme to make spectacle-driven Hollywood producers filthy rich at her expense. I for one am skeptical as to whether or not Spears even exists. She would not need to for all of this hubbub to be going on. Just the idea of her is enough.

So I ask that you all challenge the pleasure you receive from watching Spears' destruction and ask why seeing a woman publicly lose her marriage and her children and quite likely suffer from a mental illness is so delightful? It is sickening and, frankly, quite telling.


Jeanne-Henriette said...

Thank you for posting this. I know I'm about a week late, but I just stumbled across your blog. I think my body looks about similar to Britney's at the VMA performance (as do my beautiful mother's and sister's bodies), and I am a happy, healthy, proud woman, but in spite of myself, I can't help but to feel personally attacked when people analyze her body and weight like they're at the store and deciding whether to purchase her or not. When they attack her, I feel like they're sending a thinly veiled message to all women about how we should look and act. Arg! What about male stars like Kevin James? (Don't even get me started about him.)

Cortney said...

You make a really good point here that I totally forgot to mention in this post. Criticisms of Spears' body ARE criticisms of women's bodies because of all that she represents in American culture. She is iconic. She represents much larger social trends and that does affect us. Thank you!

ms. b said...

I've seen pictures of her driving her car with her children in her lap, having them in restaurants after 9pm, and smoking while holding them.

So, despite the very public way in which the patriarchy condemns her, I think there are other reasons she is being attacked.

I wish I had some links, but People mag ran the pics of her driving with her child in her lap.

Cortney said...

I have no doubt that a very young, overly sexualized pop star is not the very best mother. I have seen some of those pictures and they are certainly very telling but that does not mean that her pain should be our pleasure. I am sad that like minded feminists are so cruel to her.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am glad because her kids seem to be better off in terms of health and safety if they are taken care of by somebody else. I don't really pay attention to or care about celebrity gossip, but I heard about her dropping her baby and driving with her baby on her lap.

I see what you're saying when it comes to criticizing her appearance, but parenting is something else.

Cortney said...

I guess my biggest problem with this whole story is that we don't really know how she treats her children. I mean our news media is hardly the most reliable and add the celebrity gossip edge to that and you know that someone is cashing in hugely on this story. It makes me very hesitant to believe anything that they might say about her.

Life Upside Down said...

She is a very good example of internet bullying. The Perez Hilton/TMZ online craze factored into her losing her kids. I have friends who are Social Workers and trust me, it is not common for people to lose their kids over little parenting mistakes. If she continued to drive with the kids on her lap after being informed of the danger, then that would be just cause. But the outrage that I saw on the internet was most certainly prefaced by the words "slut" "whore" "skank" - which seemed to be the undercurrent of what was really going on. It was public punishment for her not appreciating her 'chance' pop-America gave her to become rich while being exploited. [After all, she could have been just exploited and left with nothing.] She did not drop her baby - the things she did had her investigated by children's services, where the cases were dismissed due to lack of evidence. It's a judge in a custody case who has taken it upon himself to do the public bidding and punish her for not stepping in line. Gossip is dangerous. This is the first time I've seen someone so severely punished based on gossip. For goodness sakes, the judge referenced in the case. How unprofessional is that?

Cortney said...

Wow. I did not know all of that! Slut shaming just never gets old does it? I feel the very same way that you do. I have seen and heard of parents doing much, much worse and not losing their children. And the old statistic that men win most contested custody cases seems relevant here too.

I am working on a much larger paper about this topic so I really appreciate these insights. Do you happen to have any links about the TMZ reference in court?

Free said...

I was delighted when Britney cut her hair: it was like a declaration of independence - a statement that she is more than just a mass of blond hair and a body.

I never have been and never will be a Britney fan. But I feel for her because she's a human being. The public derision that she faces - it's like the Roman mob yearning for Cesar(as in media, legal system) to punish her for shattering their fantasy.

Life Upside Down said...

The part about can be found on their website. They are just as shocked to be so involved in a legal matter. Just scroll down and click on Britney Spears on the left side under "Hot Celebs". You may have to Google to find other more credible sources or legal documentation. Her ex has used the media against her and leaked lots of info to the press. Side note: David Hasselhoff still has custody of his kids even after his drunken videotape recorded by his own daughter. He just admitted himself into rehab after a relapse and the tabloids are sending their support. CRAZY.

Bianca Reagan said...

I linked to this post on my blog: This could apply to.

Also, I found you via Racialicious. :)

Khadija Coxon said...

The point about Britney cutting off her hair being a feminist statement is complicated. The event was interpreted by the media and the public as an expression of insanity, not an expression emancipation. And Spears herself has supported the initial interpretation by wearing wigs and hats.

I think that the issue of her parenting is also complicated. Maybe she's not a great mother. But as other posters have suggested, those who criticise her parenting skills do not seem mainly concerned about the children. Calling Britney a "skank-whore," "fat," "stupid," etc. has nothing to do with concern over her parenting skills. In fact, the authors of these comments seem to me to be pretty unconcerned about how those comments will affect Spears's children.

Cortney said...

That is a really good point. How very hypocritical it is for someone to suggest that they care about Spears' children while symbolically and verbally annihilating their mother.

Dreay Writer said...

Well done..Yuo have a unique point of view..i agree with you totally in your opinion.One day you would do a sound literature.
Dreamy Writer

Dreay Writer said...

Well have right.we need more of such view
Dreamy writer

Anonymous said...

I feel a lot for Britney. I am not a fan, but whenever I heard her singing in radio, I like it.

I do not belive she would be bad mom for children. People has grown up even in much more worse family or surraundings.

I really feel compassion for her and I am sure she will win the battle she is going on.

Anonymous said...

I always held your opinion. I always liked her music and her but growing up was aware of her hyper sexualization.

And it trickles down into everyday life in more ways than one can really explain from comments to work to generally held views that no one questions concerning what a women should look like and how she should act.