Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Pop Goes the Pop Star

I never thought the day would come, when I would be even mentioning Britney Spears in my blog, let alone coming to her defense in a roundabout way. But all the fallout from the MTV Video Music Awards has somehow managed to slip under my radar, so I feel I must comment.

Understand first, I am not a fan of Britney Spears. I don't hate her, or consider her the antichrist of pop music as some do. I just don't think I'm the target audience for her brand of pop, being neither a teenybopper nor a creepy fortysomething manchild (I've got a few years to go yet). But pop culture being what it is, I have not been spared the trials and tribulations of her career, her rise and fall, and the disturbing trend of which she is perhaps the most stellar representative. Sexualization of young celebrities is nothing new, but of late it has gone down a creepy road indeed. Not just sexualization of young women, but FETISHIZATION of them. You only had to look at Britney in her prime to know what I'm talking about: the woman looked MANUFACTURED. Perfect blonde hair, perfect smile, abs you could bounce a quarter off of...like she just rolled off the Stepford assembly line. And the fact that this process started at such a young age makes me wonder if Miz Spears even has a personality of her own. Her life was designed for her, by an army of managers and handlers and record execs, carefully crafting an image that would appeal to young horny boys and old horny men. The sweet vixen. The good girl gone wild. The virgin-whore. Nothing hotter, they say, and popular culture buys into it. Hell, I buy into it, and I can't even explain WHY I buy into it. Perhaps something hard-wired into the male of the species. As an intellectual, I have a tendency to overthink things, to meditate upon the causes behind human behavior, to try and find rational explanations for the things we do to ourselves and each other. And every now and then I am forced to conclude that sometimes there is NO rational explanation. Sometimes we just do things. Just because. Maybe this is one of those things.

That being said, Britney's meltdown can be put into proper perspective. Her expiration date finally arrived. She wasn't the perfect fantasy object any longer. At the age of 26, she has two kids and three train-wreck marriages under her belt. And now she's mocked for no longer having the perfect body (if you ask me, she looks damn good for a mother of two, but that's neither here nor there). Having attained fame so young, she never acquired the proper coping skills to deal with a fall from grace, and thither to drinking, drugs, and head-shaving. Oldest story in showbiz, really. It's kind of sad, but telling, that pop culture turns on its own so viciously. Like, after your expiration date, you just cease to be valuable. They just move on to the new model pop star, and only pay attention to you when you do something crazy (which is pretty much a certainty). I have a feeling that the Powers That Be would bury Britney in a landfill if they could. Just replace her and never think about her again.

Of course, Britney is only the tip of the iceberg. The entertainment world is lousy with similar hot young things: carefully-constructed images of young innocent skeeviness, with little thought to actual personality. Your Olsens. Your Lohans. Your Simpsons. And of course, your Hiltons. The inevitable end product of this objectification process: no discernable talent, no personality to speak of, not even particularly good looking - but she's young and blonde and slutty, and somehow that's enough for most people. Pop culture sees these young women, redesigns them for mass consumption, then abandons them once their fifteen minutes are up. Often they simply can't cope when that happens, and go down a path of self-destruction.

It's not as if this is anything new; entertainment is largely about creating an attractive image and selling it. What's new is the age demographic, as these pop stars get younger and younger. I worry for that. Not just for the girls themselves - who are tossed into fame and fortune long before they know how to deal with it in a mature way - but for society in general. When society encourages us to drool over 16-year-olds, I squirm with discomfort. We're being turned into a nation of pedophiles. And that's never a good thing. Personally I'd get bored with a hot vacuous thing. I mean, ladies, if you WANT to dye your hair blonde and stuff yourself in a minidress, good luck to you. But learn how to play chess before you call me. I hope I'm not alone in that assertion.

(I'm also stunned that there actually still is a Video Music Awards show. MTV shows VIDEOS? Go on with you! Next thing you'll be telling me that the Sci-Fi Channel shows actual science fiction!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What's new is the age demographic, as these pop stars get younger and younger."

It's not quite as new as you think. When the Shangri-Las first started charting in 1964, the oldest member of the group was 18; the oldest Ronnette was 16 in 1959; the Chiffons were all 13 or 14 when they got started. Granted, none of those kids were anywhere near as overtly sexualized as the current crop of pop tarts, but if the issue is the maturity of the performers, and their ability (or more importantly, lack thereof) to deal with the stresses of both fame and eventual eclipse, then surely the girl-groups of the 60's were every bit as much at risk as their present-day counterparts. Meanwhile, if you want to see early examples of highly sexualized teenagers in popular culture, just shift your focus from pop music to the movies. Brigitte Bardot was 18 when she made The Girl in the Bikini in 1952. Fay Wray was a teenager when she got her start as silent-movie eye-candy. Brigitte Helm was in her late teens when she did her Whore of Babylon routine for Metropolis. And Tallulah Bankhead (16 years old at the start of her motion picture career) could have taught any of the Britney Brigade a thing or two about scandalous public misbehavior. And then there's the fashion industry. A big part of the reason why models have consistently had the bodies of teenagers since the late 1960's is that a considerable proportion of them are teenagers. Where pop culture is concerned, we've always been a nation of pedophiles; what's changed is that now we have the decency to feel conflicted about it occasionally.

--El Santo

11:56 AM, September 14, 2007  
Blogger Marxo Grouch said...

I am largely indifferent to the pop stars because, as you say, I am not their target audience, and I haven't gotten anything out of "popular" music for...longer than I can be certain. Britney was one of the few that I actively disliked, largely because of her famous comment (featured in Fahrenheit 9/11) that we should all just do whatever the president tells us to, or something to that effect. Now admittedly, you could say that the interviewer who asked her about Iraq was being unfair and putting her in an uncomfortable situation and that she just said the first patriotic-sounding thing that popped into her head, yadda, yadda, yadda. But on the other hand, if that was the case, and she had any real brains at all, she could have said, "I'm really not here to talk about stuff like that." So, I'm sorry, but advocating the relinquishment of independent thought, especially in this day and age, WILL get you on my shit list.

Having said all of that, I do hope she somehow manages to pull herself together, for the sake of her kids if nothing else. I'll save my degradation fantasies for someone who really deserves them, such as the She-Beast. (You know who I mean!)

3:34 AM, September 19, 2007  
Anonymous Portrait in Flesh said...

She-Beast? But, but you found me beautiful once.

Having been a nubile teenage girl at one point (yes, Virginia, now stop padding your bra), it almost feels like we were Puritans back in the 80s. I don't even think they made thongs for prepubescent-sized hips back then, but by God we're the Dominant Economic Power in the World (because God said so) so we have them now. (At least, I think we do...I'm not about to search the Internet for 'em, either, because there's enough in my life that's skeevy as is.)

It's one thing to be comfortable with sexuality (and not just comfortable, but mature enough to dig how groovy it is), but it's something else to use it to sell stuff. Then again, that's been going on forever and that's not going to change.

10:03 AM, September 27, 2007  

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