Monday, October 15, 2007

No, Seriously. Leave Britney Alone.

Today I heard Janice Ian's rendition of Pete Seeger's song "Who Killed Norma Jean?", written in the style of the nursery rhyme "Who Killed Cock Robin?" To me, it wasn't a song about one woman who died 40 years ago, but a plea on behalf of all the beautiful young women who were (and are) thrown into the public arena at tender ages, idolized, then thrown away when their personal problems became too embarrassing. I thought of Edie Sedgwick. Jean Harlow. Anna Nicole. All of them uniquely human, but treated purely as commodities and allowed to ruin themselves with drugs, horrible relationships, and disastrous career choices until they were simply used up and didn't want to continue living.

Blame the media if you want, but we're the consumers of their product. Blame their managers, but we're the ones who buy the albums or watch the movies. Blame their families, but they're caught up in the same whirlpool of fame and destruction.

Once the women are beaten down so far they will never get up, then we idolize them again. Canonize them, even. They are our saints of pop culture, the ruined angels who were just "too fragile" for life on Earth, to be forever enshrined in mass-produced iconography. We forget their humanity as soon as we destroy it.

If the cruel jokes and nonstop scrutiny become too much for Britney Spears and something tragic happens, we are all to blame. Stop before it's too late.

Who Killed Norma Jean?
by Pete Seeger

Who killed Norma Jean?
I, said the City, as a civic duty,
I killed Norma Jean.

Who saw her die?
I, said the Night, and a bedroom light,
We saw her die.

Who'll catch her blood?
I, said the Fan, with my little pan,
I'll catch her blood.

Who'll make her shroud?
I, said the Lover, my guilt to cover,
I'll make her shroud.

Who'll dig her grave?
The tourist will come and join in the fun,
He'll dig her grave.

Who'll be chief mourners?
We who represent, and lose our ten percent.
We'll be the chief mourners.

Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Press, in pain and distress,
We'll bear the pall.

Who'll toll the bell?
I, screamed the mother, locked in her tower,
I'll pull the bell.Who'll soon forget?

I, said the Page, beginning to fade,
I'll be the first to forget.


tweetey30 said...

This so true. We do forget about there lives after they are gone. I wish people would realize that these people are people too but not just Rich, Popular figures in our society.

Wandering Coyote said...

Great post, and I couldn't have said it better myself. It's hideous how these girls (and notice, it's mainly girls/women who are focused on, not the men...) are treated, and yes, the tabloid industry is parasitic and requires an large, hungry audience in order to survive.

Shawn said...

I'll jump in and dissent... Great post and well put, but at a certain point these girls are no longer just little girls - but they are adult women with grown-up, adult responsibilities.

Have they been enabled and coddled to the point that they believe that's how life will always be? Sure, but at some point we all have to grow up. It sucks for them that they have to do it in the glaring spotlight, but is it really any worse for them than for the countless other young people who suffer through their own pains and sorrows out of the spotlight?

I think that you're right though that it's the public that creates the market for the tabloid industry. But don't forget that much of that industry is fed by the very people in the spotlight. For every Britney whose publicists work feverishly for any press, there are a hundred other stars who just lead fairly normal lives.

tshsmom said...

Well written post SME, but I gotta agree with Shawn. The point where you stop blaming the media and the public, is when you bring children into the picture.
Neither Britney nor Kevin are fit parents. The judge gave Britney the perfect chance to save face by ordering her to attend parenting classes. She didn't want to.
With Britney in the drug influenced state she's in, it's way past time for her parents to step in. You know damned well that I would have kicked your ass long before it got to this point with those little ones!
Her parents should either have sued for temporary custody, or moved in with her until she was in a fit condition to properly take care of her kids. Why didn't they? They were obviously unfit parents too! I'm sure that they pushed her, every step of the way, into her "glamorous" position.

Notta Wallflower said...

Hmm.. I have a hard time feeling sorry for these women. When does a person learn some responsibility for their own actions instead of just being victims of this or that? We all have our own struggles and can choose how we want to deal with them. I really believe most things come down to choice.

SME said...

There's no question that these women should have taken control of their own lives; for every celebrity who self-destructs, there are hundreds more who are mature and responsible in both their careers and personal lives.

The stage parents who push their children into the spotlight and exploit them for years bear a lot of the blame, too. I do wonder where Britney's parents are in all of this - she's not a child, of course, but damn it she needs their help!

What I object to most strongly, though, is the way we feed on the downward spirals of celebrities like vultures. We really seem to get a kick out of watching young celebrities (particularly women) go down in flames. It's sick. What I was really getting at, I think, is that we shouldn't be treating these troubled celebrities any differently than we would treat a neighbor or acquaintance who has a nervous breakdown...with sympathy and understanding. Not sneering, snickering, and humiliating.

Wandering Coyote said...

I was in no way excusing Brit et. al. She obviously is responsible for her actions. However, as SME just pointed out, the tabloid/consumer parasitic relationship is a completely different issue. While she does her thing, whatever it may be and however bad it may appear to us, the tabloid media and the consumers of tabloid media do not need to be vultures. We all make mistakes, we all f*ck up; last time I checked, celebrities were still private citizens - let them f*ck up without being put under the microscope. Non one deserves the intrusion these people have to endure. No amount of money or privilege or celebrity is recompense enough for having your right to privacy and your human right to be treated with dignity and respect flushed down the toilet.

SME said...

Yep, that's pretty much what I was saying. We need to start treating celebrities more like we treat people in our immediate vicinity. Unless you're psychotic, you wouldn't walk up to a stranger after karoake and say, "Well, that sucked. Oh, by the way, you're getting fat and your husband's a retard. Hillbilly."

Laura said...

On the surface, I agree with Shawn et al, however, let me throw in the gender component.

Male stars are much less likely to be raked over the coals for erratic behavior than women. Unless of course, they exude 'gay' tendencies like Tom Cruise - then they're fair game.

I'm not sure what that all means per se, just something to think about in terms of how the media and the public judge similar behavior as more or less egregious depending on the gender of the person.

Wandering Coyote said...

Laura: you are absolutely right. Men are judged by far different standards in pop culture - standards not only of behaviour, but of appearance as well, which drives me up the wall no end.

SME said...

Well, Britney's ex was treated pretty harshly, too - but compare the way we behave toward drug-addicted male stars like River Pheonix or Robert Downey Jr. and how we treat female stars with comparitively minor drug/alcohol problems. We're much harder on the women. I even saw an awful TV "documentary" in which they tried to blame Judy Davis for Pheonix's death, suggesting that if she hadn't been difficult during a shoot, he wouldn't have done so much heroin or whatever the night he died.