Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New Klosterman on Britney Spears

Even if Betty weren't currently engrossed in a four-hour PBS doc about Andy Warhol, she'd still disagree with Chuck Klosterman's new anti-analysis of Britney Spears' ongoing public meltdown.

Of Britney's inner life, Klosterman writes:

Think of the dumbest, goofiest, richest 25-year-old woman you've ever known: Did her day-to-day decision-making process reflect anything about her ambition, her self-awareness, or her ability to deal with reality? I am guessing the answer to that question is, "Nay." I'm guessing that person's day-to-day decisions were illogical extensions of her own boredom. And it's hard to imagine a life that would be duller than that of Britney Spears. What, exactly, is the "interesting" part of her existence? Recording records that nobody over the age of 15 respects? Earning money she can't possibly appreciate? Re-buying all the crap she never needed in the first place? Partying with bimbos who snort the same drugs she was offered seven years ago? Being simultaneously despised and envied by idiots who have nothing better to do than worry about her haircut?

Klosterman makes a couple of good points here, but why does he disregard the mammoth difference between Britney and everybody else in the world: her unshakable and certainly lonely Britneyness?? Britney's fame, established nearly a decade ago, caused, or at least perfectly intersected, with, some rupture or revolution in celebrity culture that we are only now just beginning to understand, and she's still living inside it. Surely this lends her actions a gravity of knowingly being seen and picked apart that goes beyond that of other goofy 25 year olds such as the author of this post.

Betty loves Klosterman's books, and even got to speak to him once after a very terrible public reading he did, at which he constantly stopped to remind the audience how much he was sucking and not enjoying himself or pleasing us. Despite this social awkwardness, or perhaps because of it, Chuck Klosterman is a very smart and funny writer who shares many of Betty's interests and preoccupations. But he is dead wrong to disregard fame in this new piece. He's much closer to hitting his mark in this interview from the good old days.

As that first interview demonstrates, Esquire seems to really let their interviewers go free-form, and with Britney the results can be highly original, if not penetrating, reflections of the girl's funny, fractured soul.


Speed McQueen said...

As ever, I am shocked and slightly maddened by your perrenial defense of Britney Spears, opaquly expanding what I must accept as personal affection for the hollow star, to some manner of zeitgeist-capturing intellectual statement. Surly the level of celebrity worship/chronicling has reached a blinding clip, but at best Spears is a poor singer whose every move is captured and discussed. Dealing with fame is bound to be tough, but watching the fractured gyrations of an unsophisticated, cloying and dull young woman in its throes is rather like some grainy abbatoir footage. Though it seems that the internet likes nothing better than a slow-motion celebrity snuff film. Klosterman is an idiot too.

Betty & Bimbo said...

Dear Speed,

While you're certainly entitled to your opinion regarding Ms. Spears' talent, you'll find the record speaks against you when we're measuring the cultural footprint Britney has hatched out for the past decade, and continues to lay down to this day. She is simply operating on a level of fame previously unknown to anyone in any society.

You call Spears "a poor singer whose every move is captured and discussed" but fail to inquire why this particular "poor singer" has elicited such interest when she has long been out of the recording studio and lost her looks, nor do you consider the magnitude of the feat she carries out daily - Britney simply makes an appearance in more peoples' minds, in more peoples' consciousnesses, than any other living person. Surely the (perhaps inevitable) appearance of such a person in our society warrants a cultural inquiry. I'm not saying I have any answers, but I do have some ideas.

Speed McQueen said...


You're confusing a hyper-active media hungry for any story, regardless of its merit, for any semblence of depth or character in the object of its breathless reportage.

I'd also posit that your beloved Beatles garnered as much attention as Britney in an Internetless age- a significantly more impressive feat. What's more they had the prodigious talent to warrant at least some of the mania. That Britney is so keenly observed says less about her than the observers, who appear to be as equally vapid.

Betty & Bimbo said...


While even I am beginning to feel ill with the constant, cruel, and boring (the phrase "banality of evil" comes to mind) coverage of Britney in the last few days, I still think it is revelatory of many true things, as is her entire career. You make a good point about the Beatles, but remember that is wasn't their music that made them so objectionable or adorable in the beginning. Or if it was the music, it was what they music was implying about sex and freedom and catharsis that really made a splash - not the super sixth chord that ends "She Loves You". Look at those screaming girls - isn't that NUTS?

It also seems that you've just come full circle to agree with me! YES - Britney tells us about ourselves and our society. In an internet age, the media saturation is our era's screaming girls who overpowered the music by many decibels.

Speed McQueen said...

Not a very keen observation or startling revelation.

Betty & Bimbo said...

Only if you dismiss the object of the fascination, which I know you do. But if you don't, then Britney is just as culturally provocative and deep as the Beatles.

Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

I agree with you that the Beatles unleashed something (the screaming girls cannot be denied) but Britney has become more like a sacrifice on some alter of fame. Fame without merit quickly becomes voyeurism, and with accelerated news cycles and a bloodthirsty celebrity press, it's only so long until someone gets crucified. Britney's no different than any other media-hounded star, except that she seems to have no idea how to behave herself or deal with the adulation. The press isn't interested in her personally, only what they've made her into. Madonna could just as easily gone the same way, but she had sense enough to put some distance between her and the media. I'll happily agree that celeb news is at a fever pitch, and Brit's ascent (and descent--Klaus Kinski couldn't do it better) happened to coincide, but none of this makes her interesting. Nor can I find any grounds on which to identify with her. And to call Britney as deep as the Beatles suggests what little perspective you have on her. She's Debbie Gibson writ large, not the apex of pop music.

Betty & Bimbo said...

Clearly, I need to do a post explaining Britney's deep cultural significance - you're only asking for it!

While that's brewing, let me leave you with some further Britney/Beatles cultural comparisons - as objects of public fascination, I never said as musicians, so don't get off topic.

Both popularized black American musical styles for TV-bound Americans, both caused scandals with their manner of dress and stage mannerisms, both were subject to ludicrous media attention (Paul is Dead, anyone? Bigger than Jesus? Making out with Madonna?), both made films to capitalize on their early success, both brought unabashedly working class sensibilities on the public stage, both made comments that epitomized the public attitude towards war (when Britney made her infamous appearance in Farenheit 9/11, everyone knew what she was intended to represent), both performed songs that commented on earlier songs and on their very public career, both are absolutely unavoidable, both chose mates who were vehemently hated by the fans (for race with Yoko, for class with Kevin), I could go on. Finally, in her public life as a celebrity, Britney has already reinvented herself as many times as the Beatles did as musicians, and her desire to get out of the spotlight now recalls the Beatles' decision to quit touring, fed up as they were with the public feeding frenzy they'd provoked - WITH REASON.

Betty & Bimbo said...

Recall also that at the beginning of the Beatles career - when they unleashed whatever it was that we can all acknowledge to be significant for culture - they were a joke, their music considered primitive, their haircuts a novelty for pushing records, and everyone thought only 10 year olds liked them. In 1964 Bob Dylan was already popular with the hip older siblings. For more vivid illustration than I can provide, see the films "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Goldfinger", in which Connery quips he'll listen to anything as long as it's not the Beatles. While Britney may not have progressed as a musician any further than this initial flush of meaning, she still unleashed it, and has dragged it out for 10 years. And "Toxic" is just as great, and as suggestive, as anything on those early albums.