Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Pop Culture Victim Number 3,042

Let's move the Topic-Meter waaay over here for a moment, into the twilight land where worldwide fame intersects with the ordinary. There is a person here, somewhat dazed looking - or worse - someone wounded to a point where longevity is a real question.

The someone in this weird land is Britney Spears - who turned 27 today. I'm no fan of her music. It's catchy pop stuff, over-produced manufacturing via the Music Industry, which needs such acts as hers for basic bread-and-butter earnings. Still, I can observe - and you can too - how her 'career' and her private life have taken on that quality of a ticking time bomb which usually plays out on the E! network in specials about how some celebrity went from fame and fortune to despair and death on a rocket ride of thrills and chills.

I tried to watch the 'documentary' which aired on MTV Sunday, "Britney: For The Record", but it became very clear in just a few minutes that the poor woman is the Mayor of that twilight land, that she hates it, that the 1000-yard stare on her face bodes ill omens.

Is she zonked out on something which used to get her high and now keeps her unhappy? Other than her own life and career, that is. No one in the media or the MTV special is asking that question, even though the media hovers about her every move and has since she was a child. Few if any can survive living in such glaring darkness.

TV writer for the L.A. Times Mary McNamara cites some of the sad qualities of her distorted days and nights:

Far more revealing than her "for the record" words is the glimpse the film provides into the strange, insular world of the pop star. The hours spent in makeup, in wardrobe, in meetings, in weird places that aren't really places -- hotel rooms, greenrooms, sound stages. There are several scenes shot from the interior of a black SUV (Memo to celebrities: The paparazzi are on to the whole black SUV thing), including a harrowing incident in which she literally cannot safely get out of the car. But that space, in which about six people can fit comfortably, is an unnervingly accurate symbol for how confined she is, or at least how confined she believes she is.

"I wish I wasn't famous," she says at one point with a wistfulness that seems sincere, "so I could feel part of people."

"The trap Spears finds herself in may have more to do with a lack of imagination than the paparazzi -- at one point, she laments that the cameras have taken away her cool-girl cred, that she can't be a party girl anymore, which makes her kind of boring. "There's no excitement, there's no passion, there's no nothing. It's just like 'Groundhog Day' every day, you know? So I'm really bored," she says. During another moment of high emotion, she drives herself practically to tears arguing with her entourage that not only doesn't she always get to do what she wants, she never gets to do what she wants.

Here is Britney Spears, apparently on the road to a tremendous comeback, young and pretty, talented and rich, who can not only get a documentary made just so she can make herself seem less crazy to her audience but can also provide the commercial sponsorship herself ("Britney: For the Record" is brought to you by Spears' fragrances Curiosity and Fantasy, which means even the commercials are vehicles for her career).

And yet she has to make an effort to "stay positive every day" because life can "be so cruel."

But for me, there is a clear picture in that documentary of a person who is so close to the edge, you can see the abyss reflected in her eyes. She stares at the camera and tells the crew there are too many cameras in her life. Is it all part of the act, or is it that despair never recognizes itself?

I hope I'm very wrong, that she endures for many, many years.

But given the Music Industry's constant need for acts to feed on and then discard like plastic wrap around a Twinkie, their long history of pouring gasoline on performers who are in full burn out mode in hopes of earning a few more dollars, the best future for Spears is to take her earnings and flee from those who want to live in her wake.

Maybe she should read those reports issued annually about how some performer who has died is still earning millions and billions for others who have turned tragedy into profit.

If you happen to see the MTV documentary, I think you'll have to agree I'm right - that they have not just filmed a train wreck, but are keeping the camera focused on someone the wreck has just about killed and is watching them gasp for air.

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