The Britney Spears Culture
Posted on: 2009-01-02 15:44:15

The Walking Dead: Lives Without Meaning

By Michael Kleen

In December of 1981, Britney J. Spears came into this world in the deep southern state of Mississippi to working class professional parents. In what seemed like a realization of the American dream, she appeared on Star Search in 1992 when she was only 11 years old and later joined the New Mickey Mouse Club with future boyfriend Justin Timberlake and fellow diva Christina Aguilera. Jive Records picked up her demo tape when she was 16 and only a year later, she was singing "hit me baby one more time" dressed in a suggestively redesigned Catholic schoolgirl uniform in the halls of the same high school where the classic American musical Grease was filmed.

After selling 76 million albums around the world, starring in her own feature film, and gracing the cover of hundreds of magazines, her career collapsed at the ripe old age of 23. A few months ago I sat and stared in bewilderment from behind my computer screen as Spears, two marriages and two children later, opened her legs to the paparazzi while giving them the "thumbs up" during a night on the town with Paris Hilton.

Then it occurred to me that the rise and fall of Britney Spears revealed the fundamental problems with American consumerism, from her contradictory roots as a Christian conservative, to her bubblegum sexuality, all the way down to the implosion of her personal life. The pursuit of profit and the reduction of all value to performance in the marketplace has characterized our lives since the late 1950s, but my generation was the first to be baptized in the total submersion of this culture.

Corporations now cultivate entertainers from a very early age to be marketed to the public, who are harvested for their financial resources like a forest is clearcut to grind and slice into raw materials. Britney Spears was not a human being to Walt Disney and her producer Max Martin, she was a product to be marketed, sold, and subjected to planned obsolescence so that she expired when Jive Records found a newer, fresher product to sell to the masses. This pattern of child star to recording artist to train wreck allows corporate America to get the most out of its celebrities, squeezing every last penny until there is nothing left. Then he or she is thrown to the wolves (otherwise known as the paparazzi) or dragged out of the trash heap every once in a while to produce a "comeback" album or star in a reality TV show.

The Britney Spears culture transforms art into a commodity and makes human happiness reducible to the consumption of merchandise. Britney Spears' music, like most popular art characteristic of this culture, appeals to the lowest common denominator for maximum marketability. She is not alone in contributing to the degeneration of our culture, of course. From the inane lyrics and vapid sexuality of songs like Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," to Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body," pop music today is like a perverted picture book that anyone not in a vegetative state can understand.

Britney Spears' music cannot be divorced from its broader cultural context. Her clothing, her music videos, her television appearances, her movies are designed to sell a lifestyle. This lifestyle puts the consumption of merchandise at the heart of the individual's experience. Britney Spears is like a display rack on which hangs hundreds of useless things available for purchase. Take them away and nothing of substance remains of the woman beneath.


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