Sunday, January 20, 2008

britney spears media circus

Geez, give it a rest already.

It's not that Britney hasn't invited some of the attention. I get it. In choosing to live a public life, we invite public scrutiny. That's a fair and reasonable policy, and I think it generally has served our country well, not just with our political leaders, but with our business, spiritual, moral and cultural leaders as well. And when media representatives cross the line of acceptable behavior -- as papparazzi often do -- they also often face penalties for invading the privacy of celebrities. (Not jail time, but fines or litigation, though I imagine insurance and profits usually take the sting out of that.)

The fault doesn't lie with the law, nor with its application; the fault lies with us as a society for having a voracious appetite for gossip about the high priests and priestesses of our culture, and for our disturbing love of watching them fall and self-destruct. You'll find that that's the case with Spears; all the coverage for the past year or so has been a self-righteous "look how far she's gone now, and how messed-up she has become." Writers call her a pop tart, and the headlines on the supermarket tabloids scream things like "She's INSANE!"

That exploitation and disregard for common decency is what bothers me about this whole circus. The Spearses invited some of the attention intially, by seeking celebrity and by holding themselves out as moral role models to be followed, but by this point Britney Spears is famous only for the disaster she's made of her life. The only reason a celebrity magazine has to cover this is for the salacious details that let us feel self-righteously better than Spears (or self-righteously better than those who follow it with glee, because we're so_oo_oo above that). For mainstream media especially, this is a breach of the sacred responsibility that is central to journalism, of advancing the public good.

I wish the media who do follow this would let it go away and let her suffer in peace, like any other person would be allowed to do, simply because she's a fellow human being. But the only way that will happen is if people get outraged; right now we're either too interested in the latest dirt, or too aloof to be bothered.

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