Wednesday, April 20, 2011

An Open Letter to Britney Spears

Dear Britney,

Receiving a letter from a 35 year old woman probably surprises you a bit, since I don't exactly represent your fan base... although, after writing that, I'm not sure what your fan base IS, exactly. It used to be little girls and hoardes of middle aged men who didn't even know that you had a singing career, because I'm pretty sure that they watched your videos with the sound turned off, and now that I've said that I'm going to apologize because that mental image actually makes me want to poke out my mind's eye with a stick ...

Let me start over.

Ms Spears,  I have been observing your career for some time now, and I must say that I find you fascinating. Not so much your music, though quite a bit of it is very catchy (I've found that it's excellent to work out to, because it tends to work for me in a bouncy, dance-y "stay on this treadmill for another 20 minutes? No prob!" kind of a way -- so thanks for that), but more as a, shall I say, cultural phenomenon.

This is probably not the most flattering analogy ever, but I tend to think of you as a zoo animal, or a museum piece. Before you get offended (which, actually, it might be too late for -- I'd be pretty upset if someone just told me I reminded them of an animal in a zoo, unless it was a PRETTY one, like a tiger or a giraffe. You're like a tiger. Not an elephant), please let me explain: Your image was so carefully cultivated from day one that it was like no one ever really saw you. They saw what they were supposed to see. Hot, cheeky, innocent (but not really) Youth with a capital Y that was sexually (but not politically or intellectually) empowered. I kind of got a kick out of your people who claimed that they weren't in favour of sexualizing your image or portraying you as Lolita, because part of the package that IS Britney is the sassy "I know this is naughty, but isn't it FUN" expression on your face as you dance about in a school girl outfit. Or red vinyl. Or with a giant, scary snake.

The point is that I pretty much believe that you are kind of the definition of everything that is wrong with American culture as it treats little girls. You ARE the dream of the pageant mom as she teases her 3-year-old's hair and glues on her false eyelashes -- you're who she wants her baby to be. (By the way, are you super glad you have boys? I bet you are.) And like every pageant mom who claims "No, she LIKES it!" I think your "people" -- parents, manager, etc -- saw the potential for what you could become and sold it to themselves, the public, and you as "It's what she LOVES to do. She WANTS to perform."

Can I just say? I'm all for empowering the dreams of little girls, but come on. At some point most little girls want to be a variety of things. Policewomen. Astronauts. Occasionally, they want to be ponies. Most moms don't run with those (and can you imagine? Policewoman? Get her a gun! Astronaut? Get her a space suit! Pony? Build her a barn! Silly, right?) but an enterprising parent with dreams of her own and a good eye for beauty might be willing to whore out her little girl in a socially acceptable way for the right price. (I'm sorry if you object to that term, but you should REALLY rewatch some of your earlier videos or listen to your lyrics. I'm also sorry that it's socially acceptable to sell child sexuality for profit.)

Anyway. Back to my point. (I do hope you're still reading...) Here's what I think: you attained fame at the height of the mainstreaming of the sexualization of female children in America. Totally not your fault, as you were just in the right (or wrong, depending on your standpoint) place at the right time. I can prove it too. As you have gotten older, you've fallen out of favour -- and you did it when you started doing (admittedly, kind of weird) autonomous things. You shaved your head. You put on some weight. You were acting like a person who didn't quite know what to do with herself. You know what surprised me? That people were surprised that a girl who posed half naked and provocatively on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine as a teenager with her mother's blessing kind of had a meltdown.

You know what else surprised me? That people objected that when you started your comeback, you did it with a video where you were a stripper. By the way, I kind of loved that. I know the concept probably wasn't yours, but I liked the in-your-face, I-know-this-is-how-you-view-me-so-let's-all-be-honest-here aspect of it, as though you were saying, "Oh, THIS is how you like me. Fine then."

But of course, people had issues with it -- because, again, it was okay for you to be blatantly sexual (but coquettish) when you were a little girl, but as an adult woman, people found it offputting. Interesting, right? And, you know, disturbing. Because the arc of your career teaches us some really horrific things about girls and women in our culture. It teaches us that it's okay to sexualize children. It teaches us that it's okay if a pretty young girl is used as a pawn in the name of entertainment. It teaches us that, once a woman goes outside of the bounds that have been imposed upon her, it's okay to use her as fodder for ridicule. It teaches us that when someone is clearly melting down in public (as you seemed to be) and struggling, it's okay to treat her with scorn. At least, that is, until she gets half naked and provocative again in a way of which we can approve.

It teaches us that we have NOT come a long way, baby.

Anyway, I see that you've made another comeback. I've read positive reviews of the new cd. Good for you. I hope it all works out for you, in the long run. I really do. Even if in some ways, I feel like you're a representation of everything I hate about the entertainment industry and society as a whole, I also know that you've been a playing piece in a very sad and ugly game. So -- good luck to you, Ms Spears.



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