Spearing Britney

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At Badaltearing Safari Park in China, visitors attend gladiatorial-style events to witness live goats and cows being thrown to the lions. Others pay to "fish" with live chickens, strapped to bamboo poles and dangled over the lion enclosure "just as a cat owner might tease their pet with a toy".

When news of these heinous practices broke, people were naturally outraged. Bloodsports, it seems, are considered unsanitary in this enlightened day and age.

I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelming irony that connects this case Britney Spears.

The viciousness with which Spears has been slaughtered in the tabloids, on online message boards, by the water cooler and – perhaps most scathing of all – by legitimate news outlets, is volcanic. In the great circus of life, Britney Spears is our sacrificial goat. We’ve empowered the media to throw her to the lions because we, the public, have paid our entry fee and can think of no greater sport to squeal at, clap our hands to and bray for more blood.

People loved Britney back when she was wholesome and sweet, a money making machine with a titillating sexual appetite tempered by constant affirmations of virginity.

But nothing spells entertainment like the firm application of a scythe to a perkily tall poppy. After her much-publicised split from Justin Timberlake, Spears had a string of "failed relationships", including a marriage that lasted just 55 hours. Her subsequent marriage to Kevin Federline saw the last vestiges of respectability ripped from the People’s Pop Star and the mass public roasting began in earnest.

It seemed not a week went by without tabloid covers emblazoned with pictures of "Junk Food Obsessed Brit-Brit!" and close-up shots of bad hair, skin and sartorial choices. We blamed K-Fed not just for making her "trashy" but for making her "ugly" – an act even more unforgivable.

When Britney eventually kicked K-Fed out on his rear, the salivating public hoped it would signal a return to form. "Britney’s Back!" the tabloids screamed triumphantly. They must have positively wet their pants when it became obvious that yes, Britney was back… but she came back different.

It began mildly enough, with Britney engaging in a couple of knickerless jaunts through the city and some late night drinking sessions with her new bestie, Paris Hilton. There were a few admittedly dodgy incidents regarding the safety of her children, with Britney almost dropping one (how many mothers haven’t done that?) and driving with him on her lap. Universal condemnation followed and the tabloids stepped it up a notch.

Who can say if this is what ultimately led to the head-shaving incident last February, or if it was just one more kick in the side of a young woman clearly in need of a reality check and parental guidance that had been denied her throughout her life?

Regardless, the gloves were off. Britney was officially crazy and we were free to laugh at her. We didn’t even have to feel bad about it – because being a celebrity conveniently also means that Britney isn’t a real human being.

But Britney’s not exactly a pioneer when it comes to getting on the wrong side of people’s ideas about what a woman should be, especially one so prominently placed before the public.

Not long before Mount Britney exploded we saw the derailment of Anna Nicole Smith, celebrity "train wreck" extraordinaire and former Playboy Playmate. Before her was Princess Diana, whose death delivered her overnight from yacht-hopping sexual temptress to People’s Princess whose "tragic" life is still being "told through pictures" today.

Indeed, it is almost laughable how quickly bullying turns to mourning for these "tragic, little girls lost". Endless memorial material is spliced together while we fret and moan and wonder who it was that let this happen. In death we get from these women what they viciously denied us in life – total and utter surrender. In a despicable display of hubris, it’s been reported that some media outlets have already begun compiling obituary tribute packages to Britney.

Finally, we arrive at the nadir of modern female tragics: Ms Marilyn Monroe.

Drawing a comparison between Spears and Monroe invariably incites the wrath of a few purists who like to think of Monroe as an immortal ideal and Spears as a talentless ball of puss the trailer park decided to vomit up one day. But Marilyn’s greatest fortune was that she had her meltdown in the 1960s. If she had lived now, in the time of internet scandal, sex tapes and webpolls on TMZ.com, her demise would have occurred in a far more spectacular fashion.

Now commentators are starting to express uneasiness at the enthusiasm with which they – and we – have lambasted the poor woman. We’re reaching a point where it is no longer fun to dangle Britney on a bamboo stick above the lions – much like the moment in the schoolyard when the kids suddenly realise that their relentless bullying has led to a classmate’s attempted suicide or, I don’t know, to them bringing a gun to school.

We made Britney. We gave her a world where her worth was dependent upon tabloid appearances and photo opportunities. Can she be blamed now because she still so desperately seeks the attention of people who promised to love her then withdrew it when she began to misbehave? We are the ones who turned her life into a series of webisodes for our own enjoyment and reveled in her implosion.

Now it seems as if people are waiting with bated breath for what they feel must be the inevitable final act to the Britney Spears story: her death. Newspapers chomped at the bit last month to reveal to the world a suicide note thought to be written by the "troubled pop star". Will it be with a bang or a whimper?

If it does come, the one thing that will be inescapable will be our own culpability. She is Frankenstein’s monster, and we her vile creators.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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