Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Required Reading: Once More, with Feeling

Posted By on Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 10:00 AM

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[Clears throat.]

"Britney Spears' "… Baby One More Time" reached #1 on the charts on January 30, 1999 – ten years ago this week. After her came the deluge: the end of the record industry as we know it, yes, but also the end of America as it used to conceive of itself. Five writers mark the decennial of this debatably historic occasion."
That's over on N+1, where they do, in fact, discuss ten rather fascinating years in the history of our country. Nick Sylvester, with a quite-probably-fabricated (note the second person) but-no-less-true-for-it personal history; Emily Gould with a riottt grrrl mixtape, to help her cope with her fame (lots of fun TMI empathy there); Christine Smallwood on Britney and Monica; Wesley Yang on pornography and public space; and Carlene Bauer on our anondyne pop culture.

Christ, what a long time ago. A more innocent time? Or was it not that innocent after all. Where were you?

When "Baby One More Time" topped the charts I was a freshman in high school, reading The Catcher in the Rye, and thinking that in some theoretical movie version Britney Spears would make a good Sally Hayes, the nice-ish, pretty, predatory blonde one Holden is drawn to despite himself. (Do I even need to reveal who would have played Holden in this movie?) I also thought that I would like to meet Britney Spears, because it seemed likely, I thought, then, that she would have an interesting perspective on fame, and on the nature of personality in public versus in private.

(Fourteen. I was fourteen.)

I was, the ten subsequent years have since proven pretty authoritatively, completely wrong; Britney Spears' apparent allergy to genuine introspection remains heroically undiminished. ("She is still an innocent, a deeply uninteresting innocent, because she has no real compelling idea about where to put herself or who to give herself to when she's naked... she is still so thoroughly the girl who should have been packed off to Bible college to major in speech pathology," says Bauer.)

But I wonder, now, ten years later, whether it's even possible for a teenage girl – let along a famous one — to be so psychically unprepared for public life. The Britney Spears of the moment is Katy Perry, whose own tantalizingly calibrated sexual persona seems to reference pretty much every Facebook "See More Photos" section you've ever seen.

This is probably a rather simplistic way of making a rather simplistic point — we're expert mediators of our own self-images, and have collapsed public and private lives, all because of the internet. But I dunno, I think that if we've to learn anything by reflecting upon these Ten Years of Britney (a perhaps dubious proposition, but a fun one), it's the extent to which, yep, most people have become increasingly sophisticated at, and comfortable with, the kind of image manipulation which arguably created one of the more predictable public trainwreck identity crises of our time.

God, fourteen-year-old me's Facebook profile would have been embarrassing. Also.


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