Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Ghosts of Norma Jean

I wish someone would cover her up and hide her for a while. That girl is a mess.

--Smoooochie, reacting to the footage of Britney Spears' performance at last Sunday's Video Music Awards


Rebecca Traister wrote an interesting bit in Salon about the whole Spears thing. And, it was an argument with the two-women-at-work-with-whom-I-email-regularly about the general public's role in such things that put me in a very very foul mood over the last couple of days. The co-workers and I weren't talking about Spears, though, it was the Miss Teen South Carolina debacle we were fighting about; but, it may as well have been the same thing.

Frankly, I've become disgusted at the huge, garish display of hunger and lust for witnessing someone else's immolation in the public sphere. It's more than unseemly. It's soulless.

As I said in my blog entry re: Miss Teen SC, once you take away the fact that she's a teenager, a pageant monkey, and likely a privileged little brat, what you get is just another ambitious kid, who flubbed it big in front of a TV camera. How that becomes the rationalization for two weeks worth of snide commentary, parodies and general vilification is the worst aspect of it for me.

"Well, if she didn't want the national humiliation, she shouldn't be competing in a pageant," or step in front of that camera, or whatever. This is the reason given by my co-employees for their general apathy and enjoyment of the parodies. I believe that such thinking, applied to the population at large, becomes a justification to cave in to our barely-held-in-check-desire to be cruel, viscious and venal. This is how our culture of mediocrity punishes ambition.

What's even scarier is that the targets of all the venality seem to embrace it for a while (usually until the self-delusion bursts and they realize the punchline they've become). Traister notes that Lauren Upton (aka, MTSC) credits her mistake for her sudden "popularity," a foolish belief that led her to accept an appearance (at the same VMAs at which Spears debased herself), in a sketch that further ridicules her status as "Idiot of the Month."

What is this? I mean, beyond the obvious neglect we show these people (who invariably seem to be young women, but there are exceptions) that they accept negative reinforcement as a substitute for genuine positive approval. It's akin to the impulse that has drunken sorority sisters participating in Girls Gone Wild videos. "This is the only way people will love me" seems to be the mantra being repeated.

And what is it about us that make us so eager to participate in our end of the cycle? Instead of going, "kid, bubby, no, this ain't the way," we seem to think "well, she obviously doesn't seem to mind the ridicule, look there she is on the Today show, and the VMA, look at that smile on her face! She seems to be fine with the price for fame. The stupid whoredonkey."

This is how we absolve ourselves for playing our part in the ongoing spiral. And should we think about that a bit, this is then followed by "well, I didn't write that blog, or that editorial...I didn't make that video spoof," so that we could laugh along with the other perpetrators.

Well, this absolution is false, and those of us who willingly partake of the gross-fascination/tolerance/witch-burning mobius strip should start taking responsibility in perpetuating something this shameful. Quit hiding behind facile excuses, and try having a little more compassion and a lot less condescencion for people, whether they are idiots or not.

It's time to remember that, at base, no matter how delusional and misguided, they are all human. They wouldn't exist, or behave in the way they do, if it weren't for us and how we reward their behavior.

We are as complicit in this dance as they are.

And before you start pointing the finger elsewhere ("Blame her parents! How did they raise her?" "Hey, don't look at me, I don't care about any of these people. You're the one writing." "Did I get her drunk, skimpily dressed and made her skip rehearsal?"), let me ask you something:

Two of the authors of one of the most scathing Op-Eds critiquing the War in Iraq died in battle on Monday. How much thought have you put into that?

13 Comments:

At 4:38 PM, Blogger mynx said...

i've always been fascinated with the american sense of humor. the whole schadenfreude thing, for example.

it's sad, really.

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger Smoooochie said...

I totally stand by what I said. Britney is a mess and needs to be out of the public eye to get herself together. I think you outline why very clearly. There are others that obviously are train-wrecks that are debasing our culture almost as much as our current Administration.

And yes, I was aware of their deaths. They were true patriots for telling us, the American people, the reality on the ground. Now only if our leaders would stop lying to us pay attention to such men.

 
At 12:25 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

Actually, Smoochie, you're quoted because that was actually a protective and positive statement, one not often seen these days.

 
At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Word!

 
At 11:21 AM, Blogger Abby said...

I can't stop looking. It's awful! Positive reinforcement means anything that is given and increases the chances that something will occur again. These younguns get positively reinforced by the attention, but it's such a sad situation. I don't think that there's anyway to look away. These beav-shots getting out of the cars. They are intentional. I have no doubt. I'm not sure there's a way out. Ask America to stop looking? It's freakishly interesting. I hate that I'm a part of it though.

 
At 2:34 PM, Blogger Smoooochie said...

Quite simply it's called "self-control." Just don't click on the various links or look at the various web-sites that glorify the bad situations. And yes, there IS a way to look away. You just have to make the effort.

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

The question is do you hate it enough? I mean, I'm sorry, but this just sounds like another excuse when behavior modification is asked for.

Look if you're going to look (it's usually pretty obvious right away, though, that the purpose is to humiliate), but I gotta question the need to spread the link, opinionate on the whatever's going on, and jabber about it incessantly. The perpetuation of the machine.

Media doesn't help, and they've helped to elongate the shelf life of bullshit stories like this, but I've become pretty adept at just not falling for it.

Drunken Hasselhoff Eating Kahuna Burger is a prime example. Paris Hilton Goes To Jail is an exception that I instantly gave myself shit for.

You have to recognize it for what it is, and drop it as soon as it crosses your path

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Interesting thought in that last comment, TBO. Are we complicit if we are only passive observers?

Different levels, sure. I never FWD FWDs. Or if I have its been less than three ever. But I always read them.

So, am I clear if I don't send them on? Or if I only read what is actually in my inbox, not requiring I go through a trackable link?

Overall, I find I don't have any more sympathy for Brit than I do for any other person. Her spectacle is just orders ot magnitude larger. Haven't you ever laughed at a sloppy drunk? Do you want to be the kind of person who wouldn't?

I guess I don't. I won't surrender my joy at human folly.

(But, honestly, I do pay more attention to Britney because she reminds me of my younger step-sister, that "ain't nobody tellin' me my business" approach to their own ignorance.)

 
At 4:23 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

It seems funny to me that some who...engage this topic with a differing POV, seem to think that I am asking them to have more empathy or compassion for whoever the target is than they would have for anyone else.

All I'm asking is that they have the same compassion for whoever the stranger is as they would for someone they know.

Even if your step-sis reminded you of Britney, would you necessarily wish her to be exposed on National TV, all things being equal, of course?

But it's that remove that makes it easier for some...

To answer your first question, you'll need to further define "passive observer." If you're on the periphery of the crowd, not chanting "dance monkey dance" with everyone else, but watching and not moving on? Well, I'd say you were part of the problem.

It is actively not participating in the circus in any way.

I couldn't get more than 10 seconds into the VMA thing, I just couldn't. Same with Hasselhoff and the drunken burger thing.

I ask myself if I'd want to be in those shoes, or would I want to see someone I know very well, like a Stine or a PGannon in that situation, and generally the answer is no. No, I don't. Only exception is when I put you, JJ, in their place. Then I cackle with glee.

Except that I really don't. And here I'll get to your question about enjoying sloppy drunks, and my answer depends on another question "how well do I know them, and what's the situation?"

Me & Skot K in the Vegas airport very early in the morning? That's one thing. Me and Nellis hanging out at a party and he's antagonizing other people? A little different, and as long as the antagonizing is in good fun and no one is offended, then cool.

JJ on a whiskey drunk butchering Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer" at karaoke? Fine. JJ on a whiskey drunk up on stage ranting angrily at the yuppies in the audience? Expected, but not so much...

I get queasy.

Which doesn't mean I expect people to react in exactly the way that I do. I mean, looking/curiosity is human. What's done beyond that, though, is where the line is.

But now I have to ask you how you define "joy at human folly." The aforementioned ladies-at-work compare it to watching comedies like Meet The Parents or The Three Stooges or Arthur; I end up wanting to yell: 1) These are all fiction, and 2) with the exception of Arthur, these movies aren't that funny...(here it comes:) to me.

HUGE difference between fiction and life.

Anyway, how would you define it? Would you say there is a line between "joy at human folly," and "craven delight at the humiliation of others"?

You know where I stand.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Even if your step-sis reminded you of Britney, would you necessarily wish her to be exposed on National TV, all things being equal, of course?

Yes, because some revelations only come through a smack in the head, and the harder the head the harder the needed smack.

The Hass needed to see what he looked like, and worse to have his fans see. Because his problem was that bad.

Britney is so deluded, in almost exactly the way my step-sis always was, that she's on a trip right now looking for the smack big enough. And, yeah, given who she is, maybe it has to be a public spectacle.


To answer your first question, you'll need to further define "passive observer."


Yeah, I'm just looking for the extreme to start to set the continuum. Like the email example - does the guy who looks only at what is in his inbox, never an out-link, never forwards it, nobody could prove he even looked - does he contribute to the culture of celebrity schadenfreduesiumdjk?

I dunno. I just think that's the most interesting question to think about. Mainly because "no" is so safe and "yes" has such delicious implications.

I get queasy.

Me, too. Which is why I prefer absurd sitcoms like Scrubs to tension-based sitcoms like Frasier.

Except sometimes, for other reasons. Britney cuz a mah step-sis. Drunk Harmless Bob (a sub-genre) because it's lovable.

JJ on a whiskey drunk up on stage ranting angrily at the yuppies in the audience?

Just to confirm - I've never actually done this, right?

Would you say there is a line between "joy at human folly," and "craven delight at the humiliation of others"?

Yeah, and I'd say it's all in the why. Do you delight because folly is what makes us human? Or do you watch because it makes you feel better than someone else, just for a moment?

The former is good-spirited and infinitely satisfying, that on which all good jokes, which have an element of pain, are based.

The latter is mean and low and inevitably self-defeating.

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger the beige one said...

Because we're essentially saying the same thing, overall, I'll answer this first.

Just to confirm - I've never actually done this, right?

No, relax. But it freaked you out for a second, no? Would you want that on youtube?

...because some revelations only come through a smack in the head...Do you delight because folly is what makes us human? Or do you watch because it makes you feel better than someone else, just for a moment?

Gonna combine those two thoughts, because they get to the crux of why it is I'm compelled to write these, it's getting so that it's hard to tell...and...

Okay, you're saying that the UStian public should have seen Hasselhoff wasted? I...I'm not down with that, not in the least.

I mean, obviously his daughter disagreed, and it's obvious that things had progressed to that point between him and the kid, but I look at that and think: I really have no business looking at this shit.

And the public consumption of this was nowhere near "enjoying human folly" and more toward "look at that sloppy ass drunk eating a cheeseburger in his shower! Wotta fuggin' loser!"

And the same applies to the public consumption of MTSC and the latest Britney escapade.

And, yeah, I am speaking in broad generalizations, but you take a look at just those three events, four if you add La Quinta, read/watch the media/public forum output and the pattern borne out does not look like a nation of good-natured souls sharing a bit of a laugh over the escapades of some misguided fool.

Instead, the pattern suggests a population that is mean and low and inevitably self-defeating.

 
At 5:42 PM, Blogger JJisafool said...

Just to confirm - I've never actually done this, right?

No, relax. But it freaked you out for a second, no? Would you want that on youtube?


If I did it, I wouldn't care if it made YouTube. I was more concerned about the poor choice hypothetically made, or the fact I may have uncovered another blackout moment from yesteryear.

Okay, you're saying that the UStian public should have seen Hasselhoff wasted? I...I'm not down with that, not in the least.

I'm speculating that perhaps, for Hass, a backsliding drunk, maybe the spectacle had to be public. Maybe private intervention just wasn't going to be enough.

But the effect of all this on the object viewed is one thing, and the overall effect of the viewing on the viewers is another.

I agree, for a large portion, the reaction is just mean-spirited laughter. To some, it's just a poignant example of human frailty and fallibility, a cause for concern for not derision of the Hass. Maybe for a few people it was their own wake-up call, because they saw a little of themselves in the display.

Broad is fine, but it misses the most important things, the nuances. Which kind of acting performance are you most thrilled by - broad or specific?

 
At 3:45 PM, Blogger the beige one said...

considering the number of times you yourself have used broad generalizations in our arguments over the years, I'll just sit here and chuckle.

 

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