Feature

Britney Spears: Should the media back off?

"Enough,

"Enough,” said Asra Nomani in the Los Angeles Times. As a contributor to People magazine, I was as complicit as anyone in turning Britney Spears’ life into a media circus. Last week, however, as the usual small army of gawkers and paparazzi followed Spears home—not from a nightclub but from the psychiatric ward of UCLA Medical Center, where she’d been hospitalized against her will—I wrote to my editor and resigned. “I’m not being holier-than-thou.” I know it was Spears who asked the media to make her famous, not the other way around. But Spears is now clearly mentally ill. Whether her breakdown stems from a drug problem, her divorce, the bitter estrangement from her mother, the loss of her right even to visitImage removed. her two young sons, or something else entirely, “basic moral decency” should tell us that the time has come to give Spears some privacy. “This is a 26-year-old in a fight for her life.”

If only it were that simple, said Miranda Devine in The Sydney Morning Herald. Thanks to camera phones and the Internet, the professional media doesn’t have the power it once had to decide what should or shouldn’t be covered. The tabloids could call off their hounds tomorrow, and Spears would still be pursued by packs of photographers—albeit with less-expensive cameras—for the delectation of the tens of millions of online voyeurs who have developed a “taste for Britney’s distress.” She’s “the canary in the coal mine” of the MySpace era: It may be indecent to watch a once-beautiful and -powerful young woman unravel before our eyes, but with the crowd “roaring for more,” her life, and yours, has become mere fodder for the masses’ entertainment.

Besides, as miserable as Britney may be, it’s by no means clear that she wants to be left alone, said Vanessa Grigoriadis in Rolling Stone. She’s now dating a paparazzo, after all; this is a woman who understands celebrity culture more intimately than any of us ever will. What looks from the outside to be a case of a celebrity imploding under the pressures of fame may be a more calculated spectacle than we appreciate. Britney Spears may have become the iconic victim of postmodern celebrity culture, but it’s a role she almost seems to be embracing. She doesn’t want us to look away. On the contrary. “She wants us to know what we did to her.”

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