What Comes After Postmodern

Culture as an Evolutionary Force


SAVE BRITNEY SPEARS: And Why New Orleans Should Care

Posted by Matilda on October 27, 2010 at 2:25 PM

- Written February 24, 2008 -


Everyone, please pay attention: Britney Spears is not just acting out. She is going down for the count in front of our eyes. Her behavior and the expected outcome have become so severe that major press outlets have prepared obituaries for Britney, who is still only 26 years of age.

Even attorneys have given up on her, finding her to be an incorrigible divorce client and an unexpected liability. Even worse, Britney appears to have given up on herself, saying she doesn’t want custody of her children anymore. Britney now fights for the right to be in their lives at all. And these are only a few of her problems.

Take, for example, that Britney is reported to have appeared at a hip club, reopened that night for her pleasure, without any skirt or pants. She wore only a shirt, shoes, and black fishnet stockings—clearly revealing white panties that were stained with her own blood. A more deeply symbolic image could not have been imagined.

As a result of this and other equally alarming incidents, Britney has now been put into a mental health institution—and it’s not just rehab and it’s not the first time. But it may be the last. And it seems that a throw of the dice could determine if this would be because she never leaves, or because she can manage to never return.

Rolling Stone Magazine offers the most up-to-date and thoughtful coverage of this in the pages behind their February cover story, “Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy.” Right now there is no more accurate title for her life.


Britney’s most credible attempt at marriage has been to a backup dancer (Kevin Federline) who worked for her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) even as the first romance was falling apart. This marriage was messy to start with and deteriorated rapidly from there. It now dies slowly in a painful public death.

Her soon-to-be ex-husband, Kevin Federline, now looks remarkably good when compared to the current Britney. And it does seem that active fatherhood of his two children by Britney has improved him, a process perhaps accelerated by their mother’s collapse.

At best, Britney Spears may have finally made the point that she is, in fact, a woman—one who desperately needs help with very serious, very adult problems that started when she was only a little girl.

But even Britney’s parents, sister, and her lifelong friends—who are showing real concern—have not been able to stop her decline. They seem as in over their heads as she is, and simply don’t know what more to do.


Britney’s problems are also intensified by the attention she often courts and probably needs by now just to feel normal. It appears there is a “comfort zone” she can find only within the glaring spotlight of her own fame. This is certainly good for those who profit from her continued ability to command our full attention. But now it is not clear if Britney will retain command of her own affairs or even full legal custody of her own self.

Clearly, this new Britney—who trembles with anger, saying “I don’t know who you think I am, bitch … but I am not that person,” when politely asked for a picture with a fan while shopping at a mall—is determined to destroy the old Britney.

And it is hard to blame her, now that we can understand the extent to that Britney’s innocent schoolgirl/sexy vixen identity, which seemed such a good fit at the time, was created for her by others—mostly the men who managed her—in the image of their own desires. It is reported in the article that these men even picked out the panties she was to wear, and according to their own tastes.

This creation of Britney as a modern day Lolita to-be-enjoyed-by-others without guilt or consequence was sometimes against her wishes, more often with her consent, and, most importantly, in violation of her best interests as a young person. Indeed, the destruction of “who she was” has been her only heartfelt goal for too long, and Britney has no idea what to do now that she is accomplishing it …

It has also become clear that Britney was rarely allowed to make mistakes she could have learned from, or important decisions about her identity that should have been hers to make. Britney was not given these chances because the stakes were simply too high.

The ability to make good choices is built like a muscle, as most human skills are. It is best developed when encouraged and practiced, and if you do not use it, you will lose it. Human identity is also built over time and requires practice. Young people grow by experimenting with new identities, parts of which are kept or discarded as they continue to develop throughout life.

Since childhood, Britney has been denied the right to make these keystone choices about who she was then and could become now. She began professionally performing in New York as an eight-year-old and came to national attention as a Mousketeer at age twelve.

Britney has been—for at least half of her life—a commodity traded for profitable consumption, with too many people close to her banking on her beauty, talent, and her increasing desire for attention and the affirmation that fame seems to bring her.


This is why she makes such poor decisions now, and why it so difficult for Britney to figure who and how to be next. This is what ails her—not a flawed genetic background worsened by potential inbreeding, as was seriously suggested in the article by some seeking monstrous roots to safety explain away the horror. But this picture of Britney as a crazy, inbred, maladjusted misfit does not ring true with what we can say, with more confidence, about her life so far.

Consider that Britney’s cousin—who grew up with and still works for her—was asked to comment on this frenzied Britney. After some thought, her cousin said that Britney is nice to everyone and never says bad things behind someone’s back, not ever.

Though this comment was characterized in Rolling Stone as a trivial statement, a fallback only used in lieu of something better, it is not a small thing to say about a person who has experienced the fame, fortune, and now the failure that Britney has.

Also think about how her cousin’s statement—which in other words says that Britney cares about people’s feelings (lashing out at fans in the midst of a mall meltdown excepted) is characterized by the journalist as “filler” that really demonstrates a lack of anything more positive, or more important, to say. At the same time, the reporter comments that her cousin seemed quite sincere in making the statement.

It is worth asking why this trivialization of decency-shown-to-others seems reasonable, and for most readers would probably go unnoticed. This says something about our culture—about what we have jointly agreed has value and what we jointly are willing to agree does not—and about how this could have happened to Britney.

Like so much about Britney Spears, the Rolling Stone article about her reveals important truths about us—about what we value, and when values conflict, what we value more—ugly truths that should already be evident to astute observers. It shows that niceness can be characterized as a compensation for some deficiency; that being “too nice” is often taken a sign of weakness, naiveté, or stupidity; and that a person like this deserves pity, and also blame, if taken advantage of—if used and abused by the “smarter” people, who after all, are only trying to make a living in this dog-eat-dog, competitive world.



Britney Spears has proven that she is not insensitive, not without talent, and not lacking a willingness to work harder than most people. But she is in real trouble—and it right now it seems she can barely function at all. The Rolling Stone article further reveals the extent to which Britney has come to rely on drink, drugs and fame to numb her pain. And she appears to be burning through her fortune with the same breathtaking velocity she built it with.

But this does not have to end as a tragedy if it helps her escape the naughty-little-innocent-girl identity she deeply resents and rages against, even while clinging to it as the only thing she knows how to be. And Britney’s alarming and destructive attempts to get out of this trap by any means necessary must be understood in this context if she is to get better and not worse.


Consider that rising star Dave Chappelle went to Africa when he felt overwhelmed by pressure to deliver on his widely discussed big-money contract renewal with Comedy Central for the Chappelle Show—overwhelmed by the pressure to create shows that would be as good or better as those in the wildly successful first two seasons.

When he returned from his retreat to Africa, Chappelle explained his assumed-to-be-bizarre behavior (“How could any sane person walk away from the big money?” America asked, with the national media wrongly speculating that Chappelle was on hard drugs) by saying he left because he felt he no longer knew who he was, and that he just didn’t want to do the show anymore.

So, where can a former pop princess go to recover from such a crisis writ even larger? Fortunately, there are better alternatives for Britney than institutionalizations that threaten to become permanent. Here are a few:


(1) Return to the Louisiana backwoods she worked so hard to escape. They might not seem so bad anymore.


(2) Move to New Orleans, the city that just barely floats below those swamps—the city that care also forgot when it really mattered most—and that, strangely enough, shares a number of Britney’s problems.  Consider (a) how New Orleans is able to profitably provoke hidden desires and provide forbidden pleasures—but alone suffers the costs, as visitors go safely home; (b) how New Orleans has suffered the horrified amazement of onlookers, shocked and titillated by a crisis made massive—not by human and environmental natures as some believe—but by specific human problems that have been poorly understood and managed; (c) the complications in New Orleans’ own effort to run itself more competently—while struggling with its own illusions that more of the same could ever help, that maybe negative attention is better than none at all, and that change may be too hard or not even worth the effort; (d) and, baby, we understand in New Orleans that the support needed to overcome the consequences of careless voyeurism; the profiteering of human potential; and the failure to protect human rights and meet the fundamental human needs of our most vulnerable members—can be painfully hard to find in the unflattering light of all of the above.

(3) Visit the south of France, then Spain, then Greece—or maybe go to Costa Rica—for a year, maybe longer.


Of course, Britney also needs capable support and guidance over time, but no more intrusive public interventions like the media shoot staged with Dr. Phil at the last hospital. These surely hurt more than help.

Britney needs people, old and new, to (privately) help her to walk away from this wreckage and emerge stronger and smarter. And she needs to be allowed to make her own mistakes in ways that don’t involve her own destruction.

Britney Spears can build a life of her own, like she has been trying to do all along—ever since she was a young Mousketeer. It will not be easy but life might, eventually, become fun for her again.

Anything would be better for Britney Spears than applying more of the same treatment and expecting a better result. And isn’t that approach, in fact, a commonly accepted definition for insanity?


Rolling Stone Magazine’s coverage can be found online at www.rollingstone.com/news/story/18310562/cover_story_the_tragedy_of_britney_spears (this link no longer works unless you can log in as a subscriber)

NOTE: Since this article was written in 2008, Britney has stepped back from the brink of tragedy and shown increasing stability in her personal life and career.  Another Rolling Stone Magazine article published in 2009 questions the appropriateness of the legal conservatorship arrangement established by the court (CLICK HERE for link to article)--but it is a relief to see a stronger and more confident Brintey.


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