The endless cycle of a declining popular culture
I watched a “news” video online the other day that framed an absolutely shameful picture. I’ll get to the shameful part in a minute, but the video was taken at the scene of the climax of the latest Britney Spears meltdown. (Paging Dr. Phil. Ugh.) Aside: Is it a coincidence that Britney Spears’ initials are B.S.? I have my doubts.
I’m referring, of course, to last Thursday when Spears reportedly got into a dispute with her ex over custody of their kids and was later taken away in an ambulance after the police were called. It was the latest of many incidents, and it won’t be the last.
One of the things about Spears and the madness of the celebrity gossip cycle that surrounds her is that every incident is just one more chapter in her never-ending novel. Spears has become a pop-culture constant; just wait for a while, and you’ll inevitably have yet another “celebrity meltdown” story.
I have one question: Whom can we blame for all this?
Certainly, Spears is a way-too-easy target. Her life the last couple of years has been like a Perfect Storm of what-is-she-thinking celebrity insanity. Every presumed instance of Rock Bottom has been illusory, because it turned out there was plenty more excavating to do.
But blaming Britney alone (and this applies to the Parises and the Lindsays of the world as well) is not the answer. This madness is only focused on them. It is not created by them.
The reason I’m writing this is not so much because of Spears as because of what I saw in that video, which contained 10 seconds of particularly sickening footage: As the ambulance with Spears pulled away — amid an epic media feeding frenzy of absurd proportions — at least a dozen paparazzi followed in what looked like a rape of the vehicle.
You’d think the president of the United States were being carted away. Well, no, because the president would at least have the Secret Service to gun down all the photographers for being too damned close.
Now, I understand that celebrities — especially of the train-wreck variety — are going to be photographed aggressively and excessively. But this crossed the line by way too far. I mean, a woman is being taken away in an ambulance, and it’s apparently okay that we’ve got a dozen sleazebags with cameras running 6 inches behind the ambulance, shooting their flashbulbs in through the two little windows in the back. There should be laws about this.
No wonder Spears is losing her mind. She has to deal with this every day. And it has become clear that she hasn’t had the mental faculties or the guidance she needs to do so in a healthy or intelligent manner.
So when did the paparazzi get so far out of control? Has it always been this way? Has it gotten worse? As a chicken/egg issue, did increasingly crazy celebrities create increasingly aggressive paparazzi, or vice versa? Is there no limit to how many boundaries of decency can be breached? Don’t these selfish, idiot photographers realize that celebrities are still, at the end of the day, people? Will someone in Hollywood step up and say that this is simply unacceptable?
But as much as I despise the paparazzi’s complete lack of boundaries, they do have a point when they say they are only delivering what the public has asked for. The photographers are only one part of the cycle.
And that cycle is: (1) Celebrities do stupid things, usually to their own detriment. (2) The utterly shameless paparazzi crosses all lines of human decency to photograph it. (3) The news media exercises the worst aspects of lowest common denominator in ceaselessly reporting it. (4) The public consumer (i.e., you) exercises no discriminating taste in eating it up, thereby confirming as correct the media’s decision to pander without regret. (5) Holier-than-thou bloggers and columnists (i.e., me) exercise blatant hypocrisy in discussing it, while claiming we’re outraged by and superior to the train wreck, even though we’re just as guilty for staring at it. (6) Repeat.
In short, we’re all to blame. And let’s face it: None of us is going to stop. We can’t help ourselves.