Will hunger for celebrity kill Britney Spears?

Posted by on Jan 20, 2008 in media | 0 comments

And, if so, who is to blame?

Noticed two related stories on the Media Bistro News Feed that were actually placed together without irony or comment:

AP Has Written Britney Spears’ Obituary (Us)
The Associated Press began preparing Britney Spears’ obituary within the past month. “We are not wishing it, but if Britney passed away, it’s easily one of the biggest stories in a long time,” AP entertainment editor Jesse Washington said. “I think one would agree that Britney seems at risk right now.” AP: Four paparazzi arrested for chasing Britney.

There is a great deal going on here, which I’d like to comment upon. First it should be noted that I used to not follow gossip rags beyond what would get through my peripheral vision. It’s just background noise as far as I’m concerned. But, something is going on here that deserves to be examined and noted for posterity, so I’ve found myself paying attention because of the media movement that is underway and how it’s altering the cultural and social landscape – and people lives- in very real and sometimes tragic ways.

The entire business of gossip is a powerful example of how the hunger for media and celebrity have become not only motivating forces for good and bad in our culture – affecting real lives- but also, the feeding frenzy that is created to fulfill that hunger has become the story as well. It’s the media fulfilling the publics hunger for celebrity, but also unable to not be a part of that celebrity, for it’s an alluring world of money and fame.

It’s no secret that stars are chased by hordes of paparazzi, and this activity at times has caused accidents and problems. (There are those who say that it’s possible the death of Diana was assisted by the paparazzi who chased her vehicle, although no definitive facts proving this exist.) What can be said without doubt is that the relationship between celebrity information, the media and the public is reaching a place that is unhealthy for all involved. It’s a self perpetuating machine that has no real positive outlet except to make money for the celebrity and the media and feed the publics hunger for information. In the end, it gives back nothing.

Here we have two related stories, one predicting Britney Spears death and the other about paparazzi who were arrested for reckless driving while chasing Spears.

First, regarding the preemptive obituary, it’s not uncommon for news outlets to prepare obits in advance. But, there are two things that are unusual about this particular obit: Spears young age (26) and the fact that the writing of the obit was made public. Essentially what we have here is a news organization predicting someones death with an obituary and then publicizing it to promote it and covering their ass with a plaintive “we aren’t wishing for it to happen…” just in case it does actually happen. Sure Spears is living “on the edge” at the moment, but is there really any reason to presume that she may actually die? No, not really. It’s an assumption made upon the very denial that the AP professes: “we aren’t wishing for it to happen…” but, if it occurs, it will be a huge story and we called it!

The truth is: No one can predict such a thing. Why would you ever want to, unless you want to sell magazines, ad space, etc. There’s a narcissistic morbidity at work – predicting someones death and publicizing it – that is atrocious. But, it gets even scarier.

Notice the second sentence by the AP entrainment editor: “…it’s easily one of the biggest stories in a long time”. Got that? A story that hasn’t occurred yet, is “one of the biggest stories in a long time.” Most especially if you create the story in advance by writing her obituary before hand and then release the fact that you’ve written her obituary over your own wire service via a celebrity rag.

Are media outlets trying to create a story here?

From the Washington Post:

Frank Griffin, who co-owns the Los Angeles celebrity picture agency Bauer-Griffin, was irked by suggestions photographers might be held responsible for Spears’ safety.


But he said there were other similarities between Spears and Diana, who was known for manipulating the media and sometimes tipping off photographers.

“There is some kind of symbiotic relationship between Britney and those who will provide her with attention.

“She has to have it in her life. She is used to all that adulation since she was a kid. The only way she can get it now is by going out and doing something stupid,” Griffin said.

Sympathy for Spears has dropped since she started dating Adnan Ghalib, one of the paparazzi who have dogged her for months. Ghalib has provided pictures of himself with Spears to his agency.

“She is going out with a guy who calls all these teams ahead of time,” Griffin said. “Why does she drive to the drugstore? Why is she going to the deli and running in to pick things up. Why doesn’t she send someone else to do it?”

John Cook, senior writer for the pop culture and politics magazine Radar, said the number of paparazzi in Los Angeles had swelled to between 300 and 400 from about 25 some 15 years ago.

“It’s like the Wild West. Celebrity magazines are paying huge amounts for single photographs, millions of dollars in some cases,” Cook said. “With that kind of money, there is always going to be an incentive for people to behave this way, especially when someone is going through a personal crisis.”

Cook said there was a danger someone would end up being hurt. “Whether it is Britney herself, or an innocent bystander, it would not surprise me if there was a car accident and someone was seriously injured.”

In an illustration of how macabre some of the Spears coverage has become, a Detroit radio station apologized this week for running a contest offering $1,000 for the correct prediction of the day she dies, from drugs or at her own hands.

The hyper media hunger for gossip has been eating it’s own for awhile now. We build them up then tear them down. The smart celebrity learns quickly that being on top means you will be a target and learns to play defense and stay on top without being a target. That means controlling your own media. (See Brad and Angelina, George Clooney) but the inexperienced celebrity gets caught up in the storm in the fishbowl.

Like Britney Spears, they begin to believe that if they aren’t in the gossip rags their career will be over, and they foster relationships with the paparazzi, informing them of their whereabouts and activities to ensure media coverage. And, perhaps like Britney, you even begin dating a paparazzi, to allow direct access to every moment of your life, even going to the hospital, and maybe even your death, if the AP (and the assembled paparazzi who will profit as well) has it’s way.

There is an obscene love triangle aspect at work. The celebrity needs and wants- financially and personally- the attention that gossip media provides, the public is obsessed with celebrity and is willing to pay for it, and the media makes money by providing the information. But at what price? Someone’s life? Is it worth it?

Let’s play the morbid game for a moment and assume that Britney Spears dies at an early age. (How matters not in the context of this discussion unless it’s by a bolt of lighting or cancer or some other random manner.)

Who would be to blame? Well, given what we know so far, certainly Spears would be responsible to a large degree. And, so would the public, for watching and feeding the beast, and doing nothing. And paying good money to watch and gloat as another human being spiraled downward right in front of their eyes, the very act of watching actually fueling that downward spin.

There comes a point when the audience is to blame for the performance it supports via it’s money and adoration and hunger. It’s the lynch pin to the entire love triangle. Without the public adoration and money, the entire thing falls apart.

What about the media, would they be to blame? Yes, no doubt, for a very simple reason:
there comes a point when one has to cease being an observer and becomes a participant. Any good war photographer or journalist will tell you that is what has kept them alive in times when they were inches away from dying.

There simply becomes a point when the paparazzi must become responsible for their proximity to another human being. If it comes down to the fact that people were around Britney when she died, and those people might have stopped her death, or they contributed to the scenario that led to her death, then not only will they have covered the story, they will have created it, after having predicted it would happen.

In some ways, it almost seems to border on first degree murder, lying in wait for the death to occur, whilst facilitating that death in some manner. Either way, we have a clearly defined case of the media precipitating an end result. And, if it comes to pass, people should go to jail for a very long time if it can be proven that they stood idly by while a life was in the balance, or added to the frenzy that fostered Spears (precipitated) death.

H.L. Mencken is spinning in his grave.

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