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Welcome MSNBC.com Readers--UPDATED

It's not live yet, but at some point today, MSNBC will post some cultural analysis hung on the peg of Britney Spears' appearance last night on How I Met Your Mother. I'll link up as soon as technologically possible.

Technology UPDATE: Here it is.

When this was assigned to me, at first I cringed mightily, because I certainly don't want to be any part of the salivating media dogpile which is now a fixture of Spears' life. But then I realized that the tide is turning regarding the paparazzi ambush in a way I've never really seen before in celebrity culture, and so I decided to write about that. Everybody wants news about Britney Spears--but they want it to be good news. After witnessing the train wreck, people are now breathlessly waiting to see her emerge from the burning, twisted metal. And it's sick and it's hopeful and it's part of living in America. So this is largely a "coverage of the coverage" piece, and I hope everyone understands that in no way do I mean to attack Spears and her terribly sad circumstances. I'm trying to analyze how all these pieces fit together in the grand scheme of our culture; the essay is much more about us than it is about her.

That's why this is vastly different in tone from the first Spears-related MSNBC essay I wrote. That piece was written over six months ago. Six months is a rolling drop in the great river of our lives, but in media terms, it's the Pacific Ocean. Six months is a geologic age on the internet. I wrote it directly in the wake of the media storm concerning Spears' MTV Video Awards appearance, when she didn't seem to understand the serious trouble she was in, how her career had been created on the basis of how others see her-- that unless she began treating her own self with respect and took charge of her life, she would never find a way out of this enormous, hell-bound spiral.

Since then, Spears been in and out of rehab, and was subjected to the gross spectacle of cop cars escorting the ambulance and photographers which took her to the psychiatric ward. She seems to have stabilized, and on the show last night seemed healthy and sober. But, again: Six months. Six months of real time. Her latest visit to the hospital was less than four months ago. Yet here she is-- guest starring on one of the most popular sitcoms in the nation because she told her acting agent to find her “a small part on a funny show.” She shot her scenes with paparazzi helicopters hovering over the soundstage.

Maybe this is how Britney Spears heals. I don't know. What I do know is this: I got married eight months ago. I left my job and my friends and I moved to a strange place where I knew absolutely no one but my husband--and since I've never been married before, I had to get used to him, too, at the very same time he was getting used to me. I'm not even used to me yet. I suspected that the change would be traumatic, and gosh darn it, there it was. The only thing which is helping is time. (Okay, and drugs. But professionally moderated drugs.) It was difficult, and it still is difficult, even without TMZ and Us Weekly camped out on the front lawn. And I'm not dealing with substance abuse, a pregnant teenage sister, a custody battle, and whatever else goes on in what is considered the sprawling telenova of Britney Spears, Inc. I have a feeling that this is not what she had in mind when she first invited the world to view her life as a reality show in Chaotic.

So I'm not criticizing Spears. I'm begging her, human being to human being: Please, do yourself a favor and back away from the press releases. And the acting agents, and the stylists, and the contract negotiators, and the publicists. I'm no psychologist, but I'm thinking that maybe what Britney Spears needs right now is eighteen months in a remote Siberian village amongst fishermen and fur trappers and sugar beet farmers --fishermen and fur trappers and sugar beet farmers who shoot at interlopers who might show up with cameras and cardboard-boxed microphones. And when she comes back, if she has a hold of herself, then... well, it's up to her, isn't it?

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Reader Comments (11)

I love HIMYM, but I wasn't thrilled about the Britney stunt. But when I was watching and saw Sarah Chalke in the episode, I squealed with glee. Sarah redeemed it for me and made it totally worth watching.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteralli

I totally didn't recognize Fake Becky, even though I knew Sarah Chalke was going to be in the ep. She looked fabulous.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

I love Sarah Chalke, and while not a fan of Britney, per se, I thought she did great.
No Fireballs at the Table! was my favorite part, though.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKris

Mmmm... interesting how sometimes your life seems stuck and years go by without nothing changing... and then your life can turn 180° in a matter of weeks, and you feel totally disoriented not knowing how you got there.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

I don't watch HIMYM, but I do hope that Spears' gets her act together and turns it around.

You really have a gift for words, MB. Yet another excellent piece.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAmy P.

"Fake Becky"? Too funny. I completely forgot that she was Becky2 on Roseanne. You should see her on Scrubs. She's completely separated herself from her previous stint as Becky2.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Wise words, MB.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJules

"There’s an almost inexhaustible source of forgiveness in America, where Don Imus bounced back to the airwaves mere months after losing his job in the wake of a self-created racial firestorm. It would not be surprising if Michael Richards himself, having recently fled to various Cambodian temples, suddenly returned in triumph, complete with Senate campaign."

I believe that

a) Michael Jackson, &
b) O.J. Simpson

are clear examples that even American pop culture's forgiveness HAS its limits. The only question is: Will Spears follow the fate of these exhiles, or will se be able to start over?

Time will tell, although personally I feel we shouldn't trouble ourselves so much with these things.

March 25, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterred pill junkie

Red Pill:

I agree.

I guess it also depends on the seriousness of the infraction. Jackson and Simpson were accused and/or guilty (although we all think we know which one) of some pretty serious stuff.

Spear, Imus and Richards - maybe not so serious, at least in terms of physical harm, although you never know what could come next.

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJules

There are many people who think Simpson is innocent. Besides, the man STILL got a book deal-- later canceled, sure, but still, the offer was made.

As for MJ, did you see how may people bought the re-release of "Thriller"?

If you are a celebrity, there is no such thing as an unforgivable sin in America.

March 26, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that this article was a link under the Entertainment section on MSN.com. I read all your articles, but this is the first I've seen with such a prominent placement on the site, so GO YOU!

March 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteramy t.
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