In Defense Of The Badly-Behaved Britney Spears

The new September issue of Allure has gotten more publicity for the Conde Nast title than the self-professed "Beauty Expert" has had since, well, Natalie Portman confessed that she knew what it felt like to be black. The reason, of course, is the magazine's profile/non-profile of one Britney Jean Spears, who, true to recent form, made a mess of the magazine's cover story about her by simply not showing up for the interview. And also true to form (editor in chief Linda Wells is tenacious, people!) Allure editors decided to run the Michael Thompson-lensed 'story' anyway, enlisting reporter/writer Judith Newman to turn the debacle into a first-person, Waiting For Godot-like scenario starring Ms. Newman herself, a homophobic limo driver, and mortified publicist. But whether she meant it to or not, Ms. Newman's resulting two-and-a-half page piece reads not as an illustration of tragedies that befall the young, the rich, and the restless, but of the situations that arise when you pair petulant, needy, self-absorbed men with talented, successful women. Which is to say: You get Britney Spears and Judith Newman.

But let's back up a minute. Yes, Britney Spears could probably benefit from a course of antidepressants (SSRIs: We heart them!), a lot less boozing and a few months (maybe a year!) of effective-parenting courses. And yes, she doesn't help matters much when she goes out in public without a child car seat/bra/shoes/panties. But don't we have to kind of admire her a bit? This is a woman who just doesn't give a shit, and although she's being accused of not giving a shit about the "right" things (namely, her children) her recent refusal to pretty herself up, starve herself down, and adhere to society's standards of what it means to be a "woman" — after so many years of doing exactly that— is actually pretty fucking awesome. As Mark Stevens wrote in New York Magazine soon after the mid-February head-shaving incident, Britney seems "to be trying, with befuddled brilliance, to tell the truth." And the fact that she's trying to do that at the age of 25 and not later in life, like other used-and-abused pop culture sex objects (see: Fonda, Jane; Bardot, Brigitte) might be even more fucking awesome.

We're not innocent here. We've been complicit in the frenzy that has enveloped Britney Spears. Day after day, week after week, we taunt her, question her, suggest she could benefit from a lobotomy and gleefully compare paparazzo shots of her to the troubled protagonists of two classic Stanley Kubrick movies. Maybe we do this because we think it is funny, or because it is expected, or because, unlike talk show host Craig Ferguson, we have minutes, not hours or days, in which to prepare and present our thoughts about her. Or maybe we are just unoriginal assholes.

Which brings us back to, well, Judith Newman. Ms. Newman, whose Britney profile was singled out by the pop culture blog PopSugar yesterday for being "too nice" (two-thirds of its readers agreed!) had the time to craft an article on the Pop Princess that went beyond repeated references to Cobb salads, limo rides and phone calls to friends (like psychotherapist Jane Greer, who offered the all-too-predictable opinion that Spears is bipolar and drinks to "keep the demons at bay"). In fact, Newman only touched lightly on the issue of Spears' objectification (maybe Allure didn't want to offend its beloved beauty advertisers?), thereby squandering an opportunity to question the common wisdom that it is Britney who is insane, not those around her.

But what was most infuriating, from our point of view, was the fact that Newman overlooked how her own experience as a career woman and mother could have informed her understanding of her absent subject. As was made more than clear throughout the piece, she was not the only person inconvenienced by Spears' flakiness: Newman's husband, John, was hardly happy that his wife was off luxuriating in West Hollywood's Sunset Towers hotel while he remained at home in New York with the couple's two boys. ("Every few hours John called to scream: Who is this girl, and why is she inconveniencing me? Come home now." And later, after another day had gone by and no Britney: "At the magazine, there was some talk of staying another day. At home, there was some talk of divorce.") Perhaps (probably!) Newman was engaging in hyperbole, but what she didn't seem to get was that, whether her husband was actually threatening divorce or simply spearheading a campaign of complaints in order to get her back home, she and Britney Spears were a lot alike at that moment: They were being pulled in too many directions at once.

Of course, a strong case has probably already been made that what lies behind Spears' binge drinking, nipple-flashing, head-shaving and umbrella-wielding is the cumulative effect of the people (mostly men) who have needed her and demanded of her. After all, ever since she was a girl, Spears's life has been controlled by others: The execs at Disney, who took charge of her career when she was a Mouseketeer; the record executives at Jive, who've made a handsome profit off the 31 million albums she's sold in the U.S.; those in the general public, for whom Spears posed half-naked on the covers of magazines like Esquire and Rolling Stone; her on/off manager Larry Rudolph; and of course, Kevin Federline, who, perhaps like Newman's own husband, needed the attention, sympathy and bank account of his more-successful wife to ensure his own survival. But just as Judith Newman finally got fed up waiting around for Spears and decided to "go home", maybe the reason behind Spears' refusal to show up for the Allure interview was that she was fed up too. And it may have been the smartest move she made that day.

Britney Spears: Her Allure Photo Shoot [Allure]
Related: Was Allure Too Kind To Britney? [PopSugar]
Britney Spears, Outsider Artist [NY Mag]
Craig Ferguson Speaks From The Heart [YouTube]
Earlier: You've Got To Admire Her A Little Bit Because Miss Britney Jean Spears Obviously Doesn't Give A Shit
Britney Spears Mixes Up Her Stanley Kubrick Visual Metaphors
'Allure' Editor Linda Wells: Determined, Impatient, Logical