On this date ten years ago, September 10th, 2007, in the depths of the Simon Cowell era, Chris Crocker broadcast his howls of pain out through our desktops, with his creation “Leave Britney Alone!,” which briefly pierced the internet’s cold black heart. Crocker posted on the day following Britney’s infamously limp and half-dead VMAs performance, just one more thing for tabloids to pick on after a year of having fun with her well-publicized episodes of mental illness like going to rehab, leaving rehab, shaving her head, returning to rehab, divorcing Kevin Federline, making frequent unnecessary stops to convenience stores, eating McDonald’s (this might have taken place before or after 2007, this is from memory), wearing tube socks, getting a spur-of-the-moment chihuahua, fighting a custody battle for her two kids, getting in a hit and run, and gloriously assaulting a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella.
And therefore, it is culturally significant.
The video went viral back in those days, racking up 2 million YouTube views in 24 hours. (By comparison, Taylor Swift’s latest just got 3 million per hour, but different times). Crocker, in his brief stardom, was also dragged through media with homophobia-laced dude parody by Seth Green and South Park, with Fox and Friends even referring to Crocker as a “she with an Adam’s apple” and comparing his cloth backdrop to those of Osama Bin Laden’s videos (which made sense back then as a joke-y reference point, I guess?)
The video even made academic pontification in Matthias Oppermann’s 2010 essay “The World Wide Web and Digital Culture,” A Concise Companion to American Studies:
The success of Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” epitomizes many of the dystopian and utopian aspects of the “digital revolution” and its impact in the social and cultural sphere. For some, the popularity of Crocker’s videos is a sure sign for the continuing demise of US American popular culture. ‘Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone,’ Lev Grossman (2006) has argued in Time, ‘never mind the obscenity and naked hatred.’
Were Crocker’s cries heard? Did we leave Britney alone, or have we been passively watching the demise of US American popular culture on YouTube this whole time?
Anyway, Britney’s doing fine now.