The Weapon of Mass Distraction: Britney Spears


Published: January 31, 2008

The other night, in an up scale, dimly-lit French bistro, I realized that one of the greatest threats to democracy and intelligence in America is Britney Spears. It’s a harsh statement to make, and as much as I love Ms. Spears for all her thoroughly entertaining bipolar shenanigans, she is what’s wrong with the media. One might ask, “How would you come to such a conclusion over brie and steak frites?”

Britney Spears, weapon of mass distraction, at the Billboard Music Awards in Los Angeles on Dec.8, 2004. (Nicolas Khayat/The Observer)

Easy. Across the table was my date, a debonair and refined Columbia student double majoring in History and Music, who has seen the lights in Paris and can speak in detail of Cesar Franck. Despite how alluring I found him and how urbane the setting, our conversations kept going flat. We didn’t have much to say about the expected recession in the first quarter of 2008 or Bush calling Iran a “threat to world peace.” When the topic of Ms. Spears’ recent psychotic breakdown crossed the table, the conversation flourished straight through the chocolate mousse and shots of cognac.

Britney Spears started off as America’s teenage-girl-next-door-pop-tart. Since then, her marriage to Kevin Federline in 2004 has gone on a downward spiral. After her divorce, her behavior went from lowbrow to erratic and out of control. Her numerous run-ins with the police and paparazzi, as well as her psychotic melt-downs, have all been caught on camera and have left the public in utter shock.

I’m not so shocked. After public scrutiny about her pregnancy, weight, cheating ex-husband, low-class social mannerisms and shaving her head, the first song off her album was, “Gimme More.” That clearly sends the message that this is an individual that has learned very little or nothing from her experiences. Her album being called “Blackout” was highly appropriate, because she has effectively blacked out about any news not dealing with her.

It’s one thing to go on TMZ and look for the dirt on Ms. Spears, but it’s a sad state of affairs when CNN is having full coverage specials on Britney Spears and the top story on Fox News is the Spears vs. Federline custody battle. The most perverse fact of the matter is that Kevin Federline is a better parent than Britney Spears and, yes, it is shocking—yet how do the white trash legal issues of Britney Spears receive more coverage than the Bhutto assassination?

It’s incredible that one person’s crazy behavior that has no bearing on anyone except herself and her children has been able to dominate “serious” TV news. Even online, Britney Spears news updates make top news almost daily.

What proves most disturbing is that the majority of people I have spoken to recently can’t talk in depth about the presidential campaign, but can give the “who, what, when, where and how” of every Britney event. Most unnerving is that if it weren’t for the New York Times, I would have no idea we were even at war. Like the fat man who tries to sue McDonald’s for giving him more rolls than an Italian bakery, it’s irresponsible (media) consumption on an individual’s behalf that leads to ignorance of more pertinent issues. There is serious journalism readily available for those who seek it out, however, many in our generation aren’t going to pick up the Times or be avid watchers of BBC News. It’s an unsettling truth that many Fordham students who will go on to be part of America’s educated elite probably watch “ I Love New York 2” or “ The Hills.”

In the larger context of the type of “news” that is sellable, Britney Spears is only the most flagrant example of how American media isn’t trying to inform the public of issues that really affect them and the world. They are looking to turn a profit and the 2008 primaries aren’t as juicy as Britney without her knickers.