Friday, February 23, 2007

Keith Olbermann, Britney and the cult of celebrity

Finally, another blogger defends Britney Spears!

Well, actually she's more attacking Keith Olbermann who made frivolous attacks on poor Boo:
Everyone Loves Keith Olbermann - Except Me by Sandi Burtseva 02/23/07.

Burtseva goes further than I would in generalizing from Olbermann's celebrity reporting, particularly in relation to Britney. She seems to think that almost any kind of satirical or insulting shots about a celebrity's personal image is wrong, even when that image is essential to the reason they are a celebrity in the first place.

But she makes some valid points about the subject. Last year, Olbermann reported on Paris Hilton getting slugged in the face by some guy, saying "she's had worse things happen to her face". His report was also captioned, "A Slut and Battery". Though Paris Hilton is perhaps unique in that her only claim to celebrity status seems to be that she is a celebrity, she hasn't promoted herself as someone who goes around seeking to be slugged in the face. Among other criticisms of that report, Burtseva writes of Olbermann, "He thinks women who make particular sexual choices are to be taken less seriously when they claim to have been assaulted." Again, that's perhaps a bit too much of a generalization to hang on that one report of his. But as a criticism of that particular report, it's perfectly sensible.

Burtseva notes that on his Feb. 19 broadcast, he chose as his first topic to discuss "that most important of word events: Britney Spears' hairstyle choice". He had Village Voice columnist Michael Musto on to discuss it. Burtseva asks parenthetically:

Pause for a moment to consider this scenario: The man who has been called the Arthur R. Murrow of our time has a gossip columnist on his show to discuss a pop singer's hairstyle.
Good point.

She quotes the following dialogue between Olbermann and his guest:

OLBERMANN: The hairdresser, Miss Tognozzi, also asked if Britney Spears appeared to be under the influence. She said no, but she did use the word trance to describe her. A trance.

MUSTO: No, she actually said the tramp dropped her pants, and it got reported as trance, but it works anyway.
Burtseva comments sourly (and appropriately), "Olbermann elected not to take issue with the crude commentary of his guest. I'm not shocked."

Her general judgment of Olbermann's Britney-hair segment:

In the eyes of Olbermann and his sexist ilk, Spears made two mistakes: She dared to be overtly sexual and she dared to shed one of the defining markers of her femininity. I neither know nor care how much sex Spears has and with whom, or why she shaved her head, but I have this radical proposition: In spite of the fact that she's made sexy music videos, Spears' body is her own and should not be subjected to Olbermann's disgusting views.
That short paragraph is an example of a good idea sandwiched into bad framing. For one thing, it's not at all clear from her article who she wants us to picture as part of Obermann's "sexist ilk". Liberal reporters? Democrats? Guys named Keith?

And for someone like me who reads her blog post but didn't see the segment in question, she gives us four examples of Olbermann's "disgusting" views. One is the fact that he didn't object to Musto's comment, a comment that was kind of disgusting. The others are: Olbermann called Britney a "pop tart"; he wondered about "what she was on", i.e., whether she was on drugs or drunk; and, someone at the "cast and crew" blog of the Olbermann show referred to her in a post as "sweetheart".

Dumb or trivial, maybe. But I don't see those as "disgusting". None of them comes close to the "A Slut and Battery" caption in bad taste. And her conclusion in the end that Olbermann is "a petty, disrespectful misogynist" don't obviously follow from the information she provides in the article. I mean, if I'm going to join in trashing one of the leading liberal TV commentators - one of the only ones actually - I'd like to know I'm doing it for good reasons. Rightwingers could use her blog post to say, "Even the a liberal feminist like Sandi Burtseva says that Keith Olbermann is a woman-hater with disgusting, degrading views of women who even mocks domestic violence victims." Maybe there's more justice in her view than I'm seeing, but I'm withholding judgment on some of her general criticisms.

Having made all those reservations about Burtseva's post, she has a legitimate point about the Britney's-shaved-head story. As quoted above, "She dared to be overtly sexual and she dared to shed one of the defining markers of her femininity", i.e., her hair. It's a good point. Her sexy image is a big reason many of her fellow Southern Baptists have criticized her from the beginning of her national fame. And regardless of whatever particular issues she may have been having when she changed hairstyles drastically, would it be international news for days running if a male star of similar status shaved his head? Like Boo's ex Justin Timberlake, for instance?

I'm also not one to draw broad social conclusions from media coverage of some pop culture event or personality. But Brutseva has hit on something important, in that people project their ideas about sex and gender roles onto Britney's celebrity image. And then draw judgments based on how close she comes to fulfilling the expectations they project onto the image.

When Johnny Cash passed away, his daughter Rosanne said that there would always be a "Johnny Cash" - the public persona of the star - but there would never be another Daddy, the private father and man she knew. More than most famous people, Britney has to co-exist with "Britney", the celebrity character of which people have such intense and contradictory expectations.

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3 comments:

ereading7 said...

My theory on Olbermann is that he uses the celebrity news to appeal to a broad segment of the population.  It does not appeal to me at all.  
It is beyond my comprehension that MSNBC has spent so much air time, on various shows, covering Anna Nichole whatever.

bmiller224 said...

I don't watch his program regularly, either.  I've mostly seen him on spots featured on YouTube that other blogs have called attention to.

When he's "on", he can be very good.  And TV does have it's general limitations in presenting news.  There's only so much detailed information you can squeeze into the usually-alloted time.

xlovinlopezx said...

nice pic, i love brit, im doing lots of gender and culture based analysis for a class, i will compent a lot more later, please read my site and feedback would be wonderful thanks! xx