The Brit Pack

The picture says it all. Distraught, overwrought, vulnerable, weeping, depressed, half-naked, self-absorbed, clutching a baby-substitute pooch for comfort, above all alone.

And yet, of course, not alone. Not just because, obviously, there's a photographer, delighted with his scoop, actually taking the photo, rather than, say, putting his arm around her, giving her a shoulder to cry on. But also because, just out of shot, we know that there's a huge retinue pressing in on the scene: relatives, lovers, support-staff, hangers-on, photographers, journalists, industry executives, lawyers, rent-a-quotes, presenters, commentators, bloggers, lookers-in, lookers-on, passers-by.

The Britney industry is grown so big (accounting, some experts reckon, for the only growth-area in the magazine market) that even her agents, it seems, have agents. Fleas upon the backs of other fleas.

"No recession in the Britney industry" reported Associated Press the other day.

For a growing number of people and businesses, Britney’s saga is about money: Every time she sinks to new lows, cash flows. And these days, no one is above the fray.

Not even me.

“The product for the tabloid industry is the unusual, and Britney has been delivering that consistently,” said Dan Smith, dean of the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Meanwhile Sarah Ivens, whose OK magazine has featured Britney on the cover 54 times in the last 103 issues, admitted frankly

An editor’s dream is to have a real life soap opera unraveling in front of you, and Britney provides that every week. We’re on constant Britney alert.

And that was only at the start of this extraordinary week. Since when we've had Britney screaming and swearing at her nearest and dearest; Britney driving around aimlessly in a brand-new Merc; Britney tanked up on ketamine; Britney going three and a half days without sleep; Britney accusing her mother of sleeping with her boyfriend, or her ex-husband, or possibly both; Britney's "bizarre British accent"; Britney sectioned and forcibly taken to a psychiatric ward accompanied by a vast convoy of police and photographers and tailed by news-helicopters, all to transmit the minute-by-minute drama to an agog world. And finally, unbelievably, we'll take you INSIDE THE HOSPITAL where, according to the Daily Mail,

Sick Britney is under 24-hour supervision ... and cannot even bathe by herself and is forced to wear the mandatory green robe and hospital wristband.

She is believed to be on a "mental health evaluation hold" on the orders of her psychiatrist, who works out of the UCLA Medical Center.

The source said that Britney will be held in the ward for at least 72 hours, and up to 14 days if she is still deemed to be dangerous.

"The source" said a lot more as well. Such as:

Doctors will visit Britney once a day and ask her questions such as "Are you able to sleep?", "Are you hearing voices?", "Are you paranoid?"

Are you paranoid? Is that supposed to be a trick question?

No, doctor, I'm not paranoid. I really am being trailed 24 hours a day by an army of photographers, news camera-crews, police, and gawping members of the public.

Is Britney to have no privacy, even in hospital? Probably not. And even with the main player safely (we hope) off the stage, the Britsperts and Britneyologists still have much to chew over. There's the diagnosis (bipolar disorder, allegedly), the prognosis, the career implications. Will she ever be allowed to see her children? When will she be allowed out? Can she survive?

And then there's the bizarre cast of heroes and villains, and the question of who is the hero and who the villain. Is Adnan Ghalib a freeloading ratbag or a knight in shining armour? Is "manager" Sam Lutfi a parasitical Machiavellian control-freak or a loyal friend and confidant with only her best interests at heart. Is mom Lynne a doting parent, the only person Britney can really trust, or a trailer-trash slut who isn't above sleeping with her daughter's boyfriend and ex-husband? Is Kevin Federline a long-suffering quasi-saint just trying to protect his children, or an unfaithful gold-digger who started Britney off on this spiral of decline? Who knows? I certainly don't. You certainly don't. Perez Hilton might, but I doubt it.


The other week Associated Press announced, with ghoulish opportunism, that the Britney obit was written and ready to hit the newswires. It must have been updated several times since then. "We are not wishing it, but if Britney passed away, it's easily one of the biggest stories in a long time," AP entertainment editor Jesse Washington told US Magazine. The second part of that statement is obviously true, but I have my doubts about the first. Apart from Britney herself, her children, and perhaps her immediate family, Britney's collapse is great news. Even as they publicly express their sympathy and concern, the press continue to hound her, half-consciously, to her death.

Some, at last, have begun to call time. One Paparazzo, Nick Stern, resigned from his agency, saying that his colleagues are "totally out of control":

Directly or indirectly, Britney is going to come to some horrific end, or a member of the public will. It's not what's being done, it's the way it's being done. As she continues to deteriorate psychologically, I just can't see a positive way out.

Tony Blair's long-time spinmeister, Alastair Campbell, laments in the Times that Britney has ceased to be regarded as a human being at all:

She is a news commodity, stories about whom are so marketable that the true ones are gorged upon and, when the true ones dry up, the invented ones keep the market moving along nicely.


The question is whether there is any room within media judgements about what is news, and how to pursue it, that allows room for a basic humanity about the condition of the people who are the media commodities.

If that is the question, then the answer is surely "No". Others will fill Stern's shoes. There are more fortunes to be earned, and the most valuable photo of all is the one that hasn't been taken yet, the first verified shot of Britney's corpse. Britney seems caught up in a race to the death with our own Amy Winehouse, today, coincidentally, also in hospital, hooked up, we are assured, to a drip (not her husband, who's still on remand).

In any dramatic life-story, there comes a time when the outcome seems forewritten and inevitable. Of course, this is an illusion, created by our knowledge of dramatic structure, by novels, and by the 20-20 hindsight of biographers. Britney may well recover, and rebuild her life, and pick up the business of earning money for herself and others by doing what she originally became famous for. But once a golden goose gets sufficiently fat, there comes the collective will to wring its neck. And people, even celebrities, perhaps especially celebrities, have a tendency to live out the roles that others write for them.

I just hope the scriptwriters stay on strike.

Britney's Islamic Panic


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