A friend of mine believes that her cat has the potential to be a celebrity.
Like Maru, the Japanese superstar cat who can sit in a box.
My friend sees character and depth in the face of her cat. In him she apprehends an expressiveness that other animals lack, a certain je ne sais quoi. She thinks he’s beautiful, a star just waiting to be discovered, and wanting to share him with the world she submitted a photograph to Cute Overload.
Behold, Harold LeCat:
My friend, who is not at all crazy, actually cried just a little bit when she saw that his picture had been posted. Her cat had made it big. It was a proud day, a great day.
And then she started to read the comments.
The next day her Facebook status update read:
“My cat’s famous. Too bad most people want to hang me. Wow. The Internet really is full of haters.”
You might think that Cute Overload, of all places, would be free from this, but no. If you’re going to pursue celebrity, regardless of how abstracted that form might be, there are legions just waiting to take you down.
Even if you’re a cat.
Honest to God, I wouldn’t wish celebrity on my worst enemy. I imagine it a plague of self-consciousness, entitlement, temptation and social insularity that would be utterly soul-destroying. It could be reasonably argued that a celebrity is a person who cares more what strangers think of them than the people who actually know them. Ceding their identity in exchange for the corrosive heat of fame, they end up living as projections of somebody else’s imagination, which is surely a path to self-obliteration and madness.
This brings me to Britney Spears, who turns 30 today.
First of all, I thought Britney Spears would be WAY older than 30. Honest to God, I expected her to be turning 42 or something— she was such an omnipresent part of our landscape. Completely dominating the entertainment news cycle, images of her were cast over us 24/7 and she was so ubiquitous she seemed more like weather than a person. It was almost as if there had never been a world without her.
That being said, I hadn’t thought about her for ages, or at least in the condensed culture in which we live, what seemed like ages. Really though, it was only a few years ago when hers was the dominant narrative of pop culture.
A little background first, for all who’ve had their memory of her erased. Born in 1981 and raised in Louisiana, Spears first appeared on national TV at the age of 11, performing on Star Search. It would have been earlier if her mother had her way, but the casting director of The Mickey Mouse Club rejected Spears when she auditioned at the age of 8, which he figured was too young. No matter, Spears was being constructed for success, and eventually ended up on The New Mickey Mouse Club, before launching her debut album, Baby One More Time in 1999. It was at this point that she shot into the stratosphere, becoming perhaps the biggest star on the planet.
Dressed like a sex-starved schoolgirl, she swung her hips and tossed her hair like a pro. Teasing her audience by proclaiming that she was going to remain a virgin until marriage, she seemed ever on the tantalizing cusp of realizing her precocious sexuality. It was on this razor’s edge that her fame was established, and it seemed like the entire nation was mesmerized, greedily imaging the day when the sexual tension that crackled about her would finally be released. She was the forbidden fruit everybody wanted to strip and ravage.
The agent through which all this pent-up sexual energy would be released turned out to be Kevin Federline, a back-up dancer and all-purpose embarrassment. Spears, having used her sexual potential to propel her career, found there wasn’t much left to continue her forward momentum after that potential had been burned off. She was a wife and mother now, no longer the global object of fetish she’d assumed was her destiny. In short order her and K-Fed revealed themselves positively remedial when it came to life skills and got divorced, whereupon Spear’s life became a disastrous spectacle.
Even though the reason the public was interested in her had changed dramatically, Spears, having lived her life in a bubble of unexamined adulation, seemed oblivious. The media still pursued her, but now instead of being her promotional dupes, they were derisively mocking and attacking her.
There was Britney driving recklessly with her unrestrained baby on her lap. She’s a bad mother! There was Britney intentionally exposing her crotch as she stepped out of a car. She’s a slut! There she was drinking Mojitos at ten in the morning. She’s a drunk! And before we knew it, she had shaved her head, gotten a bunch of tattoos, and was launching herself at the paparazzi with an umbrella.
He behavior had stopped being amusing, and when she was seen at a hotel desk armed with only a scrap of paper with a couple of digits of a credit card number on it, wailing “nobody wants me anymore!” she seemed to have fallen into a florid, and tragic, state of madness.
She then bounced from rehab clinic to rehab clinic, before eventually being institutionalized and losing custody of her children. Like many cast-off sex bombs before her, Spears seemed destined to be sacrificed to the failed ambitions of her audience, for in America, if our celebrities don’t prove that they are in fact better than the rest of us, then they’re destroyed.
I remember little of her career after that.
It’s all kind fuzzed-out, like the censored bits from a movie. However, I seem to recall her— as if in some narcotic haze—moving indecorously about the stage as if she’d taken a dump in her pants during the MTV Video Awards. This performance was to herald her comeback, and as far as I can tell she’s been in some stage of “comeback” ever since.
And now, Spears still not yet 30, is little more than a ghost to us. What we remember about her isn’t her ascent, but her fall, conveniently forgetting our complicity in devouring and then spitting out somebody who’d never had the need to cultivate a “self.”
Celebrity is a deal with the devil, and we’re that devil.
It’s particularly vicious when it comes to young women, girls really, who quickly have their luster pawed off them by the predatory appetites of a sexually aroused public. And then, like Spears, they stand before us naked and unprepared, baby dolls warped by an adulation they never understood, while we laugh. And so for Spears on her 30th birthday, I hope she might find something new to love other than her validating fame, leaving her past where it lies and going off to lead a life of quiet and sincere satisfactions.