Pop Culture

Grab a front-row seat for Britney breakdown

Just when it seemed the headlines couldn’t be wrenched from the late , the only possible successor stepped up her game. Who gets Anna Nicole’s body? Her money? Who’s the baby-daddy? What killed her? Who cares! Britney Spears shaved her head!

Sure, going the way of the chrome dome is a shocking move for any sexy pop tart. With a history of more stable behavior, maybe Britney’s new scalpy-do would just lead to speculations of an image overhaul or maybe a bad case of head lice. But let’s face it, nothing about Spears' behavior has resembled stable for a long time.

Britney isn’t the first A-lister to have a public breakdown. Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie may starve themselves, drive irresponsibly, and overly imbibe, but neither of them shaved their head after an alleged 24-hour rehab stint. In the generation of Celebrity 2.0, the ugly minutiae of the celebrity breakdown is broadcast in real-time. Britney, whose baldness was blogged just hours after her hair hit the floor, is just taking it to a new level.

Timeline to decline
Nothing happens overnight, and Britney’s latest fumble was years in the making.

  • Flashback to Britney’s Justin Timberlake days: After years of being one half of pop’s teen dream couple, Brit’s *NSYNC beau dumped her in 2002 amid rumors she cheated on him with her choreographer.
  • By 2003, Britney’s overtly sexual image, as seen on stage and in her barely-covered spread for Esquire, sparked accusations that the formerly virginal pop princess was a poor role model for her young female fan base.
  • 2004 marked the first set of wedding bells for Britney, but the quickie Vegas nuptials to her hometown pal Jason Alexander were annulled before the ink dried on the marriage license.

  • Britney’s marriage to Kevin Federline, who just split from his pregnant girlfriend, also in 2004, put her on the fast track to bad press.

  • Baby Sean Preston, came along in 2005, and the fallout concerning Britney’s parenting skills was severe. First there was Sean’s highchair tumble, then photos of the tyke going for a lap ride in mom’s car, and when Britney did get around to using a car seat, the cameras were there to point out that she didn’t even do that right. It didn’t help things when she nearly dropped him in the street, while holding a drink in the other hand and teetering in stilettos.
  • Introducing her husband K-Fed, and what passed as his rap music, at the 2006 Teen Choice awards may not have been a failure for Brit, but surely there’s some guilt by association. But she more than made up for that one by dumping FedEx and giving her fans hope for a glimpse at the old Britney.
  • By December of 2006, the hopefulness had worn off as her hard partying ways and habitual pantylessness overshadowed hopes of a comeback.
  • And now, barely into 2007, Britney tops her misadventures by reportedly going into, and immediately checking out of, rehab and getting the most ill-advised makeover ever.

Scandal as spectator sportWhen Britney hooked up with Kevin Federline, everyone blamed him for her fall from grace. And when she flashed a different shaved body part months ago, the responsibility was handed off to her new gal-pal Paris Hilton. But this time Britney took the clippers to her own head and then marched into a tattoo parlor and ordered up some fresh ink.

We’ve seen this car crash before — successful stars who floundered while surrounded  by those who won’t, or can’t tell them “no!”

Did anyone ever say “Hey, Elvis you’re too fat, and maybe you shouldn’t take so many drugs”? Or, “Jacko, ease up on the plastic surgery”? If so, perhaps they were promptly fired. Are Brit’s friends, family, and handlers afraid to rein her in lest they fall off the gravy train? It’s as if no one, other than angry anonymous bloggers, is willing to say “Put on some drawers and take some parenting classes already!”

So it’s happened before, but what’s different now is that the adoring public gets a front row seat to the downfall. And the sad truth is, after being thrust on the stage as a child, it’s doubtful Britney can conceive of living out of the spotlight. And, now, even when a genuine breakdown seems undeniable, everyone jumps in to enjoy it.

Every new flub is documented, dissected, and given a catchy headline. Britney Shears! The Bald Truth! Oops, She did it Again! (Okay, can we all just retire that last one?) And, if it’s not too meta to say, it’s happening again. Right now.

Ree Hines is a writer in Tampa.

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