Britney's ruined life just isn't funny any more

It's inevitable that someone who's been through such an ugly publicity machine should be damaged

Philip Hensher
Thursday 08 January 2004 01:00

The Britney website - "your official source for all things Britney" - had no doubt about the subject. "On Saturday January 3rd, Britney and a friend took a joke too far by getting married. Britney and Mr Alexander have filed for annulment which will become official on Monday, January 5th." If it is a joke, it's one which needs some explanation, and at the end of it will probably not look like a joke to anyone, least of all the participants. As Oscar Wilde said, any comedy is a tragedy if you look deeply enough into it.

As the story has emerged, what seems to have happened is that Britney Spears, the American singer, was in a celebratory mood in Las Vegas last weekend with a group of friends, staying in an opulent hotel suite. As the night wore on, the suggestion was made that she and an old friend from school, a Mr Jason Alexander, should get married. For reasons best known to herself, Miss Spears agreed, and in the small hours, around 4 am, the pair of them turned up at an instant wedding chapel, from where she emerged as Mrs Alexander.

There is absolutely no doubt that this happened. Another couple who were getting married at the same time - yes, you may share my incredulity that there was a queue for the services of the registrar at four in the morning, but there it is - had their photographs taken with Miss Spears and her new husband. She, fetchingly, had a white garter on over her torn blue jeans, and, unexpectedly, does not look conspicuously drunk at all. A marriage certificate quickly surfaced, and there was no denying the awful fact.

Mr Alexander is not obviously the first choice for a lifetime partner by a global megastar. He already had a girlfriend, and his previous involvement with the performing arts was limited to fighting at an amateur boxing night called Whip Ass Wednesday at a bar in Louisiana, which became so enthusiastic that it continued on the street and earned him a police fine of $60. I know, it would be nice if the police could find a way of fining Miss Spears for her public performances too, but not even the ingenuity of Louisianan law has so far made this possible.

Anyway, the superstar woke up the next day either with or without her new husband beside her, but reportedly saying "Oh, God, what have I done?" None of us may have married the hero of Whip Ass Wednesday on the spur of the moment at 4 am, but we can all, surely, associate with that sentiment in our worst behaviour. For Mr Alexander, a long career in where-are-they-now celebrity and a huge payout surely follows.

All the same, I don't know how funny this whole episode is. Take the opportunity to look at Miss Spears's life, and what led up to this grotesque and unbalanced weekend, and it stops looking funny at all. She was world-famous-in-America at 11, as a celebrity nymphet in The Mickey Mouse Club on television. The same period on the Mickey Mouse show produced a future boyfriend for her in Justin Timberlake, and a great rival in Christina Aguilera.

Her career, which seems to have excluded much in the way of education, continued after the Mickey Mouse show and a decorous brief break, with a huge world-wide song, "Hit Me Baby One More Time". The celebrated video of the time, in which Miss Spears cavorted around dressed up as a schoolgirl en deshabille, many people found rather peculiar: after all, she was, or ought to have been a schoolgirl in reality, not putting the uniform on as fancy dress.

The music industry continued presenting her, frankly, as a nubile juvenile with some startling sexual sophistication. In interviews, she insisted that she was a virgin in her relationship with Justin Timberlake, but continued releasing tracks called things like "Crazy", "Slave 4 You" [sic] "Oops! I Did It Again" - from what her camp rather repulsively call "her sophomore collection". The whole package is horribly summed up by the title of one song - "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" - and so is one's feeling that no one should be soiled by contact with such a marketing campaign.

It's inevitable that anyone put through such a ruthless and ugly publicity machine should at some point be damaged, and for some time now we've been entertained with details of Miss Spears' career and life going wrong in highly visible ways. She breaks down on chat shows; her career and image take steadily more and more extreme forms, flirting with lesbian chic and increasingly sexualised imagery; she is repeatedly photographed looking very much the worse for wear; and now she marries someone in the middle of the night, on the spur of the moment.

I don't want to speculate about her private life, and am not really very interested in whether her career is on the slide or not. Where it does become of direct concern is the thought that there is probably another fresh-faced juvenile waiting in the wings for the entertainment industry to sex-up, chew up and spit out; and, if that successor will earn consolatory millions in the process, that cannot be said for the indirect victims, the fans who will emulate their lewd heroine, and not realise what a very bad idea the whole thing really is. One of these days there is going to be a suicide because of the entertainment machinery, and it won't stop anything very much, since there is money to be made out of ruined lives. Hooray for Hollywood.

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