Friday, June 16, 2006

BRITNEY and the notion of the "BAD MOTHER" or What's Up with Matt Lauer? A few preliminary questions

I've been wanting to post about this for a long time, but I haven't really known how to just jump into a feminist analysis of the "Britney is a bad mom" narrative that's been swelling and breaking over the past months. I'm not a child safety expert, and I'm not a parent, so I come to this without a personal arsenal of expertise. And I'm not really interested in defending Britney even though I've always been tempted to see her as a victim.

Anyhow, I came across this video via ONTD, and it seems like a very strange sort of cultural document, or rather, it seems like a document from a very strange culture.

Here are some initial thoughts/questions:

- Is Matt Lauer the new Barbara Walters? He can really push. Someone has to make a conceptual art piece using footage from this interview spliced with footage from the Tom Cruise interview.

- What role do gender constructions -- specifically constructions of motherhood, girlhood, femininity, and sexuality -- play in the way we talk about Britney. How much has Britney deviated/undermined and complied with/promoted these constructions? How has the "idea" of "Britney Spears" become the site for contradictions and questions about youth, gender, sexuality, celebrity, and class... And to what degree are the dynamics of these questions shaped by fluctuating depictions of Britney as either passive or active -- especially in comparison to other controversial performer/celeb moms (ie Madonna).

- Britney subtly alludes to the role classism has played in her scrutiny (she has often been referred to as "white trash" and the "new Anna Nicole Smith"). I've always sensed a sort of hostility towards Britney because she's a country girl who made a ton of dough.

- Is the criticism of Britney at all influenced by constructions of race? What is the relationship between constructions of race and motherhood? Is there a connection/relationship b/w this and the blatant racism embedded in right-wingers' critiques of welfare?

- How does the media's treatment of Britney relate to other cultural attitudes re: motherhood?

- Is there a precedent for this sort of scrutiny? I'm reaching here, but I can't help thinking about the wives of Henry VIII who were cast off because they did not produce an heir. Or is this scrutiny not really so unusual, and perhaps only seems extraordinary because Britney is so famous?

- How has first-world capitalism influenced notions of parenting? And when, exactly, did the contemporary notion of parenting emerge? What is the history of parenting literature? The history of books like What to Expect when you're Expecting?

Your opinions, ideas, and arguments are much appreciated.


Luke said...

You bring up some good points/questions and this is something that has bothered me too...but in response to "What role doe gender constructions..." and "Britney subtly alludes.." I think a lot of her ability as a mother are only questioned to the point of scathing harassment because of Kevin. Which is funny because they neeeeever brought up Kevin's ability as a parent...only his supposed adultery and doghouse status with Britney. I mean, we blame women/mothers as is for everything ever that happens to a kid regardless of the context (the baby drop by nanny) and I think that only gets magnified when there are these losers on the sidelines are in essence attacking Britney and focusing on her just because she "married down." If she married someone...say like DiCaprio, Spidey Tobey, or even 50 Cent (which i know would have its own racial implications with that one)...the whole thing would go the Katie Holmes route where she's seen as just the carrier of Tom's child...not a mother who doesn't know what she's doing...look at her...she's not wearing any makeup, look at those clothes *gasp*. I think it bothers society and the media because she "didn't do it the right way." There's the whole younger mothers aspect to it where any woman -28 or so is seen as being completely deficient of any sort of mothering intelligence and then you have Kevin not being a billionaire. Because to many people, Kevin needs britney and not the other way around (financially, commercially, whatever) people object because its also this since she's so rich and popular, she needs a Tom Cruise who is even richer to show her the way, show her how to get through all this! all under the guise of "she deserves better." What bothered me most about the whole thing with Matt Lauer was that while the guy and the show was under this premise of "setting the record straight" and being honest and all that...the HOURS of previews and commercials and them showing photo after photo x100000 of Britney in some bad lights, in some bad shots with her kid just made the whole thing worse in some aspects. The tone I got from Matt was "omg, what happened to you? You were such a cute cheeky cheery kid that evereone loves and the boys swooned over...(you're not hot anymore cause of your kids! and look! you probably cheated on Justin that innocent stud, you CANT be a good mother after that!)" But finally, I think Britney loses any which way with this. If she comes out side by side with Kevin, people see that as weakness: "she needs him to explain that? She needs that guy?" while her going out by herself and breaking down at one point, people don't see that as "human" and go awwwww...what they see is that she isn't the tough cookie mom as she should be by society's standards.

Sorry, long response! anyways, was just recommended to your blog. great stuff!

Elka said...

I took advantage of my office job my watching that whole dang thing yesterday at work.

That said, I must say that I am simply overwhelmed by the utter idiocy of Ms. Spears. Here are a few of my observations:

1) She doesn't know what air quotes mean. Or if she does, she chooses to use them inappropriately to confound her viewers

2) When she talked about K-Fed she dropped her eyes and looked away--LYING--this is classic lying body posture happening

3) She mixed up many words in the interview.

I could go on and on but in general I think that it's horrifying how much attention is being paid to her, how much she denies she wants public attention, and then milks the paparazzi for all they're worth when it's to her advantage. Many other stars stay successfully out of the tabloids' eyes. It is a matter of choosing what type of lifestyle you want to an extent.

And really, if she wa putting more of her public persona to use as a humanitarian, etc., instead of as a shining beacon for all things gaudy or icky, she'd get a lot less attention. As those who do good usually do.

zp said...

i love bad mothers.

i think someone's theory of camp (i forget whose, but there aren't that many) uses the figure of the bad mother as part of what articulates camp at all - a performative denial of what is assumed to be natural, in this case an ability to mother.

like joan crawford. or like barbara stanwyck in stella dallas, where her trashiness (and poverty) both prevented her from being a good mother, and then finally, in this weird way, redeemed her.

zp said...

and also, of course, i think even bad mothers are good mothers.