Fairytale of 9/11

Fairytale of 9/11

Six years later, and another Tuesday, and it seems as though much of America and the world is still obsessed with the spectacular failure of Britney Spears last Sunday night on MTV.

How could this have happened? How many people in suits needed to be asleep at how many switches during rehearsals, to which Spears would show up hours late with a frozen margarita in hand? How could the breathtaking crash and burn have gone unanticipated by those whose business it is to do just that? The warning signs were flashing like a Christmas tree, and the chatter was incessant, hinting at a “Big Wedding” in Vegas. Most alarmingly, how could the VMA’s producers have stood down for the three vulnerable minutes which would draw the most viewers and set the tone for the entire broadcast?

Somewhat surprisingly, mainstream sources can be found alluding to hidden and unspoken forces at play beneath the surface. The Washington Post, for instance, whispers of ratings which have been “sinking steadily since 2001,” with last year’s audience less than half of that six years ago. “MTV President Christina Norman called this year’s version of the show a ‘total reinvention,'” and the Post expected that the fiasco of “the Spears appearance likely will goose the ratings.” [And the numbers are in: “A wobbly Britney Spears on your TV show is better than no Britney Spears. Ask MTV. Evidence comes from the network’s surprisingly high-rated Video Music Awards, which soared in viewership 23% over last year’s numbers, giving the show 7.08 million viewers. It was the highest-rated cable show among 12-34 viewers–5.0 million–this year. Moreover, MTV.com set records. On Monday, the day after the event, MTV posted its best daily traffic ever–2.6 million unique visitors–40% higher than a year ago.”] A catastrophic success, as another showman once called another show.

But perhaps most damning for the network’s complicity in Spears’ public humiliation is its choice of Sarah Silverman to immediately follow her on stage, who then, predictably, “proceeded to bury her.” Her caustic routine heavily underscored Spears’ embarrassment – “25 years old and she’s already accomplished everything she is going to accomplish in her life” – and winked at still stunned viewers that MTV was in on the joke.

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton put it bluntly: “MTV is the one that put Silverman on after Britney. They knew what they were doing!!!” While Kayne West, who knew for whom Bush’s priorities were elsewhere during Katrina, has also intuited the meaning of September 9, 2007: “They exploited Britney in helping to end her career.”

Now, a hard-line MTV MIHOPer would want to take Spears out of the picture all together, saying that wasn’t really her (you know: distinguish between “Fat Britney” and “Skinny Britney”) and ask simply, “Who benefited?” (Loose Change-like, there is already a revised video seriously analyzing the “physical evidence” for a loose heel. You can practically see the squibs.) But of course she had her own motive and intentions and naive expectations of benefit, which were used against her, and she believed herself to be in command of the situation, when in fact the situation was entirely out of her control.

Spears is a main-sequence star who has burned through her talent. As a credible performer she is spent, but as an unself-aware freak-for-hire she remains a precious, exploitable commodity. Which is why MTV let it happen on purpose.



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