On Leaving Britney Alone and Leaving Celebrity Culture Behind
In Life Before the Craigslist Killer, I briefly mentioned my early introduction to youtube and its most interesting character to date, Chris Crocker. Because I watched him from the beginning and observed his transitions into misdirected fame, girlhood and dance record boy genius, finding out about Me @ the Zoo felt like a victorious nerd superbowl. I hadn’t been so excited to run to my sister’s house and inhale her souped up cable since, well, the last episode of Girls. Having been a loyal defender of this kid’s authenticity and creative avalanche of content to back it up, I was itching to see interviews with his beloved grandma and learn more about the background of his life.
The period in which Britney mania was at its most negative and disreputable seemed to be striking cords in everyone, and I can remember feeling severely affected by it. The fat shaming, the criticism of her parenting skills, and the blatant stalking of her entire life were in constant circulation every single day of 2007. It was a time that praised the likes of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie while the public stomping of a woman that had outgrown her Lolita status carried on like wildfire. Her brand was at its weakest in terms of sustaining her bubblegum bitch image, and if there were ever a price for fame then Britney was paying for it big time. Even during that heartbreaking interview where she pleaded to be left alone, the internet exploded with gifs of her crying to emphasize her post-partum weight. Britney was begging for mercy and no one was listening.
Before the Leave Britney Alone video premiered, my love for Chris Crocker had already blossomed from watching his passionate rants and perfectly timed comedy, to the mere fact that he is a Sagittarius obsessed with astrology and I’m a Sagittarius obsessed with astrology. He’s obsessed with Fiona Apple, Fiona Apple was the first person I ever Britney-cried for. He hates Chris Brown, I hate Chris Brown. He was notable, quotable and downright lovable.
My own past with Britney is topsy-turvy. She premiered in 7th grade and ignited a major boost in sexualizing my classmates, and all at once they seemed to turn into these lollipop sucking, boundary pushing, eyelash-batting girls that just wanted to be hot like Britney. I couldn’t blame them, but I couldn’t relate either. When everyone wore school uniforms and thigh highs to the Halloween dance, they were trying to be Britney and I was going for Mary Katherine Gallagher. I was guilty of listening to her radio hits but never bought an album. At age twelve I created a parody website that was meant to play on the idea that she was everywhere, and I superimposed her face onto other popular movie posters and spent my friendless afternoons re-writing scripts to shows like Dawson’s Creek as though Britney were starring as herself. This early affliction only grew as I entered an all-girl Catholic high school where my peers could really play up their slutty teen personas as their idol was proclaiming her verge of womanhood to the world. They dyed their hair like Britney, they tanned their skin like Britney, they celebrated Britney’s birthday with a cake in the cafeteria, and they practiced all of her dance moves and mannerisms right down to her giggle. At the height of her fame, her impact on female youth culture was an intense backlash on the grunge era that came before it. She was shoving her sexy sunshine all over our insecure adolescence that’s only happy when it rains. She was the hot button topic for so many years and her image was something to be strived for. Her likeness was everywhere I turned, and it was nauseating.
The first time I watched Leave Britney Alone was well before the news got ahold of it and I am still grateful for this as I had time to process it sans the millions of opinions that instantly followed. The hype around Britney’s VMA performance had surpassed me and was something I didn’t find out was even an issue until a friend mentioned it. I didn’t see what the big deal was with her soft performance and wasn’t exactly sure what everyone had expected from her at the time. Watching Chris break down was not only a reflection of how pop culture truly affects people - it was a familiar feeling a lot of us were harvesting. No one could pinpoint at the time what felt so horrible about watching a pop icon break down into tears on a daily basis in our news feeds, and no one seemed to want to admit that it wasn’t funny or harmless.
The backfire against Chris Crocker’s earnest declaration became even harsher than the initial witch-hunt on Britney herself. When people suddenly knew his name, I was excited to talk about him and how awesome he is, but his name had suddenly been soiled and an instant eye-roll has been the response ever since. People couldn’t even entertain the idea that he was someone worth watching because he had already become an easy target for everyone to shit on.
As time progressed, Crocker became a social chameleon as he flirted with his female identity, adapted to his notoriety and began experimenting with different forms of media that would ultimately lead him into further success. As much as haters wanted to hate, he was a force to be reckoned with and could not be stopped. In his documentary he admits that Britney reminded him of a younger version of his mother who had him at fourteen, and as we connect the dots between his childhood and family life, we see that he too had a deeper connection to the world in which Britney had spun out of control.
One of my favorite videos of the archive on the It’s Chris Crocker channel is Bye Bye, Britney Boy! in which Chris goes into a rage on his wall covered in Britney posters and screams “I’m taking back my identity!” He replaces it with a poster of himself during his Britney-esque female phase and declares there are “no false gods before me.” This is symbolically one of the greater moments of his on-camera career as he detaches himself from the same idolatry that sprung him into the public eye. The film later makes it clear that he didn’t give up his Britney poster collection entirely, but the message remains the same: he is more than just a pop culture fanatic – we all are.
As Crocker’s grandmother so sweetly put it, “he just didn’t want nobody to say nothing bad about Britney.” Britney wasn’t lucky enough to have Jodie Foster as an on-screen mom, and in fact, the one she had was played by Kim Cattrall, notable for Sex and the City’s raciest character Samantha and even more appropriately, the title role in Mannequin. Even Cattrall’s onscreen Crossroads character was no mommy and didn’t have room for this young piece of Lolita ass getting in the way of her fabulous life and her mans. Kim Cattrall definitely wasn’t going to stand up and tell people to leave Britney alone well past their time working together. No one thought there was anything wrong with the post-VMA’s indictment of Britney Spears because no one knew her and yet her name had been in our mouths for seven years, reaching far past the itch right down to its clawing point. No one was about to play a public protective figure to Britney, even her own mother was boycotting her newest album at the time, and the dickbag race was on as far as public opinion was concerned. Chris Crocker cried for Britney during a time when her soul was being digitally hunted and everyone wanted in. He was the odd one out and was shunned because of this.
Having any hint of familiarity on youtube automatically makes viewers assume ownership of that person’s popularity. Suddenly people outside of the online inner circle knowing about a video means the youtube celebrity should be eternally grateful for their shine, because the public thinks everything is owed to them and therefore the public thinks they own you. This is especially applicable to lower scale celebrities that might arrive on a platform built from a leveled playing field. Content creators are the easiest to target because it’s not difficult to belittle someone else’s material and claim anyone can do it, but they don’t do it – they just (often negatively) comment on said content. Chris Crocker has created an archive of over 300 videos to date and only continues to grow and further develop into what he does – being his truest, utterly hysterical, and most sincere self.
If you watched the infamous Leave Britney Alone video and found yourself laughing, think about what exactly was making you laugh. Was it his eyeliner? His effeminate mannerisms? Is it because he was just being a silly little queer kid and his high pitch voice breaking made you giggle despite yourself? People laugh because it’s easier than confronting something emotional, and I know this because I have been laughing my way out of situations all my life. There is a vulnerability in Chris Crocker that cannot be denied and it stares you in the face until you really look at it, and then decide you need to see it again. He definitely didn’t invent Real Bitch Island from being a fake ass bitch, and if his own emotional reactions affect you in any way, it’s probably a good thing.
Whether we admit to it or not, pop culture is constantly affecting us and it’s doing it at the most rapid pace the human race has ever experienced. We are already so absorbed in screen media that our minds are literally being constantly exposed to an extraordinary amount of poison, whether or not we are directly asking for it. It’s why something like talking shit on people we only know through screens is considered socially acceptable, or why saying foul things about a girl from the south named Britney breezes in the wind. It’s why gay bashing Chris Crocker is totally fine because he asked for it, because anyone submitting themselves to the public is asking for a lynch mob at any given moment. We are experiencing endless amounts of training through social media to become these vicious, maniacally hypercritical turds, which in turn allows us to continue feeding into the belief that any of us should actually give a shit to begin with.
The difference between thinking critically and criticizing is that one involves considering all elements of an issue while the other can just be thoughtless knee-jerk reactions. Criticizing someone online especially is something that reflects an insecurity that we don’t have to be accountable for thanks to the anonymity internet communication provides. It allows us to strip away our basic human compassion in exchange for a funny one-liner that we can add to the material in our imaginary stand-up comedy acts where we have the balls to actually perform. The internet has become a daily game of shock trade regarding the most banal topics. Hurr hurr, Tom Cruise. Durr durr, Kanye West. I get it, I do. It’s hard to tune it out when it’s barfing into your daily radar.
Leaving Britney alone means leaving celebrity culture behind, allowing it to exist without you and paying attention to the world outside of it. We know this isn’t entirely realistic because it haunts us everywhere and provokes us to respond. I am still the worst offender when it comes to people I have observed over the years through screen media alone, especially when our faces are endlessly being rubbed into other people’s public disasters. Even though I still vomit in my mouth when witnessing misplaced attention or success, I am learning to turn away from it as best I know how. It’s always going to be hard to empathize with someone so ruthlessly after fame and power, and yet I know that contributing to their conversation no matter how opposed I may be, only adds to their mystique and brand.
The public emotional reaction to Chris Crocker’s own public emotional reaction wasspiteful as it provoked our intellect. Why should we care about someone that put herself into this situation? Why isn’t it okay to go out of our way proving that we don’t care about someone? Shane Dawson did a Miley version parodying Crocker’s vulnerability and became a teen mogul after skyrocketing hits, his merchandise can be found in Hot Topic and the mouths of awkward guys that have nothing else to talk about. Internet obsessions are sculpting other people’s brands, which in turn sculpt the identities of their target demographics. Crocker’s brand appears to be that of a truth seeker and identity warrior, and that’s the kind of shit I can get behind. If we didn’t have Chris Crocker, I wouldn’t know who to cringe inwardly at when someone’s eyes roll at the mention of his name. If television is a platform ruled by a handful of people and the internet is ruled by the people, what does this say about the intelligence of our anarchy? We aren’t progressing, we are bickering, and over all the wrong things.
Mass media success is proving to be of higher value when it comes to self-created content online, and that scares not only the television producers who can’t quite replicate it, but the rest of us are experiencing an internal chaos. Our own potential is questioned and put up against those with higher success rates and decidedly less talent or skill. Kim Kardashian made a sex tape and never went away, her own self-created content being the catalyst for her media illumination. Did your college degree do that for you? It’s hard to compete with something you can’t predict, and the next big thing is both unpredictable and waiting around the corner to assault us at any moment. If user created content teaches us anything it’s that there is room for all of us, and that we are more than just the sidelines of someone else’s game, or an identity built from years of television branding. We are misfits, criers, attention loving freaks, deeply ingrained in pop culture, and yes, we are even so goofy-minded. Leave celebrity obsessions alone and you might just survive the rest.