The Civil Religion of Celebrity
BY KATHRYN LOFTON
Today I did not weep because of war, but because of woman. The November 19, 2007, issue of US Weekly included no fewer than eight specific mentions of a specific sort of woman: Britney Spears. First, there was a financial reminder: Britney’s perfumes “Curious” and “Fantasy” have earned more than $84 million (a scented sale superior to Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sarah Jessica Parker). (p. 14) Second, there was the celebrity comparison: “The paparazzi kind of figured out that we’re quite boring and Britney’s far more interesting, so they go to her house,” remarked Victoria Beckham on owing her privacy in
Remembering the before Britney will cause morning-after headaches, ones where you shake and shake but still can’t quite see how you got from there to here. Then, it seemed so shiny and pink: her dance moves, her teen bop boyfriend, her short skirts and chewy chorus lyrics. All of it seemed easy and inconsequential, purchased merely for the price of prime time years with Mickey Mouse and an exported, eviscerated southern lass from rural Americana: “Britney Spears was raised as a Southern Baptist in her home state of Mississippi, part of the Bible Belt, and supposedly entered the music scene as a relatively devout Christian,” explains another reporter, “supposedly” his way into snark.
Now, we gorge on her contrasting decline, watching every wig and whacked out maneuver (accessorized by two toddler children) with pleasure oddly explained. What could be so very good about this public snuff film, the viewing of a body mad maggot by self-mutilation and tasteless expenditure? Something is good. Something is very, very good, or else her face (and her boys’ faces, and her mother’s face, and her sister’s face, and her multiple ex-husbands' faces, and her current paramours' faces, and her personal assistant’s faces) would not become, for us, easy insignias, more quickly read than tea leaves or reversals in
The October 30, 2007, issue of Christian Today gave some version of hope: “A megachurch in
Someday, though, no matter the megachurch maneuver, we’re going to feel badly. Alongside our mute tolerance of an impossible set of guerrilla wars, we’re also going to wonder: how could we let her get this far gone? Someday we will place the most symbolic Britney Spears smack in the middle of our 21st century decline; she will become a cruelly ironical counterpane to the claims of sacral nationhood and moral family re-making. As we squabble over religion in public discourse (the public display of religious ideation), it is well worth wondering where stands the religious imagination of this most public sacrifice.