We have been rather moribund lately. Languorous and lazy, we—like food-addled Thanksgivers on the couch watching football, counting our blessings rather than our calories. Like a great dirigible lazing in its mooring above the Illinois countryside1, it seems the updraft of cultural excess and folderol was just sufficient to buffet us slightly, make us tug gently against the lines, but never really break free. Democrats take both Houses? Fine. Rachael Ray on every Nabisco box in the universe? It’s about time … O.K. Tar Heels upset Ohio State in spirited second-half play unseen since the era of Dean Smith? 2 Of course. God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world, Roy Williams for president.
It seemed, for a moment, that we would never write again—that in our hazy contentment we might be forced to let our staff go and give up the lease here at Disquieting Modern Trends Plaza.
Alas and thank goodness: it was not to last.
For then it happened. Lazily eating our Monday morning Cap’n Crunch athwart our laptops, we were awakened. Behold, Britney Spears.
Post K-Fed3 and feeling itchy for a little monkey scratching, the pop-songstress-turned-white-trash-mama decided to hit the town for a week of carousing with Paris Hilton—a bender more avidly covered than Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. And, like the famed rodent, its epicenter concerned the peeking forth of a fabled creature whose exercises have seismic consequences for the rest of the world.
Britney Spears’s vagina.
More specifically: her labia. Seen from above, and, on a different night, from behind. Hairless, presumably shaved, Ms. Spears seemingly a strong-boned adult in every physiological sense. Verifiably abundant, healthy, fleshy. And exposed in a calculated publicity stunt whose industry term of art is the “upskirt photo”4, that she learned at the skinny elbow of Ms. Hilton, the undisputed master of this arcane art and its go-to girl as certainly as Pai Mei is the fellow you need to teach you the five-point palm exploding heart technique5.
Now, we don’t have to tell you that this event sent us reeling and flew our fingers into an excited flutter on our laptop keys. But not for why you think. Oh no, loyal readers. We don’t really want to see Britney’s cha cha. Previous G.G.W.6 perambulations to the contrary, we are really sort of over seeing naked girls in the media, and certainly we are over the sort of pubescent slavering that sent us to our friend’s father’s garage to look at the Swedish nudie mags he kept behind the folded-up Ping Pong table.7
But we have serious and complex takes on the offending cha-cha itself, its placement, and its rhetorical/hermeneutic implications. Serious and lengthy takes. Thus, we persevere:
The Ease of Photographing the Cha-Cha
First, this: the cha-cha is sacred. We understand that the continual “coarsening of the culture” had, ultimately, to result in this. We realize that the desperate need to sell-sell-SELL was never planning to honor any imaginary line that we or anyone else might draw in the socio-sexual sand. AND we realize that we—as lascivious C-List Blogebrities with a history of reveling in sensual sensationalism—have even facilitated the descent we here deplore. But we naïvely thought that even those seeking to exploit the cha-cha’s “special status” would do so with the kind of indirection and greasy suggestion that the cha-cha’s rich history as “bad girl” cipher so merits. If t’were us who were advising Ms. Spears in her comeback efforts, we would have advised sticking to the ground game for a while longer—the teasing possibility of a FedEx-auteured sex tape, letting her babies drive the Beemer, that kind of thing—before throwing the bomb. And even then, you’d think that another Madonna kiss on TV or maybe a wardrobe malfunction would be the kind of escalation you’d want. What, friends, has become of the nipple? Is it really so insignificant now?
But the cha-cha photos (Have you been waiting for us to give you the link, dear reader? Where is your initiative?) are blatantly staged. This is the modern day equivalent of a Babe Ruth home run—as if Ms. Spears had stepped up to the plate, pointed to her micromini with the bat, then swung for the fences. Did Britney know for sure that there were paparazzi ready to snap her picture? Kids, she was riding in a limo with Paris Hilton. The paparazzi were just the truck drivers delivering the product to your local supermarket. Fresh as early morning dew. Do we have some sense that an indelible line in paparazzi-baiting has been forever crossed? Well, do you?
Like using an ace to beat a three, like amputating over a hangnail, like hiring Meryl Streep for a walk-on part in the middle-school musical—deliberately exposing a former Mouseketeer’s cha-cha in order to revive a career in pop music is vintage overkill. Which, as the very place where our culture currently lives, is instantly itself a trivial act, propio-neutralized by its own outrage.
The Ease of Discovering the Photo of the Cha-Cha
You have always been able to see an anonymous cha-cha without too much trouble beyond a willingness to Google a euphemism therefor. Celebrity cha-cha used to be available with just a few more clicks. But it still wasn’t anything that you could access on a Web site that wasn’t blocked by your employer. The Britney chacharino, however, was practically handed us by Tom Brokaw.
We first found the story on Slate.com—practically the Eric Sevareid of the Internet.8 And there was the link. Of course we clicked on it, and: bang! if memory serves: it went directly to the cha-cha. In fewer steps than it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn we had full NC-17 access to the photos in question. Quoi?
Put aside morality and propriety—that’s been out the window since some time in the mid-90s when the U.S. Congress held hearings because of a semen-stained dress. We just think that you should have to work harder for cha-cha at this level. What of the work ethic in this country? What are we teaching our children?
The Cha-Cha Not as an End in Itself but—Can It Be?—As Merely a Loss Leader for Some New TV Show
We also speculate that the whole thing may be part of a multi-billion dollar investment by FX networks to further promote the Courteney Cox Arquette vehicle Dirt, which better be something pretty damn special after the thousands of ads they’ve been lading Nip/ Tuck with since July, let us tell you, buster. (Dirt, BTW, is about a tabloid newspaper. See Footnote 3, supra.) Seriously, these ads have higher production values than a Tony Snow “news conference” and C.C.A.’s blatant nose and brow work combined. It better be great. We fear it won’t be. But at least Peter Gabriel is finally getting some royalty sugar, his first since “Shock the Monkey” was lifted for an ill-advised interactive exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo in 1989. (No, it wasn’t. Sorry, North Carolina Zoo.)
The One-Fell-Swoop Destruction of Our Once-Cherished Pleasure in the Shiny, Surface-Conscious Pop That Ms. Spears Stood For
Back when other hipper-than-thou cats like us were getting swept in by various indie-rock bands or alt-country acts—back in the late 1998, that is—we were first on the Britney bandwagon—admittedly falling off briefly for a little Spice Girls thing, but then right back on. If you think it was merely because of the Catholic schoolgirl video for “… Baby One More Time”, then you just don’t know us very well. It is a sturdily made pop song by any standard9, and we thrilled to the notion that some good old-fashioned pop music was being made by a group that didn’t (a) have a number in the name of the band10, or (b) didn’t consist of five or six castrated dudes. No embarrassment in enjoying the surface, folks, and we did.
But what was great about Britney’s first two albums is now and forever turned horrible, of course. The li’l Mouseketeer was but a pretty and fragile vase into which her producers could place a slick bouquet of pop flowers, and much of the fun was in knowing that Britney was indeed not the artist at all. Her innocence was not a joke as much as it was a fact—causing the kind of smile that you get when you see a little kid wear a three-piece suit. And the minute B.S. started to assert her own adulthood, you it was time to consider buying, say, the new Hilary Duff album. The latest —this bold public display of not only the cha-cha but also Britney’s caesarian scar—is nothing if not as assertion that she is NOT innocent and probably never was, placing a hairline crack in our lifetime devotion to crackling bright pop music, which crack — like B.S.’s descent into bathos itself—seems to grow wider exponentially the more we think about it all.
This is rough going, here, emotionally. We are becoming flustered. So we are going to stop now, let our indulgent reader take a knee and catch his breath. Really, we will. But first, and last, a personal aside:
The Souring of Our Affection for Cheap Titillation, Which Affection Used to Be Considerable, We’ll Admit It
At the end of the day, we feel strangely cheapened by the whole interlude, personally deflated and world-weary in the sort of why-bother, heel-of-hand-to-forehead way that Sheryl Crow.11 seems to reference in “You’re an Original”:
Got you in a pose
That everybody knows
We thought you had something special.
We will soldier on, yes, but it won’t be the same. Other off-putting modern trends have passed through this column—nigh hundreds, we suppose—but never one that was so definitely era-closing. The cha-cha is not sacred anymore. And we shed a tear for it. And swear—wondering in some self-abusive way about causality, the awful weight of the mantle we assumed lo these fourteen months ago—never to fall asleep at the D.M.T. watch again. Look what happens when we leave you alone for FIVE MINUTES. Never again. Like an eagle tenderly nuzzling her chicks—and like Stephen Colbert himself—we’ll be watching you.