This article is Ancient (archive 2011)

Britney Spears as Schizophrenetic Barbie

While spending time in a paranoid haze, consuming music videos as only crazy people and social scientists can, I came across an unexpected phenomenon: The Brit-Split. As Ms. American Dream since she was seventeen, Britney Spears must toe the thin line of fantasy and wear every garment she finds hanging from it in order to maintain her pop-queen status.

A number of different Barbies, all hip, come out each year. Britney production is much the same. Every year, in her music videos, she contains a multitude.

As long as she successfully navigates two dichotomies, she can continue to rule, and every other Marilyn-biting blonde will just be supplemental, an alternative to Britney. The other crowned blondes of our time (Madonna and Marilyn) succeeded by combining Madonna and Whore to satisfy temporal tastes. To be a hyper-pop fantasy, she must be both Madonna and Whore, and, when she fails to navigate this cleft, her career suffers. To walk this line, Britney’s videos consistently divide her into multiple Britneys.

And, in order to sell, she has to embody women’s fantasies and insecurities. She has to make them feel good by letting them know that they’re not alone, but remain in a position to which they aspire. This creates the inner-Britney outer-Britney split. Frequently, inner-Britney talks to the camera, while outer-Britney talks to men, and occasionally to her girls. (My notes on this are here).

This four-way split is unnervingly close to the way we played with Barbie growing up. When I played alone, Barbie was subject to more and greater insecurities than when I was playing with my sister and friends, when the dolls were often a way for us to learn to manage group dynamics, rendering everyone’s doll all-powerful until we sorted out who got to tell the story. Despite the occasional sexual venture, she never seemed to lose her innocence (Doll Sex (from Doll Games)), which seems to happen in Britney’s later videos as well (notably, in If U Seek Amy and Hold it Against Me, the virginity is almost farcical, which is actually what happened to our most promiscuous dolls in later stories).

Britney is a doll, an object that gives us the opportunity to work through issues surrounding femininity, just like Barbie. Her videos put her in different careers and poses; her personality drastically changes depending on her role, but at the end of the day she’s still Britney, the icon of femininity ( Womanizer). Perhaps her similarity to Barbie is responsible for our fascination with  her. When she begins to look less like a Barbie, we hate her (and her earning power tends to decline), but when she’s in good shape and together, we never let her fail.

Join the discussion by commenting below, and use the friendly share buttons (also down) to include your friends (or the people you used to play with Barbie with). This article is a follow up to this one.