Britney Spears’ Chaotic Attempt at Primetime
Britney Spears’ Chaotic, like the other “reality” shows focusing on celebrities and their families, walks a line between fun, harmless entertainment and self-exploitation. Chaotic makes me queasier than other shows though, and it’s not just from the camera operators’ inability to frame and shoot their subjects.
Spears, like many celebrities, complains about the tabloids and paparazzi and her lack of privacy. In March, she wrote in a letter posted on her website, “In the future, I will refrain from discussing my private life in interviews.” In short, her personal life will be off limits at some point in the future. Keeping one's personal life out of the spotlight is fine, and probably psychologically healthy if she wishes to remain in the public eye. Perhaps she learned that sharing her wedding photos with the world strips her of invaluable privacy. Unsurprisingly, however, some two months after her letter was published, a primetime reality TV show focused on her personal life premiered on UPN.
During the first episode, Spears looks into the camera and asks, "Can you handle my truth?" Immediately, I think the audience will be privy to sensitive information regarding Spears' relationship with previously anonymous backup dancer-turned-husband Kevin Federline. Before it aired, the show appeared to be an attempt at righting the wrongs Spears feels the "tabloid magazines" have done to her and her family by cluing fans into what really happened during the torrid Spears-Federline affair.
The idea that Spears would be airing the footage out of a genuine concern for her fans is ludicrous. It is difficult to believe that Spears would actually care whether her fans know a thing about her personal life as long as her record sales are still respectable. The only plausible explanation is that she needed any publicity she could garner from hastily made projects to boost her sagging record sales. Alas, the show probably won’t be enough. According to TVtome.com, less than four million people watched the first episode, and the show came in at “[number] 81 on the Nielsen weekly ratings chart.” The ratings declined as the show continued its six-episode run.
The show feels more like a 20-something's video diary than a television show, largely because the footage was shot primarily by Spears and Federline. Spears and Federline had trouble framing their subjects, as well as properly operating the camera’s zoom button. All too often, the camera films its subject at odd angles. The show has been re-christened "The Britney Witch Project" by some viewers, due to the terrible camera work and myriad shots framed and focused on Spears' nostrils and pores.
To make the show viable, various incongruous elements are thrown together in an attempt to expand its scope and content. The poorly-shot footage is spliced together with professionally-filmed concert footage. Interviews of the newlyweds reminiscing about their activities are thrown into the mix as well, in an attempt to add a narrative of the development of their infamous romance. The interviews, though, do not shed much light on the relationship or how Spears and Federline view each other; they reinforce the idea that the couple loves each other, but do not add much more insight into Spears’ “truth.” Spears and Federline aimed to recreate the style of The Real World, an MTV show profiling the turbulent lives of urban 20-somethings. That show uses spliced footage shot in a cinema verité style with interviews in which the participants explain their actions and give the audience a fuller account of what occurred. Unfortunately, much like Spears’ musical style, a combination of styles makes Chaotic a muddled mess, not an interesting sociological text.
The interviews, as well as the dialog featured in the self-filmed footage, are not very compelling. The discussions included in the aired version include favorite sexual positions, Spears' failed first marriage, Federline's lack of belief in the institution of marriage, and the Spears-Federline sex life. In the first episode, we're given the dubious honor of seeing Federline taking a shower, a vision I could have lived without seeing.
If this salty content is what made it to the air, one can only imagine what didn't make the cut. A necessary part of developing a relationship is divulging personal information. Although Chaotic showcases many Spears-Federline discussions, they’re often superficial. The happy couple spends very little time, if any, talking about friends and family.
This is very disappointing. In a show purportedly devoted to letting the public see the development of their relationship, one topic needed to be covered because it caused so much controversy: Federline’s fatherhood. Many of us want to know more about the nature of Federline’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend Shar Jackson during the time he was in Europe with Spears. Were they separated before he ventured out with Spears? Or did Spears, who portrays herself as a traditional woman who wants a family of her own, not know about Jackson and Federline’s family? Did she care? How did Spears react to the flack she and Federline received from the public regarding this issue? Nothing in Chaotic comes close to discussing the topic. Federline’s past becomes something they want swept under the rug discreetly because it dirties their pristine union.
Perhaps Federline’s past is ignored because it is none of our business, much like the majority of other omitted topics. If so, why bother with the show? Economics. Spears must be tired of those “false tabloids” making a mint off her exploits; she wants her dip into the pot. But if it sells copies of the Enquirer, what says it'll draw viewers? Tabloids are dirty, fun, and most of all, generally not endorsed by the stars they feature. Chaotic, by contrast, is a bore because there is no real dirt. Everything we see has been sanitized for Spears' protection, passed through filters until only chunks of unnourishing content remain.
The public wants to be kept in suspense. It wants to keep guessing what is happening with celebrities. They are larger than life to work-a-day folk, so seeing Britney mugging a pug nose with weird accent is not much fun. Spears might have regaled us with the depths of her persona; instead, she reveals a vapid life. But wasn't she always?
Tamara Watkins is an ESL instructor in the Washington, DC area.
For another Bad Subjects essay on an earlier incarnation of Britney Spears, see Joe Lockard's 2001 essay "Britney Spears, Victorian Chastity, and Brand-Name Virginity."
Image copyright 2005 by Tamara Watkins