Britney, Anna Nicole discover dark side of celebrity reality

February 26, 2007|By KATHLEEN PARKER

Between hourly updates on the decomposing body of Anna Nicole Smith and the balding of Britney Spears, we can confidently declare that the Jerry Springerization of America is complete.

The travails of these two tragic characters would be of little interest in a normal world, but "celebrity" is the new normal. Like it or not, we're all in this together.

Britney and Anna Nicole, after all, are our inventions. We made them celebrities, awarded them icon status, gave them life. Now, like Dr. Frankenstein upon realizing he's created a monster, we've become instruments of their undoing.

Anyone who has turned on a TV in the last week or so has been witness to the spectacle in Fort Lauderdale, where hearings focused on what to do with Anna Nicole's body.

I confess that it took a few minutes watching the probate proceedings to realize that it wasn't a spoof or a soap opera. The posturing and pontificating of Judge Larry Seidlin, clearly enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, make Lance Ito, of O.J. Simpson trial fame, look like Oliver Wendell Holmes.

With the burial issue seemingly resolved, focus shifted to the paternity of Anna Nicole's 5-month-old baby girl, Dannielynn. The subtext to the entire mess is, of course, money - the other defining concern of the former Playboy model's short, unhappy life.

Anna Nicole spent most of her public life trying to get millions from the estate of her deceased oil-tycoon husband, J. Howard Marshall, who died in 1995 at age 90. Now that same money is up for possible grabs among her survivors.

Last week, titillation merged with the macabre as mortals clamored over the bombshell's remains like the ravenous widows in Zorba the Greek. The weird got weirder when the disembodied voice of the Broward County medical examiner was piped into the courtroom via speakerphone to issue a decomposition status report.

And then everyone took a lunch break to visit Anna Nicole at the morgue. While you're mulling that image, we switch channels to the other coast, where Britney has shaved her head and checked in and out of rehab.

Theories vary as to why Britney clipped her hair. The most recent is that she was reacting to estranged husband Kevin Federline's alleged threat to have her hair tested for drugs in a custody battle over their two children. If Mr. Federline indeed wants one of those strands, he'll have to take a number and bid on the sheared tresses, now for sale by the owner of the salon where the shearing took place.

At "Buy Britneys (sic) Hair Dot Com," bids start at $1 million.

"This is the Ultimate Britney Spears Experience!" boasts the site.

At the same time we might recoil from these prurient displays, we're also involuntarily mesmerized. The human wrecks of Britney and Anna Nicole transcend the usual roadkill metaphor, however, because we're participants - not just spectators but also instigators. We are the mirrors to their vanities.

For former child stars like Britney, who didn't get to develop a normal sense of self, identity comes from what is projected by the audience. What happens when the projection stops, or when it shifts from admiring to critical?

If you're Britney, apparently, you take out the shears and turn the rage on yourself. Anna Nicole, who was without talent except the ability to attract our attention, existed only as an object. She posed; we ogled. But what happens when no one's looking? If you're Anna Nicole, apparently, you take more drugs and make a spectacle of yourself as a slurring, stumbling bimbo with her own reality TV show.

The parallel sagas of these two sad divas - one dead and one self-destructing - have the feel of reality TV that has spiraled out of control.

The desperation that drove them both to extremes may have been born of the truth that reveals itself to all celebrities eventually: What the public giveth, the public also taketh away.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears Mondays and Fridays in The Sun. Her e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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