Britney’s ordeal is a lingering repercussion of the most vicious celebrity gossip period. Human nature compels us to talk, to peek beyond the flimsy veil of secrecy that separates the wealthy. And famous for the ordinary and inquisitive. That age-old desire reached a poisonous nadir in the early 2000s. There, in the corners of a still-novel and lawless internet. A new breed of bloggers redefined celebrity gossip and sparked the birth of a merciless media machine that devoured. And spat out every fresh-faced, well-heeled star in its path.
Now, browsing through famous gossip sites like Perez Hilton, Lainey Gossip. And TMZ seems eerily similar to reminiscing about the most awkward years of a digital childhood. However, while they ruled, no young starlet was immune to the continuous barrage of upskirts. Intrusive paparazzi photos, and humiliating headlines. The coverage was abrasive and scorching. And thirsty fans drank it all down with the same zeal as a mid-morning coffee.
Much has changed since the early 2000s, or so it would seem. The development of social media and a more socially aware audience have tempered the paparazzi’s frenetic rush and stifled the most heinous stories. Stars who were previously consign to top-page blog fodder have shown outlets for openly reflecting on their experiences. Perez Hilton and other gossip moguls have issued public apologies for their harsh reputations.
For all intents and purposes, the nasty gossip blog age has come to an end.
However, not in the case of Britney Spears.
Spears, now 39, has been battling a conservatorship for more than a decade, after a string of personal setbacks that started in 2007. At the time, celebrity gossip writers were at their zenith, and they delighted in documenting and detailing every stumble: Britney is now shaving her head. Britney using an umbrella to assault a paparazzo’s vehicle. So, Britney during her two kids’ custody hearings. Britney resurfaces during an awkward awards show performance. Britney at her most vulnerable, on display for everyone to see.
In 2008, what was intended to be a temporary agreement to assist Spears in regaining her footing became a permanent set of legal limitations that have impacted both her personal and professional life ever since. Meanwhile, pop culture and Spears’ careers have changed. However, her legal problems continue to loom large as a lasting legacy of an age when no personal conflict was off-limits to the mighty arbiters of the internet.
Putting it through its paces
In reality, Britney Spears has always been a topic of conversation. The icon was just sixteen years old when her schoolgirl skirt and fluffy “…Baby, One More Time” pigtails forever altered pop culture in 1998, branding the image as profoundly and as Michael Jackson’s white glove or a pair of blue suede shoes in perpetuity.
From that point on, she sparked a worldwide interest that has never seemed to wane, despite her difficulties.
As it turned out, the greatest of those difficulties occurred during a particularly fertile time for growing gossip mills. Her divorce, custody fight, mental health problems, and an involuntary hospitalization episode during. Which paparazzi fought for a shot of Spears on a stretcher occurred between 2007 and 2008. Simultaneously, Lindsay Lohan, another popular gossip subject, was dealing with a slew of legal issues and court appearances of her own. Other It-girls’ escapades such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and Tara Reid were interwoven.
What were these women’s commonalities? They were all young, attractive, wealthy, and prosperous. They had all endured a lifetime of celebrity, with many navigating the perilous shift from child star to young, self-sufficient adult.
And they deserved to be knocked down a peg in the freshly created snark cathedrals of the online gossip world.
“We like seeing individuals rise and then fall, and then rise again,” says Erin Meyers. An associate professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at Oakland University.
“This is especially valid for somebody like Britney Spears, who experienced childhood in a perfectly spotless Disney family prior to turning into a young adult star.”