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A disgusting abuse of power

Britney: ‘just trying to express herself’

Britney Spears, popular singer, has been been photographed getting out of a limo – or “flashing her apparently panty-less crotch to the paparazzi”, as the LA Times puts it. (“Apparently”?) Such a seismic event requires interpretation by experts. Luckily, the LA Times found one, “New York-based celebrity image consultant Amanda Sanders”, who twittered:

She’s a beautiful girl and now that she’s single and she’s having fun, I think she’s just trying to express herself. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong message that’s coming across.

It once used to be said that people had ideas or thoughts to express. Now the highest form of expression is to express oneself. Indeed, “I’m just expressing myself” is a kind of general-purpose alibi for behaviour of which others might disapprove. It’s a challenge to critics: if you attack what I do, you’re attacking me personally, because everything I do expresses myself. The “celebrity image consultant” affects to be offering this defence on poor Britney’s behalf, even while assuming that Britney was indeed deliberately flashing, and that this act constituted a mysterious message that has unfortunately been lost in translation. What does Sanders suppose it might have been intended to mean?

Another commentator adopted a less forgiving pose, writing:

Britney Spears’ no-panties stunt is a disgusting abuse of power.

The person lecturing us about disgusting abuses of power is Mike Straka, a writer for Fox News. (An organisation that fails to summon any comparable indignation for abuses of power by men in the current government.) In Straka’s tiny mind, as he goes on to explain, the real problem is not that he has been forced at gunpoint to stare at Spears’s genitalia, but that they just don’t do it for him. “Britney is skanky,” he warns his family audience. “Plain and simple.” Naturally, it is only a “disgusting abuse of power” to expose “skanky” genitals. Straka finishes his sermon thus:

It’s up to you America, to reject this disrespectful young woman, who has no regard for you and your children (not to mention her own), and who would spread her legs for the world to see — very deliberately. Do not buy her new CD when it comes out. The only thing that will change this “coarse” of action is to hit her where it hurts the most. And since a kick to the groin apparently doesn’t hurt enough, perhaps a flopped comeback will let her know that we’ve had enough.

It’s all about respect for the children. Showing his own respect for females everywhere, children or not, Straka fantasises about “a kick to the groin”. Where did that come from? He sees a naked female groin and his first thought is to want to kick it? No doubt he should be applauded for expressing himself.

  1. 1  Aenea  November 30, 2006, 1:08 pm 

    Hey, isn’t that what we all think when we see one? I know I do. :D

  2. 2  Bastion  November 30, 2006, 7:30 pm 

    “Kick her in the cunt!”

  3. 3  Steven  November 30, 2006, 9:55 pm 

    You can’t take rllmuk folk anywhere…

  4. 4  DF  November 30, 2006, 10:11 pm 

    It’s from Beckett, isn’t it, the line “kick her in the cunt”? Somewhere in the trilogy I think. No doubt someone can Google it.

  5. 5  Steven  November 30, 2006, 10:33 pm 

    No doubt you could have done so yourself. I do hope someone will. I thought it was from Derek and Clive, those Beckettians.

  6. 6  DF  November 30, 2006, 11:33 pm 

    OK, I’ll do it, I’ll do it. Jesus.

    Here we go.


    Not very good with computers.

    Here we go. Yup. Got it.

    I was wrong. The bit I half remembered wasn’t from the trilogy. It was from First Love.

    “You disturb me, I said, I can’t stretch out with you there. The collar of my greatcoat was over my mouth and yet she heard me. Must you stretch out? She said. The mistake one makes is to speak to people. You only have to put your feet on my knees, she said. I didn’t wait to be asked twice, under my miserable calves I felt her fat thighs. She began stroking my ankles. I considered kicking her in the cunt.”

  7. 7  Steven  December 1, 2006, 12:05 am 

    Ah, thank you, I knew you could do it. Clearly Derek and Clive knew this passage well. But now I am somewhat confused, anatomically. Does the earlier context give more clues as to the precise arrangement of people in space?

    “The mistake one makes is to speak to people.” Quite so.

    I am enjoying the fact that lots of people today have come to this site after searching for the Britney pictures , and will be subjected instead to a discussion about Beckett. Improving.

  8. 8  graham  December 1, 2006, 8:41 am 

    I always thought the complaint was that the penis was the symbol of power. On the other hand, Lysistrata showed the power women hold on a whim. But in that case is the frequent disclosure of the pudenda (if, indeed, it is that and not flesh-coloured panties, or a testicle, as some claim on the many many websites I have visited in search of hard evidence of the rumour….) is the frequent disclosure not an abuse of power at all but a devaluing of it?

    Meanwhile the internet is in meltdown with frantic searches for skanky quim.

    Which raises the question about “Worth”. How much is Britney’s twat worth? Is it how much bandwidth it has cost Google? Is it how much it is worth (“means”) to her? Or to Federline? (Nothing? Or quite a lot to keep his mouth shut?) Or how much she can get for it, including as an investment in the future success of her comeback.

    Or is it how much it is worth to the undies-down brigade?

  9. 9  dsquared  December 1, 2006, 8:46 am 

    I think that the most interesting thing about the whole Britney sage of the last two weeks is that it’s clearly part of a sustained PR campaign to rehabilitate Britney in the hearts and gonads of teenage boys as a sex object, after her period of childbirth and marriage which have caused her to slip down the league (as measured by the statisticians at FHM, Nuts etc). However they decided to go for the belt-and-braces approach; as well as publishing a few photos of her vagina, they arranged for Britney to be seen out and about around town with Paris Hilton, which in the Noh drama of celeb-zines, means that she is “a bit slutty”.

    I had read a little bit about the idea of a floating signifier, but Paris appears to have turned it into an actual career. I wonder if other abstract concepts are going to get walking celebrity representatives (I suppose that Nelson Mandela has “dignity” sewn up and Bono is “seriousness”).

    All this suggests to me that the next edition of Unspeak needs colour photographs.

  10. 10  Steven  December 1, 2006, 9:53 am 

    I’ll have a word with my publishers and see if we can’t get a few colour plates of celebrity upskirts in. That would break up nicely all the depressing stuff about torture and war.

    I like to think of “Paris Hilton” as “Scunthorpe Travelodge”, for all-too-obvious reasons.

  11. 11  graham  December 1, 2006, 3:41 pm 

    What a charming anachronism ‘colour plates’ is! Or is it publishing that is charmingly anachronistic? Do they still really use colour plates? Aren’t the plates the printing plates rather than the pages. In that case if you were to include the plates it would be a very thick and weighty tome indeed. Perhaps people would take it em>really seriously! Is ‘colour plates’ a ‘floating signifier’? Because I didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t know what a floating signifier was I found a quite excellent little webpage (with colour plates), Semiotics for Beginners. I am certain that I will begin to understand what it is about after I have read it a few hundred more times. And not a single mention of Chomsky!

    An ’empty’ or ‘floating signifier’ is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non-existent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to different people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean. In such a state of radical disconnection between signifier and signified, ‘a sign only means that it means’ (Goldman & Papson 1994)

    Or as Magritte might have it, “Ceci n’est pas un blog.”

  12. 12  Tom the Peeper  December 1, 2006, 3:48 pm 

    All this clever chat is much more arousing than Britney’s fanny

  13. 13  graham  December 1, 2006, 6:06 pm 

    I felt so stupid. The ‘all-too-obviousness’ of the Scunthorpe Travelodge eluded me. So I made enquiries of Google and Wikipedia and discovered many fasinating things. I now know of The Scunthorpe Problem. I know there is a team called Scunthorpe United. I learned that the Travelodge recently created 6 new jobs. I have seen images of inside and out. I know you can get a room there for 26 Pounds a night (if you book online). And I know that Sarah was drunk in the bath there in August.

    To thank you for all my new learning, and such special insights into British provincial life, I offer this link of Sarah in the bath (clothed), being ‘random’:

    It seems strangely relevant to Paris and Britney and this conversation.

  14. 14  Steven  December 2, 2006, 1:08 pm 

    Sorry about that – it’s good to be reminded that my exclusive but far-flung international audience might be occasionally confused at my more parochial attempts at humour.

    A propos floating signifiers, perhaps Britney Spears’s nether regions themselves qualify. I imagine they certainly mean different things to different people, eg to Kevin Federline, Pope Ratzinger, Condi Rice, or Ken Livingstone.

  15. 15  graham  December 2, 2006, 4:11 pm 

    I gather Ken Livingstone is a bit of a floating signifier of and to himself.

  16. 16  Brit Schtick  December 4, 2006, 1:31 pm 

    “The only thing that will change this “coarse” of action is to hit her where it hurts the most. And since a kick to the groin apparently doesn’t hurt enough, perhaps a flopped comeback will let her know that we’ve had enough.”

    Straka’s rabid incitement to reject Britney and her in-your-face “parts” has an interesting subtext. His recommended action is to “hurt” Britney, to “hit her”, lamenting as he does the inadequacy of a “kick” to cause the desired damage. But he not only loses credibility because of his attempts to fight pictures of Britney’s newly introduced front-bottom with such savage and bloodthirsty language(Cue tired discussion as to the power of violence over sex to corrupt) but, more practically because he has overlooked the fact that this adversary doesn’t have testicles.

    In his frenzied attempt to spur on the good folks of America to visit a terrible and crushing commercial violence on Britney’s record sales, he’s forgotten that the target is female. You can’t really (in a conventional sense) emasculate a woman. All this talk about “flopped comebacks” and kicks to the groin would be a lot more effective if Britney had balls. As it is, she can forgo traditional precautionary measures such as cupping or codpieces and get on with expressing herself.

  17. 17  Steven  December 4, 2006, 2:38 pm 

    An interesting point. To be fair there is an alternative reading. Straka says: “a kick to the groin apparently doesn’t hurt enough”. Perhaps he has conducted a survey, kicking a few women in the groin and then asking them how much it hurt, thereupon receiving disappointing answers. Or he might mean that Britney’s genital exposure already constitutes a kick to the groin. Perhaps whenever he has exposed his genitals, someone has kicked him in the bollocks, and so he automatically equates the two.

    Still, I like your reading. Even to think about a kick to the groin is evidently coleocentric. Probably Straka subconsciously dreams of wrestling with other men’s balls, with Britney looking on.

  18. 18  Graham Giblin  December 4, 2006, 3:46 pm 

    Looking back at the original post I notice that Straka says, “It’s up to you, America, to reject this disrespectful young woman, who has no regard for you and your children (not to mention her own)…” etc. etc.

    Is this use of “America” not the real Unspeak in his tirade? I assume weasel words are an empty shell masquerading as weighty content whereas, by contrast, with Unspeak the shell hides a linguistic gorilla (say). “America” as he uses it is full of all sorts of selective, rightwing assumptions about decent, “right-thinking” conservative values – his projection of what he wishes most Americans would believe are the “natural” values – along with the associated decent, justifiable, right-sanctioned, conservative actions such as kicking Britney in the, as Bastion so eloquently says, cunt.

  19. 19  Richard  December 4, 2006, 4:03 pm 

    “Meanwhile the internet is in meltdown with frantic searches for skanky quim.”

    This is the most brilliant summing up of the spirit of the age I’ve seen. In those odd moments when the world suddenly looks like a comic book to me, this will be permanently etched into the upper left corner. Perhaps FOX news and CNN could put it on endless repeat on their scrolling ticker.

  20. 20  Brit Schtick  December 4, 2006, 4:31 pm 

    Perhaps he was inflamed by Britney’s earlier paean to domestic violence, namely that in which she is asking for it? I mean to say, maybe he thought it would have been a kindness to “hit her one more time”? Or perhaps he was simply made “Crazy” by her “Outrageous” failure to keep her dignity “Over-protected”: In my book, her prerogative.

    Sorry. I do recognise how truly awful that was. Must. Resist.

    Writing to a friend earlier with whom I share an interest in, I pointed out that this week’s somewhat atypical posts concerned Britney and Axl Rose. Which led to the belated realisation that those subjects might not deviate so completely from more usual themes such as torture and religion after all…

  21. 21  Steven  December 4, 2006, 5:10 pm 

    Your friend is all too painfully aware, I believe, and was so even before last Saturday, that my scholarly interest in the oeuvre of (W.) Axl Rose long precedes my formulation of “Unspeak”. I must confess, though, that posting about Britney was merely a cynical ploy to draw out those who normally only comment on women’s issues. Apologies to whomever is wishing that normal service be resumed as soon as possible.

    I do agree that Graham’s marvellous description is really the headline for our entire era.

  22. 22  Dave  December 8, 2006, 12:18 pm 

    I’m a bit uncomfortable about the condescension or disdain which seems built into the word ‘skanky’. Can anyone venture an etymology of ‘skank? The OED has none, but records this as its first usage:
    1964 K. HANSON Rebels in Streets i. 8 ‘Hanky and Pinky whom the boys called ‘skanks’, plain, promiscuousprostitutes without pay.’
    As opposed to the ones valuable enough to pay for, then? The casual coupling of ‘plain, promiscuous’ here is fascinating.

  23. 23  Steven  December 8, 2006, 7:58 pm 

    Hello Dave!
    Thank you for bringing up the word “skanky”. It is rather a horrible word, to express a horrible feeling, I suppose. Anyway no part of Britney presumably can be “skanky” in the OED citation’s sense, since I understand she is paid rather a lot.

    In case any readers have missed it, Britney has, rather charmingly, apologised to her fans:

    I probably did take my new found freedom a little too far. Anyway, thank God for Victoria’s Secrets’ new underwear line!

    Thank God, indeed.

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