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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 January 2008, 10:11 GMT
Are we all to blame for Britney?
By Clare Murphy
Health reporter, BBC News

Britney, one TV therapist announced to the world, is in urgent need of "medical and psychological intervention".

Britney Spears in March 2007
Britney: An example of living life to the point of destruction?

Not dissimilar judgements have been piously passed on such stars from singer Amy Winehouse to actress Lindsay Lohan. Why do we seem to so relish celebrity distress?

You could hear about it on the BBC Radio 4 headlines or read about it in the tabloids: Britney's breakdown bridged Britain's traditional media divisions as to what counts as news.

"Increasingly the spectacle of this kind of emotional turmoil brings us together," says psychologist David Giles, author of Immortality: A Psychology of Fame and Celebrity .

"Britney, Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty. We can all say - ha! If you take drugs, get mixed up in dodgy dealings, or indulge in too much too soon, you'll get your comeuppance. It's like a modern morality play which we can all understand - and all enjoy."

Finding flaws

Of course fame has long gone hand in hand with psychological difficulties.

Some argue it is the pressure of the constant spotlight, others suggest that the kind of people who crave that spotlight are perhaps different from the rest of us to start with.

Now everyone thinks they can be famous and wants to find the flaws in those who already are
Phillip Hodson
BACP

But the consensus seems to be that the lives of troubled stars such as Judy Garland and Billie Holiday were not quite as picked over in their day as those of their modern counterparts are now.

The reasons why may be somewhat mundane: more media, therefore more details, more pictures. We can know so much more, much more easily.

But society has also changed.

"We live in what seem to be far less hierarchical times - we don't have this hang-up of 'knowing our place' anymore. Now everyone thinks they can be famous and wants to find the flaws in those who already are," says Phillip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

"But we also want to know what it's like to live to the point of destruction, to experience the thrill of it without actually having to do it ourselves, and that's where Britney and co come in."

Kylie effect?

And according to one former newspaper editor this week, if Britney did destruct, we would all have her blood on our hands.

Britney is a victim of an exploitative industry, a sensationalist media, and a public who seem to enjoy voyeuristically the troubles of superstars and celebrities
Marjorie Wallace
Sane

The photographers who snapped the woman as she lay manacled in an ambulance, said the Guardian's Peter Preston, "are working for us": we who buy the newspapers and push TV ratings through the roof as we tune in to learn more.

Gawping at mental breakdown is not so new. In the 18th Century, for a penny, you could peer into the cells at Bedlam and enjoy the inmates' antics.

But these days, perhaps are we more ready to learn from what we see.

Much was made of the so-called Kylie effect in 2005: women apparently became more aware of the dangers of breast cancer after the Australian singer declared she had been diagnosed with the disease.

Could public displays of mental ill health make us all more aware and indeed sympathetic to these problems?

The charity Sane has little time for this view. Britney watching appears to be as much a spectator sport for us now as queuing up outside Bedlam was 300 years ago.

"However sad this latest incident may be for Britney Spears herself, the fact that it is exploited as part of the 'must have' breakdown of any record-breaking singer serves only to belittle her genuine suffering - let alone the suffering of countless others who do not have the consolation of fame and fortune," says Marjorie Wallace, the charity's chief executive.

"She is a victim of an exploitative industry, a sensationalist media, and a public who seem to enjoy voyeuristically the troubles of superstars and celebrities."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Britney Spears carried out of her home



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