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C'mon Britney, Turn it Around

No one wants to see a mom forced to give up her kids – but that's what we're seeing, in all its ugliness, every day in the “news.”    

Britney Spears is paying the ultimate price for her reckless, irresponsible personal conduct, and the media, like a swarm of vultures, are gorging on every juicy detail.

Should Britney be held responsible for the bad choices she has made? Absolutely.  She is like the protagonist in a classical tragedy, done in by her own character flaws. 

A former Mouseketeer, Britney Spears has spent the last decade remaking herself into a sex-kitten singer/entertainer and pulling young fans along for the ride.  She has shamelessly sought the celebrity spotlight, while turning herself into the worst kind of role model.  Now she is reaping the whirlwind of a decade of bad choices.

The price of celebrity may be the loss of privacy, but how much of this do we need to see?  The media have been all over Britney in the past year.  Since her Nov. 7, 2006 divorce it's been like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

In the October 2 Washington Post, columnists Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts lay out a timeline of Britney's downward spiral.  Every incident has been fodder for gossip rags and cable news' insatiable appetite for celebs-in- trouble-storylines. Courtesy of the Post, here are some of the low-lights:

“Nov. 7, 2006: Spears files for divorce after two years of marriage. News stories reflect poorly on Federline (he left her to go party in Las Vegas after her C-section, etc.). Spears seeks custody of their two sons, her ex does the same.

Nov. 18: Spears is seen partying in Vegas with Paris Hilton. Soon, several unflattering photos emerge of Spears pantyless under short skirts.

Jan. 5: The couple agrees on shared custody. Spears says her '07 plan is "just to take care of me more."

Feb. 16: Hours after checking out of rehab, Spears walks into a hair salon in full view of paparazzi and shaves her head. In later days, she checks back into rehab, then checks out within hours. Federline threatens to pursue full custody, and she returns to rehab.

March 20: Spears checks out of the ritzy Promises Malibu clinic "after successfully completing their program," her manager says.

July 19: Spears storms out of an OK! magazine photo shoot that she had disrupted with suspicious bathroom breaks and her dog relieving himself on a designer gown.

Aug. 8: Federline files for primary custody of the kids.

Sept. 9: A dead-eyed Spears wobbles through a pathetic performance on an MTV awards show. Federline throws a birthday party for the kids at his California home.

Sept. 17: Spears's lawyer and manager both quit.

Sept. 21: Spears is charged with hitting another car and driving without a license in L.A. Within days she is seen driving again.”

The tragedy culminated on October 1 with a California judge telling Spears she had to give up her kids.  People magazine exclusively reported that Britney's lawyer said the judge's order came because Spears did not take a random drug and alcohol test and could not present a valid driver's license.  The October 4 USA Today  reports an eye-patch-wearing Kevin Federline walked out of a California court smiling with custody of his kids.  Brit was not at the hearing, so no cameras could record this ultimate humiliation for a mother.

This is what it looks like when consequences come knocking with a TV camera in tow. 

And yet.

How many people stop and wonder what it would be like to have their mistakes make the “news” on a regular basis?  How many of us can imagine that pressure as a 25-year-old?

Do celebrities' troubles merit the press they receive, or are media outlets simply serving up story upon story to feed our culture's celebrity obsession?  It's probably a chicken-and-egg question. But Britney's screwups have left her scrambled and the media have feasted on the buffet.

In an AP story run on, reporter Sandy Cohen quotes a Los Angeles divorce lawyer who thinks there is still hope for Britney.  Connolly Oyler said, “If she picks a good counselor and gets a different set of friends, there's a good chance she can turn things around,” noting “she's only 25.”

If she does turn things around, would the media notice?

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.