For Media, 2008 Was Year of Hollywood Values

What does it say about the state of American culture when unmarried mothers, troubled pop stars and celebrity divorces are dubbed the “hottest” stories of the year?

On Dec. 30, USA Today designated Britney Spears this year's top celebrity after she earned the number one spot on its weekly Celebrity Heat Index 11 times during 2008 - a year in which she suffered a public breakdown, sought psychiatric help on two separate occasions, and still managed to release her new album, Circus. Britney also got the top spot in 2007.

Unlike Best/Worst/Hottest lists released by other media outlets that seem to be based purely on audience or industry opinion, USA Today's Celebrity Heat Index tracks the exposure celebrities receive each week in 11 different entertainment news sources including tabloid magazines, "Entertainment Tonight" and the gossip site 

The media fascination with Brit is due to her multi-million dollar pop star image and the lows and highs of a year of controversy and comebacks. However, the media also have a vested financial interest in making Britney the number one covered celebrity. They rake in $75 million each year covering the icon, according to Duff McDonald, contributing editor of Portfolio.

Actresses Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston placed number two and three on the Index followed by actor Brad Pitt, father to Jolie's children and Aniston's ex-husband. And when it comes to ex-husbands, the hottest breakup was the divorce between Madonna and Guy Ritchie, which is rumored to have been the result of Madonna's “friendship” with Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez. 

Perhaps even more troubling than the morbid fascination with Britney's mental health and the sad reality of divorce labeled as “hot,” was the “hottest mom” category. Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's 17-year-old sister, landed on the Index 19 different times. Jolie came in 2nd, appearing on the Index 17 times throughout 2008. Neither woman is married to the father of her children.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center. Erin Brown is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.