By the time this column is published, you will have seen and heard it thousands of times. Reuters and The Associated Press will have issued multiple reports with slight variations on court dates and other details as the updates come in. CNN will have scrolled the latest incoming news about it. FOX News might even have a panel discussion about it; Britney Spears has lost custody of her two children.
Do I still have your attention? Have you just suffered a massive heart attack, prematurely gone into labor or otherwise suffered physical symptoms related to shock? If not, then please answer me this: Why do we care?
Over the past few days, news cycles have buzzed about Kim Jong Il meeting with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, indicating a potential unification and demilitarizing of North Korea, about new developments in the Jena 6 incident, about President Ahmadinejad of Iran being permitted to give a talk at Columbia University. And in case anyone forgot, Iraqi civilians and American soldiers are being killed daily.
Still, I am not at all surprised that the top story for several days and weeks to come will revolve around Britney Spears. We have an obsessive relationship with pop stars and celebrities. We hold her to a constructed standard based upon who she was being portrayed as when her first album was released, and we are readily available to celebrate her complete collapse. As soon as we saw her lip-syncing in a school girl outfit, she was already doomed to our eventual ridicule and animosity. At the risk of being unnecessarily rhetorical; why exactly do we care when Britney Spears wears panties while she goes clubbing, or when she loses custody of her children?
Of course, this is not the first time something like this has happened. Does anybody remember Gary Condit? Trent Lott? Yellowcake? Abu Ghraib? Tom DeLay? Scooter Libby? Our attention span is either negligible and we cannot maintain an interest in a story for very long, or we consciously choose not to take interest, unable to stand being inconvenienced by events that are most troubling and should be received with the most concern.
I do not know if this is a distinctly American and/or Western phenomenon, but it would not surprise me. As a general rule, the West detests discomfort. As soon as we are engaged with unpleasantries, we attempt to hide behind whatever cover we can quickly find that will hold us over long enough to be distracted by something else. If you are genuinely interested in Britney Spears, well then I apologize, for several reasons, but for most of us, it's the shiny object we're fixating on until the next distasteful news event rears its ugly head.