Friday, 7 May 2010

Britney’s New Clothes

So I was reading Roaring’s thoughts on being perfect and I was thinking what is this desire to be perfect and is it gendered? After all I’ve listened to Whatta Man, I’ve seen Justin dance and I’ve read 40 ways to get perfect abs in Men’s Health, but I suspect it’s not quite the same. What really struck me about what Roaring wrote was how quickly perfection for her became about flawless physicality, and although popular culture has shifted dramatically towards androgynous youthful beauty for men and women, I suspect men do better in the plurality of male types over the most obvious and prevalent female prescriptions.

It reminded me though of Rousseau’s differentiation between self-love and amour-propre - the love of ourselves through the eyes of others - and his exasperation at the way in which natural desire and self-love get shifted into resentment, fear and envy when we start comparing ourselves with one another. These people exist as the projected negative of imperfect humanity. So much so that even the people whom it creates - like Britney - are themselves alienated by their own projection. She is like the naked emperor who has to suffer all fools complimenting her on her dress - only in this case it’s more likely that her clothes, along with the tattoos and cellulite, will be airbrushed out than imagined on.

Feuerbach thought that God was just the projection of human desire. Clearly today the media, and particularly celebrity culture, has taken the place of God.
And with celebrity diets of maple syrup and skipping, with make-up tips and fashion-lines, with the X-factor, we have detailed accounts of the soul’s journey into Britney. Only of course it’s not actually Britney - it’s perfected Britney in her emperor’s clothes that we’re all pretending to see. It’s not real - it's alienated-Britney. And this is bad for Britney because she’s left naked with everyone staring at her and it’s bad for us because we’re signing up to a pipe-dream that’s going to leave us frustrated and bitter.

The poet Edward Young wrote “Born originals, how comes it to pass that we die copies?” Our society depends upon us being copies, with dreams of naked Britney. Copies always turn out to be reactionaries, though, to play it safe in public and furtively masturbate over the forbidden in private. The anti-progressive return to the Conservative/Labour binary at this election demonstrates a fear of thinking differently about our selves and our society. It’s herd mentality. And depressing.

There’s a lot written today about interdependence and community and blah blah blah, but I think now we actually need a bit more talk about superwomen and supermen. We need to stop comparing ourselves with others and need to stop copying the person on the billboard next to us. The election has shown that collectively we’re unable to think progressively and if we’re honest for most of us the majority of our resources are applied to becoming more and more perfected copies - rather than finding and developing our own authenticity.*

So even though I’m surrounded by tories and even though I live a stone’s throw from Oxford Street, I’m going to try to be a superman this week. And I’m not going to be dreaming of naked Britney.

Well, you can’t control your dreams can you?

* Roaring is currently into being a feminista. I still have questions about the politics of this kind of feminism but I’m sure she will harangue me for the overly-male individualism of this piece anyway...



  1. "Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution --it is called pregnancy.
    Man is for woman a means: the purpose is always the child. But what is woman for man?
    Two different things wanteth the true man: danger and diversion. Therefore wanteth he woman, as the most dangerous plaything.
    Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly.
    Too sweet fruits--these the warrior liketh not. Therefore liketh he woman;--bitter is even the sweetest woman."
    (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 18.1)

    Can you give me an idea of what a more egalitarian (or dare I say feminist) superwoman/man might look like?

  2. You've got to have the autonomy of Beyonce and the self-love of Whitney. If I was going to start a superperson playlist it would begin with Independent Woman and finish with The Greatest Love of All...

  3. Maybe a bit of Jay-Z for the supermen?


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