htm Adorno's Legacy: On Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, and the Global Political Economy of Britne y Spears Inc. By Phillip Vannini The study of popular culture is divided traditionally along two main lines: a) t he position that pop culture is simply not a subject worthy of serious academic consideration and b) the view that the popular is of inferior quality to the tas te, intelligence, and value of high culture and the people who practice it. The very idea of writing about Britney Spears, the subject of this essay, presumabl y ought to be kept hidden from the orthodox academic brass. At best, some of my colleagues would suggest that we ought to consider a popular icon such as Miss Spears as the epitome of our contemporary fascination with the trivial and the p ervasiveness of consumer ideology. At worst, we could just label her pop art an d justify silliness as postmodern play. In this brief essay I will abscond from both approaches. Allow me to manifest my 'bias' before I introduce the subject of this essay. My sentiments toward Britney Spears and what she represents are mixed. On one hand , I loathe the sound of her music and her manufactured appearance. Mostly I res ent her monopolization of airwaves, written media, retail outlets, music stores, and ultimately my email junk folder. On the other hand I admit I am fascinated with her success. Some time ago I asked myself how she could be so popular and why. Following a classic approach in communication studies I attempted to find an answer in her music, precisely in the lyrics of her songs. That approach tu rned out to be highly unsatisfactory. Subsequently, I dug up my notes, articles , and books on Theodor Adorno. Going back to the classics, as it often does, pr ovided me with easier answers (and more questions) than I was prepared to find. I then followed a different approach, by grounding early critical theory in the tradition of cultural studies, political economy, and new French theory. What follows is to be taken as a search for answers to my initial question: why is Br itney Spears so successful? I will first offer the reader a simple solution, by applying Adorno's critical theory on popular culture to the study of the Britne y Spears phenomenon. I will then point out the limitations of this approach and offer a more comprehensive set of answers by discussing Douglas Kellner's work on critical theory. Following Kellner (1995) I believe that a comprehensive ana lysis of the Britney Spears Inc. phenomenon ought to entail a multi-faceted appr oach including: 1) A semiotic and discourse analysis of Britney Spears' texts; 2) A sociological look at the contradictions and similarities between the pro fessed religious practices of Britney Spears and her flaunted-yet-coy hypersexua lity; 3) A media analysis of the contemporary social construction of gender and sex uality; 4) A historiographic approach to the study of her popularity; 5) A political-economic analysis of the conditions of production and consumpt ion of the Britney Spears icon in light of the expansion of the Internet and gro wth of media technology; 6) An ethnographic approach to the rise of the Britney Spears phenomenon in r elation to the consumption of her image by teenage and adult audiences; 7) At last, such study ought to delve into the constitution of Britney Spears as a global corporation  whose interests run the gamut from music, televisio n, book, and film production to product endorsement and design, and finally to h er influence as a global cultural icon. Without pretensions of completeness, in the sections to come I will attempt to p rovide a summary overview of the study of the Britney Spears phenomenon followin
and lifestyle practices of the mas ses.! Adorno Did it Again? In the work of the Frankfurt School. As Adorno suggests: Thus. She is a cultural object because she is a profitabl e commodity in a consumer-oriented culture. but in reality she is a standard product carefully craf ted. for example. Any style that is not deemed popular by the culture industry is thus silenced . Oops. the culture industry secures the dominance and continuity of capitalism while shaping a regressive audience. a Shakira. nor its subject but its object (Adorno. She is no democr atic response to consumer demand for entertainment ? Adorno would argue ? rather she is a destructive force on the creativity. and other corporations (Britney's spon sors such as Pepsico International. We believe that Britney Spears is popular becau se she is 'good' for us and buy uncritically into anything that has to do with he r without being knowledgeable of this imposition... as the culture industry would have us beli eve. 1991:90). the more diligently a nd successfully the culture industry propagates supposedly great personalities a nd operates with heart throbs (Adorno. distribution labels. one in which listeners become obsessed w ith pop songs hooks and its catchy qualities. the recording industry. We. For example. To Adorno pop songs are all alike
. but she has n o artistic value in itself. are largely unaware of being duped. other forms th at the manipulation of our consciousness by culture industries take. This standardization is so pervasive that alternative forms of expression are considered deviant and silenced at the produ ction/distribution level and at the consumption level. pas sive. the masses. pop music p roducers and distributors seem to follow standardization practices when they all ow a particular genre or style to monopolize airways. A Christina Aguilera. MTV. and servile consuming public (Strinati. This is nowadays the case of the teen pop and the post hip-hop/R&B genres. a dependent. Britney is far from being an innocuous post-Barbie doll. this is an instance of the creation of false needs. ideas. 1995:64). As adul ts are turned into teenagers and teenagers are turned into immature kids by thei r consumption of Britney Spears Inc. spontaneity. Tommy Hillfiger. According to this view. television network channels.g the cited approach. and intelligence of individuals. Of course. 1991: 87). Adorno would argue. and marketed for culture industries' profit. trivialization. She is valuable in sofar as she is profitable to herself and her marketers/producers. values.. Her apparent authenti city is indeed the trick. If there is a need for art and entertainment then it ought to be satisfied with authentic forms of artistic expressions. Adorno believes that the standardization and pseudo-individualization of popular music lead the listener to regress to a child-like mind state. o r a Jennifer Lopez are 'in actuality' other standardized products. etc. 1991: 85). is then to be understood as a commodity. culture industries are reflections of the e nduring social malaise of commodity fetishism and false consciousness. standardization.) shape the masses' tas tes and preferences and inculcate the desire and false need of Britney Spears-re lated products in millions of consumers across the planet. The more dehumanized its methods of operation and content. She may appear to have an 'aura' of originality to her fans. The customer is not king. Britney Spears is an ideological tool. Britney Spears Inc. the masses are no t primary but secondary. although the culture industry undeniably speculates on the conscious and u nconscious state of the millions towards which it is directed. Monopoly capitalism shapes the tastes. and corruption of cultu re: the power of the culture industry's ideology is such that conformity has repl aced consciousness (Adorno. they are an object of calculation. manipulation. a Jessica Simpson. Who needs Britne y Spears. staged. she contributes to the bana lization. an appendage of the machinery. Thus.
and colleagues were ab le to develop a model of critical studies of communication and culture that enco mpassed text analysis. the success of the grunge genre represented a drastic shift from the all-time high popularity of glam rock bands and synth-pop of the 1980s
.. Can you name any other passage from the song? Here is another trivia question: what was Britney wearing in that video? Appearance assumes a central importance as videos shift the emphasis from sound contemplation into image gazing. but catharsis which keeps them all the more firmly in line. and beauty of our pop stars. (Ador no. Her music ceases to be important. In turn. Br itney Spears herself then becomes a product. 1991: 308). concert tickets. 1991: 313-314). her clot hing. The success of Britney Spears and other po p primadonnas along with seemingly ubiquitous boy-bands has only come at the exp ense of the commercial popularity of post-punk and grunge acts of the early and mid 1990s.Emotional music has become the image of the mother who says. and massification remain the dominant self-legitimating mo di operandi of contemporary capitalist apparatuses has come under intense scruti ny. we l ose sight of ourselves and the material conditions of our existence. And such eye-candy is already pre-digested ( Adorno. audience reception. cosmetics. What matters to her fans across the globe i s to have a shot at being like her or at having her: The actual fusion of sentimental music lies rather in the temporary release give n to the awareness that one has missed fulfillment. the idea that standardization. Hooks. A pro duct such as Britney Spears is packaged to meet the current standards of beauty and physical attractiveness. her books and magazines. allowing consumers to become obliviou s to injustice and inequalities. pseudo-individualizat ion. lunch boxes. the School's transdisciplinar y approach and its attention to the pervasiveness of ideology throughout various aspects of social life retain its enlightening value for the contemporary criti cal study of culture. Baby hit me one more time is a perfect example. and so on. 1989. glamour. and a critique of the political econo my of the media in relation to the ideological effects of mass-mediated communic ation on culture (see Kellner.. the most frequently cited verses. her doll. Adorno's idea of standardization implies that musical genres a re undifferentiated amongst one another and remain the same across time. This c ritique seems particularly inadequate in light of an even cursory analysis of th e contemporary history of pop music. Britney Sp ears Inc. and perhaps fantasize o ver the alluring lifestyle of travel. paraphernalia. 1995). Limitations of This Approach The Frankfurt School was successful in establishing an early model for the criti cal study of popular culture and the mass media.. or the catchiest passages of pop songs take away anything that is authe ntic from artistic expressions. my child. made to look beautiful or appealing by careful crafting.. Music and contemplation become secondary.' It is catharsis for the masses.. confused in a myri ad of by-products including her body and face. Mental regression is dangerous because it distracts the masses. Yet. In particular. posters. Adorno's uniform treatment of popular music has been especially subjected to num erous critiques. commodification. As we buy pop music CDs. perfume line. the choru s lines. 'Come and weep. Especially throughout the Scho ol's exile phase in the United States Adorno. There may be slight frills differentiating one hit from the next but the ruli ng idea is that they are in reality standardized products among which the untrai ned ear cannot discriminate. by losing any strand of individuali ty to appeal to consumers. It matters little or nothing that Britney hers elf is objectified and dehumanized. Appeali ng to the minimum standard denominator of the masses' irrationality is like sell ing eye-candy to childish consumers. Entertainment p rovides escapism from labor and thus serves the capitalist mode of production. Horkheimer. The heritage of this early model of critical theory is still evident. then functions as social cement.
As the studies on cult ural identity and music subcultures of the CCCS testify (Hall et al. has long stood as a cry for authenticity. What could a business man ever want more? Than to ha ve us sucking in his store. this website). sold. In general. among others. Michel DeCer teau (1984) in _Arts de Faire_. Most pre-adolescent and adolescent listeners of Britney's teen pop music would now be long to this group. This mode l especially makes little or no sense today when all music is considered a form of entertainment and thus packaged. You have no control (Fugazi. While it is true that assuming that the co mplete standardization of popular culture and the perennial stability of capital istic culture industries ignores the increasing diversification of late capitali sm and postmodern life. rebellion to anonymity. There are no differences. for example. for example. for example. in how a Mozart CD and a Britn ey Spears' CD are produced and distributed. in agreement with Kellner. A deconstructionist analysis of this binary opposition reveals that numerous differences Adorno hypothesized had no correspondent outside his abstractions. We owe you nothing. I believe. and consumed in a similar fashion.. 1980). In 1950 Riesman found listeners to be differentiated in two main groups. 199 0). Listeners who were the most likely to be fascinated with popular music icons and be highly receptive to successful mainstream performers composed a majority group. today it is dis traction rather than ravished contemplation that seems to be the preferred mode. A minority group was composed of small clusters of active f ans who adopted a highly critical stance toward commercially popular music and d eveloped an elaborate and sophisticated taste and understanding of alternative m usic genres. These alternative music genres and their role in structuring their audiences' identity have received much attention in particular by the Center fo r Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in Great Britain. 1979). it seems at best hasty to label pop all music genres outs ide classical without taking into consideration the minute specialization of con temporary acts and genres. mostly British Cultural Studies and French postmoder n theory (see Kellner. The elitism and economic reductionism implicit in Adorno's critique of popular m usic and more in general in the Frankfurt School's study of culture has spurred many contemporary scholars and students to dismiss early critical theory and ope nly embrace its successors. We find that there is hardly any Adorno-like pseudoindividualization at work when we scrutinize. a shift that the music industry had not predicted and was hardly prepared to a ccomodate. You have no control. mus ic represents a symbolic activity that youth cultures construct and utilize to l ocate themselves in the existing social structure. A clear example is the hypothesi zed difference between the state of contemplation required to appreciate classic al music and the mental regression state to which pop fans fell prey. Punk music.. Another critique of Adorno's analysis of popular music has to do with his reific ation of the classical music-pop music dichotomy. As for consumption. In addition. distributed. Merchandise keeps us in line. the differences in th e political and philosophical ideas in the manifesto-style lyrics of a post-punk group like Fugazi and the bubble-gum musings of Britney: We owe you nothing. and rejection of normative mainstream beliefs (especially in regard to consumer culture) (Hebdige . that the lessons o
. Na-na-na-na-na  Adorno's model of passive use of music listening  also spurred great interest and solicited numerous critiques. Whether you walk into a teenager's bedroom or into a college professor's offic e music functions often as a noise background for other activities. including those by David Riesman (1990). assuming that consumption and choice are always mindless a ctivities deprives individuals of even the most limited form of agency in dealin g with everyday life ? a view harshly criticized by. And commo n sense says its by design. Following t his then it becomes advisable to surpass Adorno's emphasis on lyrical content.
Bri tney is the world's favorite cheerleader. particularly in the commercialization of hiphop and the glamorization of Britney Spears. occasional MTV specials. as her images and sounds are everywhere. along with mil lions of young and less young individuals across the globe. postmodernists. 1. As Kellner suggests: As we approach the year 2000 and enter a new cultural environment being dramatic ally transformed by global media and computer technologies. After singing anthems of such cal iber as 'Hit me baby one more time' and 'I'm a slave for you' Britney found on her desk a $10 million offer to have sex with an American millionaire. however. the proliferation of new media technologies and artifacts. ought to be undertaken while conscious of the critique and th e possibilities offered by postmodern theory and British cultural studies. 1995). culture. the polemics among Marxists. is old and h as not been getting any younger for a while.
. Britney leaves little to their imagination. Mado nna herself. A simple Internet search on Yahoo! for the words Britney Spears returns 96 web site matc hes and 702. Baudrillard's political economy of the sign. ought to be all but a mystery to any student of culture. The School's transdisciplinary approach and its emphasis on the interc onnections between technology. Returning to early critical theory can offer contemporary students of popular culture valu able tools for their critique of capitalist societies and consumer culture. political economy. Comb ining the Nietzschean critique of massification of society with Weber's critique of rationalization typical of the Frankfurt School with the Foucaldian idea of discourse. as well as her daughter. global capitalism in a mini-skirt (Conrad. however. Oublier Madonna Much attention throughout the 1980s and 1990s was dedicated to the Madonna pheno menon. and per haps older siblings' collections. Suc h return. Madonna studies seem to have found a special place in the heart and publ ication records of scores of postmodern writers. American app le-pie wrapped in pink spandex (Ellen. and she herself and related puppet-masters cer tainly never shy away from profiting from it. Among the 702. Who Britney Spears is. Young teens and pre-teens may have been exposed to the 'material girl-turned discohead-turned nimpho-turned-post-hi ppie-turned-a monument to herself' through VH1. Her visible thongs and sp orts bras have made the cover of any magazine you can find at the supermarket. claims to be a Britney fan. Indeed. ear ly critical theorists.000 web page matches. Britney is also a seductress. she refused for her virginity has become a matter of national security. 200 2) to orgies with Jennifer Lopez. however. and related products. 2002). For the millions of hormone-frenzied male teenagers and their middle-aged counterparts. The more timid and romance-minded Casanova ca n instead opt to sign up for the 'Society of Future Husbands of Britney Spears' ( of which long-time sweetheart Justin Timberlake ought to be named Honorary Chair man). researching the Britney Spears phenomenon is nothing short of a prohibitive task. but few music observers would disagree that th e present of music lies elsewhere. Madonna. and CCCS disciples are numerous and fruitful. the next-door sweetheart. and Stuart Hall's model of encoding/decoding will allow us to combine responsibly theory and practice (K ellner. N'Sync.001 offer t o the gaze of the virtual Britney voyeur everything from equine sex (Conrad. Of course. As Agger and Kellner point out. we need a cultural s tudies that analyzes the political economy of the now global culture industries. however.f Adorno and early critical theory are too important to be destined for the recy cle bin. 2000). and their multifario us appropriations by audiences. and everyday life in capitalist societies provides a framework that can still aid us in understanding contemporary culture. The same search in Sociological Abstracts and MLA Index returns none. Britney's coy charm sells.000 web page matches.
. they can always watch her recent movie Crossroads in which she is defo liated by a fallen angel figure. but now erotic attraction has shifted from othern ess to sameness and likeness. and surgical ly shaped her breasts. to the flannel pajamas she wears in her bedroom in interviews almost as sayin g 'Oh you snuck into my bedroom you naughty you. Throughout _Seduction_ Baudrillard discusses the idea that the Other is no longe r killed. t he lord and master of sexual reality. She is indeed everywhere men are. A provocative analysis of seduction is offered by Jean Baudrillard (1991) i n _Seduction_. Much is made of Britney's religiosity.. dressed her. or better yet in o ur obscene culture which fetishizes simulacra: not only is she the simulation of a woman produced by men. but seduction is always closely related with simulation: The irony of artificial practices: the peculiar ability of the painted woman or prostitute to exaggerate her features. We produce the other an d what is produced is the effigy of 'masculine hysteria'. the femininity of men. rela x. The irony proper to the constitution of woman as idol or sex object: in her closed perfection. not the false as opposed to the true. their desire is projected onto the production of women who ar e then made to resemble man's utopian fantasy. to turn them into more than a sign. well now that you're here interv iew me. To Baudrillard this is obscene for ev erything is visible (Baudrillard. her virginity. In plastic surgery (Britney scoffs at what she ref ers to as 'the whole boob thing'). to making the movi e. the ageless. 1991:15). The body has become a fetish. or tamed. 2002). the temptress exclaiming 'I'm not ready for sex but it sure is hard to r esist from temptation. Without assuming that Britney's success can be reduced to her sexual appeal (I will comment on other reasons later).. 1991:34) and her omnipresence is certainly a mi rror of manhood.. publicize me. to his transparency as an imaginary subjec t. In this hysteria. to making the video. and b y this usage of. It is as if the Britney myth bec omes a myth of sainthood. which she loses when promoted to the s tatus of a subject (Baudrillard. and identity. then. or confronted. The ironic power of the object. where they play. Baudrillard suggests that such sexuality is a radical br eak with the past because erotic attraction once came as a result of the fascina ting encounter with the Other.On a Rolling Stone special she sported tiny 'Daisy Dukes' with BABY spelled out o n one of her highly cherished butt cheeks while riding a child bicycle. Britney is publicly (loudly ) abstaining from it to make success last (Conrad. not of sainthood obtained through good deeds but rathe r sainthood obtained through the transcendence of her self by the iconization of her body. Wh ile Madonna admitted to having sex as a career move. from her behind t he scenes in concert. fight. I believe it is important to understand her practices of seducti on. to incarnate the peaks of sexuality while simultaneously being absorbed in their simulation. th e toned. self. she puts an end to sex play and refers man. destiny is exorcised. but also in toning. applied make up on her face. and her sexual appeal. Yet Britney remains a Lolita despite herself in our pornographic culture. Her vir ginity has captured the attention of more paparazzi than has her fantasized date with Prince William. on a live satellite feed to troops in Afghanistan . And if people really need to see the 'real' Britney have 'r eal' sex. she is also the girl version of woman. According to Baudrillard seduction represents women's symbolic p ower over men. and soon in the stock market. but rather produced. and work: at the Superbowl. a project to avoid destiny. conditioned her body.. Br itney grunts  in her songs and now claims to be not a girl but not yet a woman  and that she does not want to be part of someone's Lolita thing. on anyone's favorite television channel. Britney Spears represents without doubt. in makeup. to making the ads. but the more false than f alse. in the performa nce of masculine desire. Is Britney Spears such an invent ion? Perhaps she is so desirable to many men because they have created her imag e . a myth of our contemporary society.'.'. Of Britney we obscenely seek more. know more of me.
Do we not indeed respond to God's appearance/concealment in the same way? Do we not recognize sovereignty in uto pian iconolatry? Just as there is no God behind the images [. sex. she is 'for real'. 1991:92). 2002).] Seductio n supposes. 1991: 94). Virilio would say. Her seduction of w omen is a seduction of possibilities. glamorous clothe s. she astonishes and bewitches (Baudelaire re ported in Baudrillard. this geeky person from Mississippi (Britney' s words reported in Conrad. her God that commands women to refuse the diabolical temptation of adorning her body with revealing clothes. the myth of just. affection. Britney then is a seductress not only of men but also of women. the devotion to a biker God wearing a star-spangl ed banner on the back of His leather jacket. an aesthetics of disappearance (Baudrillard. she works hard. 1991:8 5).. She remains obscenely omnipresent while d elighting in men's self-deception that she is still available for their desire. nor a pure absence. she becomes the fest ive representation of freedom. her humanness: Seduction does not consist of a simple appearance.. She follows her duty to appear magical and supernatural. Uncover her and all is left is a high school dropout from a s mall town in the South with an annoying habit of overusing the adverb 'totally'. in her unreal defiance of [her] prostitution of signs (Baudrilla rd. or while counselin g prurient teenage Britney wannabes to enjoy their femininity and live their sex uality while not giving in to sin until marriage (Conrad. The sovereign p ower of the seductress stems from her ability to eclipse any will or context. but only a real that is better than the real. a big nose. lest the loss of her virginity reveal her vacuity. Its sole strategy is to be-there/not-there. as she often proclaims. She constantly avoids all relatio ns in which. and thereby p roduce a sort of flickering. and mass aura. 2002). or repaying them with a strange fascination.. a hypnotic mechanism that crystallizes attention ou tside all concern with meaning. Yet. the question of truth will be posed. Indeed she remains a virgin seductress for no seduction can ever take place thro ugh consummation (Baudrillard. and makes dreams come true. I have briefly offered my view on the Britney Spears myth in the form of a rathe r superficial semiotic/discursive analysis. amorous or sexual (particularly not the latter) ? without breaking them.the name of Americana. shimmering i n her appearance.] the very nothin gness conceal[ed] must remain a secret (Baudrillard. Britney does not offer love. 1991). and creepy skin. the possibility open to all women to becom e like her through strategic consumption and simulation. Absence here seduces presence. 1991: 93) ? her own artifice does not alienate [her] but m ysteriously alters her (Baudrillard. affect ionate. like. She cannot allow other relations to be established ? even the most intimate.. or intim acy but rather seduction through a pervasive web of appearances and simulation. but simply myth. 1991). the ceremonial performance of relig iosity and at the same time the emancipation from religiosity. In her unreal defiance she moves beyond sex. a simulated version of womanhood that seduces for its appearance rather than substance. Yet Britney seems to transcend her God's will or feminist critique. In the next section I will tackle the issues of the social construction of
. I have also quickly treated the iss ue of Britney's religiosity and the function this plays in relation to her perso na. Britney is indeed as real as a god wearing makeup and Tommy Hillfiger drags ? a god. as I will examine later. or tattoos or piercings. She und oes them effortlessly. 2002) covered in shimmering makeup. but the e clipse of a presence. not by denying them or destroying them. inspires. at some given moment. Here lies her secret: in the flickering of a presence [. but by making the m shimmer. 1991:94). She remains a toy. J ust like when she goes to sleep at night praying on the Bible asking the almight y to play her videos on MTV and network radio (Conrad. The seductress offers no satisfaction to desire but rather the fantasy of resolu tion (Baudrillard. She is not the incarnation of desire for there is no carnality to be found.
her body. young girls and adolescents. Such confession is not merely to be intended in th e sense of a Christian expurgation of sin. T he Guardian cites the story of Jenna Franklin. Britney embodies America's doubts on sexuality and gender. her lifestyle. Foucault argues that such urge comes in part fro m the Christian need to purify one's soul by acknowledging temptation and sin. however. her identity. Sexuality has now exploded. talk shows. Not just her CDs. as well as many younger and older men. Foucault argues that the need to investigate sex scientifically and control it administratively has resulted i n creating an endless discourse around it and in making sexuality ubiquitous. The power to which she is subjected and the power to look like her. the imposition of Christian chastity and the imposition of tanned beauty . that is. magazines. makeup. but rather as the urge to find the me aning and 'truth' about sexuality. I will do so by mainly using t he ideas of Michel Foucault. Power is always manifested in discourse. To understand sexuality we must. Sexuality is then a social construction.. Her body has become a shroud to imposition. music videos. And my advice to you is to never. sunglasses. lose your passion to dream. I feel so wonderful because I'm doing e xactly what I love to do. Her image embodies power. not a prod uct of biological codes but rather of power as manifested in discourse. ever. to which her fans are subjected (and ironically to the women who despise her but still need to appeal to men accustomed to her sexual appeal). I know I get a lot of flak for what I wear. a 15-year-old British teenager de sperate for breast implants after the example set by her role model Britney. the way I feel right now inside. and i n what we know. Here is wher
. She performs the eternal ad olescence of a country swelled with desire and petrified with fear of sin. first understand power. Power is ubiquitous and it shapes our ideas and actions. what he calls confession. When sexuality is seen as treacherous. i s that. Please. To understand her popularity we must understand the prevailing ideas on g ender roles and sexuality and the role sex plays in lifestyles. and what I say. and what I don't say. But . it governs many of our goals and actions. phenomenon. And I guess what I'm trying to say is. Beyond her appeal as a seductress Britney Spears has become a model of femininit y for many women. Our society as a whole suffers from a compuls ion to confess and talk about anything that is sexual.gender and sexuality in contemporary society and the historical and cultural sig nificance of the Britney Spears Inc.. in the relations among people. her sexuality. but rather produced it. movies. and certainly Britney Spears does so a s much as many of us combined. And as you dream away please do consider purchasing her. clothes. movies. And I'm experiencing all of my wildest dreams. Br itney herself comments on her body and identity (on an HBO live feed to troops i n Afghanistan): You know. Foucault argued that discourse on sexuality is marked by ethical codes of moral and physiological healthiness that have neither repressed nor controlled sexuali ty. don't. but consider pur chasing her. F oucault writes of people's urge to confess anything that has to do with sexualit y. We do it on newspapers c olumns. any attempt to contain it and sanitize it is made publicly so it can be controlled. And I guess I do those things because the way I feel inside. books. soft drinks. I'm not a little girl anymore. 'This Is Not a Teenager's Body' (or is it?) In the _History of Sexuality_ Michel Foucault (1980) discusses the idea that Wes tern culture has long been fixated on sexuality. and certai nly it governs the logic of making a star such as Britney Spears. in everyday speech. And I also know that I'm a young lady and I have a lot to learn and a lot to experience.
As a blossoming y oung woman. carefully produced. success. some girl from Middle America. ours (Baer. This is the American dream applied to a life of imagery: work out hard. a li berating power that her fans have access to if they want to transcend their 'norm ality'. Adults mobilized themselves t o treat children's sex as a dangerous epidemic and children as non-sexual beings . her shiny makeup. and others. Britney Spears Inc. the body. In the next section I will combine the theoretical framework laid down by Douglas Kellner and Stuart Hall. she is 'normal. Foucault follows Nietzsche in stating that the body can be modified a nd experienced in different ways. Bri tney sells herself first. and a mastery of its forces that is more than the ability to conquer th em: this knowledge and this mastery constitute what might be called the politica l technology of the body (Foucault. and especially the female body is a complex production onto which male ideals and resources are invested. her health-club chisel ed body. in a customized spectacle of the senses.' a 'dork. 1983). As a late adolescent she represents a taboo. as Foucault suggests.' her sexual urges are made public for they are scandalous.e power creeps in. This is a power much subtler than t he one spoken by Foucault (1979) in _Discipline and Punish_. As Baudrillard suggests. Two of these unities are of particular inte rest here. her products secondly. There may be a knowledge of the body that is not exactly the science of its func tioning. the bod y of Britney and other stars and starlets. Her appearance is what matters for it symbolizes sexuality. First. Pedophilia represents one of these instinctual drives that ought to be re gulated by the state through its medical institutions. yet these are issues with which her average female Christian fan fro m Middle America identifies and sympathizes. and the bodies of her audiences. And yet her appearance is. ' yet also a dreamer. if they desire to look like a star. In the _History of Sexuality_ Fouca ult (1980) isolates four great strategic unities in which the political technology of the body has manifested itself. and power. At its onset the CCCS undertook the p roject of dispelling the lingering behaviorist bias implicit in early Critical T
. her tanned skin. her plastic breasts. Christina Aguilera. Britney seems to be caug ht in the middle. Her body speaks of the power of consumption. Just like the boys of N'Sy nc and the Backstreet Boys. ways that follow cultural expectations (Dreyfu s and Rabinow. some pleasures are deemed perverse and have consequently been medical ized. in a quick change of clothes to please her target audience. The success of Britney also lies elsewhere. An analysis of the Britney Spears Inc. Power insinuates itself in and through the body. 2001). children's sex is pedagogized. and Stuart Hall in particular. One form of power in the advanced stage of capitalism is in the production of bo dy image. Pink. and the Political Economy of Global Bubbalicious One of the most compelling critiques of Adorno's work comes from British Cultura l Studies. The body. tan nicely. a temptation wit h which the pedophilia-phobic adult gaze cannot but struggle. Second. 1979: 26). her studio-produced moans. 'but not a woman yet. Britney rep resents the normality of her global constituency of consumers. a hard worker. What makes her s pecial is her self-commodification: her flashy clothes. youth. yet an instance of the same. phenomenon cannot be complete without loo king at her fan base as well as at the political-economic context of production and distribution of her image and sound. as she herself admits. invest on artificial body enhancement and you will look good and happy just like Britney and friends. It cons titutes a quintessentially contemporary American project of improving oneself th rough a logic of superficial appearances. her st ylish hairdo. is a 'goob. as said. i n a pink mini-skirt and a Bible. has been at the center of the functioning of power systems throughout history.' the next-door neighbor girl yet she is more. Britney. not he rs. purchase the right seasonal look. consult professional dieticians.
suggested that the communication process is a continuous circuit specifiable in five phases: production. Probably. In one part of the book her mother said. Hall.' 'inevitable. the theme of t he American Dream: A Mother's Gift is one of the best books I have ever read. Hall and British Cultural Studies. the negotiated code.. consumption. At the production level these meanings are 'encoded' in symbolic vehicles and circulated outside the apparatus of production.heory analysis of mass communication without depriving culture studies of its cr itical stance. Once dis tributed these discourses must be decoded by audiences. come on. the dom inant-hegemonic. but this book actually kept my interest. Rather. defines a hegemonic viewpoint as having two components: a) that it defines within its terms the mental horizon. the universe. this book made her look very dumb and stupid. Stuart Hall (1980) remarked that the content of any form of comm unication is not like a tap on the knee cap (p.. 2001)). the CCCS clearly distinguished the proc ess of production from that of consumption and posited that the act of reading ( or seeing) is a complex semiotic act. Hall (1980: 137).] They describe Britney so sweet. however. [. Stuart Hall (1980) hypothesizes the re are three positions from which decoding of communication takes place. of a whole sector of relations in a society or culture. b
. Meaning is derived when a message is 'consumed' but given the possibility of endless interpretation it is untenable to assume that a 'preferred reading' will take place. have made a considerable effort to s tudy the hegemonic properties of discourse. for example. The clear advantage of this m odel is that it does not presuppose audiences to be cultural dopes gawking while waiting to be fed information.com consumer review of one of her books may elucidate. she sound very dumb for a girl her age . and b) that it carries with it the stamp of legitimacy ? it appears coterminous with what is 'natural. I am not a big reader . If this was the case there would be no possibility for cultural criticism o r for the existence of alternative productions. and reproduction. Hall suggests that at the oppositional code level view ers/listeners/readers detotalize the message in the preferred code in order to re totalize the message within some alternative framework of reference (1980: 138). very immature and childish. Audiences may in fact engage in alternative readings the following example excerpted from an Amazon. in our case. rather it is to accoun t for. circulat ion. innocent. 131) but rather a component of a c omplex structure articulated in distinctive moments. This is not to deny the presence of hegemonic discourse. of possibl e meanings. Indeed the work in which critic al students of culture engage is not too different from the everyday interpretiv e hermeneutical practices of lay audiences. "We didn't had much to eat sometime b ut we always had ice cream coz that what make Britney happy!" My God so dumb thi ng to say! (Amazon.com consumer review on Britney's book _A Mother's Gift_ (Spe ars and Spears. distribution. the extensive popular criticism moved to the messages presen t in Britney's texts. and finally the oppositional code. Withou t reinstating the surpassed analytical distinction between denotation and connat ion of the early Barthes. If we set out to read traces of the presence of hegemonic discourse in audiences ' interpretation Britney's texts we can easily find. following Gramsci . and I enjoyed reading it.' 'taken for granted' about the social order. Meanings are communicated in the form of symbolic messages of a specific kind through specific codes operating in the gen eral realm of discourse. can she be sooo nice and sweet. following Marx's app roach to commodity production and consumption. The decoding process is a process of translation of discourse into social practice. While it is true that Britney Spears has achieved universal fame it would be foo lish to conclude that all of her audiences receive her with a favorable impressi on. This book is full of bubble gum talks.
never speaks of a 'ruling class' but rather of social. polit ical. a dreamer confident in her success. anything that you love. as a role model who works as a spur to work more. When I read this bo ok. and economic alliances. much r esearch remains to be done at the negotiated and oppositional code level. following the lead of the CCCS. and political leadership. Of course. Certainly. and live my life to the fullest.com consumer review). BMG is in charge of distributing Jive recordings of acts which include. eclect icism. It se ems to me that numerous studies of great interest could come from studying the r eception (Stuart Hall's communication consumption phase) of Britney Spears by he r audiences in more depth than I could afford to do here. social. shopping malls. This shift away from the masternarrative of Marxism (Lyotard. BMG is also the owner of 20% of Zomba Recording. From this perspective. this w ebsite). history. I would defiantly say that this book is a very inspiring book (Amazon. books. dream a nd want. (Kellner. so I can start making my dreams come true. and N'Sync. G ramsci. populism. 1991) in brief. products readily available on the Internet and other media for students of this phenomenon. the proliferating media culture. Her audiences. and the culture of the postmodern spectacle became th e promoters and palaces of a new stage of technocapitalism. s ongs. consumption. can come true. for example.. a deter mined hard worker. of commentary on Britney's movie. a thorough understanding of Britney's success cannot take place until we shed light on the dynamics of the distribution of her products and image. of course. 2002). what Stuart Hall would a lso find at the hegemonic level of many Britney Spears texts. As Kellner (1995) suggests the postmodern turn in cultural theory has often resu lted in privileging the study of leisure. There is a wealth. pray mor e. at least generalizing from the individual review above might then read her as an 'inspirat ion' for their lives. 2001). This is. among others. In reality BMG has a high stake in Jive Records. the latest stage of capital. As specified above. CDs. 1985) is not occurring without costs for our unde rstanding of cultural phenomena. BMG in turn is owned by the German giant Bertelsmann Group which reported sales of $8. At first glance Britney's British/Austra lian label 'Jive Records' appears as innocuous as the next self-started garage-ro ck indie..65 billion during the 2001 fiscal year (Lottman. and the politics of the production of popular culture. and intensified consumerism in a new information/entertainment society. [. encompassing a postmodern image and consumer culture. it made me want to start working. postmodern arc hitecture. pe rhaps even a daunting amount. only except for the fact that its annual sales topped $800 million in 2000 (Kafka and Pulley. but much more work is needed in this a rea. and identity-construction at the expense of macro approaches to the study of economics. Of course. a consortium of labels grouping Jive and others. the Backstreet Boys. look 'better'.] The story expla ins that if you live a happy and spiritual life. praying. videos. Britney Spears is often described as a self-starter. This idea also lies at the basis of late capitali sm (Jameson. etc. multiplicity. As long as you live your life right. My upcoming dissertation will in part deal with the consumption of popular culture and its significance in the personal liv es of individuals across the life course. Gramsci would recognize this Britney version of the Ameri can Dream to be an instance of the process whereby a fundamental alliance of upp er class strata has fortified its material supremacy by expanding into cultural. Britney Spears. Culture industries' increased differentiation across the globe has resulted not in a decrease but rather an increase and diver sification of their ideological power. image. the view that we have shifted from state monopoly c apitalism to a state of: Transnational and global capital that valorizes difference. what i s needed is also ethnographic work.ecause the mood of the book was very happy and uplifting. The Bertelsmann Grou
transcends traditional st ate and culture barriers. Disney. 1999) and through its global distribution of its three big acts above ? whose combined sales totaled 1 20 million albums and more than $ 400 million in concert tickets between 1998 th rough 2001 (Leeds. with it. clips. as Disney Radio and Disney TV profited from the advertising revenue of a young Britney Spears' shows (1998-1999). The recent increase in computer technology. distributed globally by a transnational corpo ration. interviews. younger sibling of Backstreet Boys Nick Carter is promising to be the next Cau casian hip-hop version of Ricky Martin while still in middle school. streaming feeds of shows and concerts and more. The Bertelsmann Group is also interested i n increasing its share in American show business (Getlin. Christi na Vidal. MTV Latino. Far from representing just a form of commodification of the life course. Britney's interests are. phenomenon: partly owned by a German giant corporation and a British/Australian label. is a bot tomless source of videos. Hoku. 2000). as she now becomes 'not just a gir l anymore'.95 her 'virginal' pink sports-bra which h er own mother made at a sweat shop and got paid a nickel for making. 19 years of age is slated to replace the aging Jennifer Lopez while as suring the success of Latino-infused pop across younger audiences. makes it easier to acce ss customized entertainment and information. she will buy a piece of the American Dream. blurs. for example. This is. Conclusion I began my search for questions to the Britney Spears Inc. largely more encompassing than album. notwithstandin g the toppling of Napster and its subsequent corporate takeover by BMG. The beauty of what has happened with these pop artists is they've gotten kids into buying CD's and concert tickets [and every other relat ed product ? author's note] earlier than they had heretofore [. this American product is advertised through MTV. The internet alone. Aaron Carter . individualiza tion and specialization take on a new meaning. Britney is only of many successful commodities as purchasing power extends across the life course and technology makes distributi on easier (Leeds. It is not difficult to see the global significance of the Britney Spears Inc. merchand ise. phenomenon with an an alysis of Adorno's work on popular music. for example. MTV Asia. th
. and other giant media companies to avoid the growing pains of past failures of acts like Tiffany. 2002) ? they appear poised for continued expansion.. and the Disney Network which als o encompasses MTV and VH-1 have been capitalizing solidly on the former Mickey M ouse Club cast member.] What Radio Di sney and Nickelodeon did is brought kids earlier said Jive President Barry Weiss.with glitter gloss on it.p is the largest media group in Europe and its expansion in States has been cons tant over the recent years. And this happe ns as communication. MTV Europe. Nickelodeon TV. programming. Mandy Moore.. As the Interne t expands and younger generations learn to supplement their consumption of telev ision with internet-mediated interactive information. artists' hormonal developments allow Bertelsmann. MP3's. in whom audiences lost interest as biolo gical growth occurred. Little Bow -Bow also seems to be headed for a future of simulated gangster-like stardom aft er his predecessor Snoop Dog. And of cou rse. live celebrity chat. Adorno's work and the early tradition of critical theory present clear shortcomings but undoubtedly continue to offer contemporary students of popular culture much valuable lessons (see Kellner. 2002). and concert ticket sales. however. and others. fan communities. MTV and VH-1 can profit from her soft-core videos and sexy appearanc es while younger children's 'needs' are satisfied by Britney-inspired acts such a s Jessica Simpson.. through its acquisition of Random House Publishing and Dell (Getlin. and publicized over the Internet with the end result that some Chinese 8 year-old girl will want to buy for $24. of course where specialization occurs. Segmentation of markets means di fferentiation of pop culture products while separate ownerships profit from diff erent stages of the production/distribution/consumption process. as in the case of Britney Spears. Of course..
Not Yet a Woman: Not Much of Anything . class differences are intensifyin g. Following Kellner (1995) and Jameson (1991) I agree that the conti nuities between the development phase of Western capitalism and the present stag e are such that we cannot properly speak of 'post'-modernism. a reevaluation of the validity of his project seems extremely useful.  Adorno is also heavily criticized for failing to test his model on actual mu sic listeners (Strinati. the study of texts ought to be accompanied by a multi-fa ceted analysis of discourse. Not a Girl. by its anti-empirical stance. Britney claims her songs and characters are based on her poems: Sometimes the words come to me when I'm. It is nev er Britney's unmediated voice that grunts but rather her producers' idea of what a sexy grunt should sound like!  Quotation from her movie Crossroads. Pop Politi
. Focusing on these continuities will allow us to understand the current social structure and contemporary cultu ral trajectories in light of their historical significance. Baer.  Interestingly her grunts are over-produced in the musical studio.  Britney travels on a tour bus equipped with a tanning salon. Adam (2001). Even though Adorno's study of popular music in the 19 30s was marred by its implicit opposition between high and low culture and real and false needs. The Culture Industry.is website). London: Routledge. like. Celebrities ' deaths are marketed as spectacle and seem to serve exclusively a publicizing f unction. in the bath or stuff (Britney Spears interview quoted in Co nrad. but we rather ought to speak of late modernism. media culture continues to be highly ideological and to legitimate existing i nequalities of class. and by its failure to recognize t he possibility of oppositional readings and differentiation in production. this website). Likewise. 2002). cs. Cultural Studies. Critical theory. perhaps even more so than before. following Ellen (2000 ). 1995). of political-economic conditions of production/dist ribution/consumption as well as of the historical relations between texts and so cio-cultural context. and race. As Kellner explains : The hegemony of capital continues to be the dominant force of social organizatio n. this website). Theodor (1991). or late capitalism.  First line of a song performed by Britney in her movie Crossroads. so that the earlier critical perspective s on these aspects of contemporary culture and society continue to be of importa nce.
References Adorno. The recent death of TLC's member Lisa 'left-eye' Lopez has occupied air waves for days while that of Alice in Chains' singer Layne Staley has been swept under the carpet. Early critical theory's contribution to an informed transdisciplinary approach t o cultural studies in the late-modern era is of crucial importance (see Kellner. phenomenon.  This phenomenon has recently assumed an almost eerie character. As I have attempted to show with my exploration of the Britney Spears Inc. and new French theory provide students of cultural phenomena the tools to carry out such complex tasks (Kellner. gender. Notes  Hence I refer to Britney Spears as Britney Spears Inc.
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2002. I would like to acknowledge Aaron McCright for the assistance provided throughou t the preparation of this manuscript. Pullman.Strinati.com. Dominic (1995). New York: Routledge. An introduction to Theories of Popular Culture. He can be reached at vannini@lycos. Lond on. Phillip Vannini is a doctoral student in sociology at Washington State Universit y. WA: May 3.