In the era of reality television and the selfie, ‘documenting the personal’ has become our topic in this weeks lecture – and I have never been so ready to discuss the positive and negative effects of its exposure.
Over the years, we’ve seen some celebrities hit extreme stardom, to the point where they cannot step foot outside their own home due to crowds of screaming die hard fans and paparazzi capturing their every move. It is no wonder that these people, who have almost anything handed to them on a silver platter, suffer from mental illness and drug abuse. They are confined to their own minds, as everything they do, whether it be in private or public, becomes everybody else’s business.
Let’s take Britney Spears for example –
The all american girl, singer and entertainer who became known as the Queen of Pop in the early 2000s. After having the best-selling album by a teenage solo artist and being ranked as the world’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes, Britney Spears was sitting on a $220 million dollar net worth. With world tours and courageous performances, she became an international success, a household name and was followed by paparazzi everywhere she went.
However, it was her mid life crisis and downward spiral that really got the people talking. In 2006, Britney ended her two-year marriage with American dancer and father of her two children, Kevin Federline. A year later, she had been admitted into a drug rehabilitation facility and was photographed a day later shaving off her entire head.
Britney’s public mental breakdown became global news, however that didn’t stop the paparazzi. After being spotted outside Kevin Federline’s house, Britney attacked a photographer and his vehicle with a green umbrella. The photos visibly proved that Britney had finally snapped, questioning the ethics of journalists and photographers.
In early 2008, after losing custody of her children to ex-husband, Kevin Federline, Britney reportedly locked herself and one of her sons in her home bathroom. After three to four hours, police and paramedics were finally able to release Britney from her home, after threatening to kill herself. Photographers surrounded her Beverly Hills home as well as hovering helicopters. Britney was carried out into an ambulance, where she was taken to hospital for a mental health assessment.
Since then, Britney has made several come backs into the music industry and starred in her own documentary, Britney: For The Record. In regards to the idea of the documentary, Britney’s manager, Larry Rudolph, stated that “It evolved out of a conversation that Britney and I had five or six months ago where the big question was what she was going to do in terms of talking to the public, presenting herself to the public. She really wanted to be able to tell her story, talk about where she’s been, where she is today and where she is going. She wanted to do it very honestly, but on her own terms. I think there is a part of her that is tired of allowing the media to guide her image and her story. She wanted to tell that story herself.” This brings me to my focus point. A woman whose entire career has been in the spotlight, including her family life and personal struggles, feels the need to film her life in order to prove to the public shes human, just like everybody else, and has made mistakes. Despite her accomplishments and success, she still seeks public acceptance, validation and social gratification – and this documentary will gain it. How so you might ask? Mark Andrejevic (2002) quotes, “Being ‘real’ is a proof of honesty, and the persistent gaze of the camera provides one way of guaranteeing that ‘realness’. Further, in a teeming society wherein one’s actions often go unnoticed by others, the reality of those actions can be validated if they are recorded and broadcasted – they become more real to oneself to the extent they become real for others. Submission to comprehensive surveillance is a kind of institutionally ratified individuation: it provides the guarantee of the authenticity of one’s individuality.”
The question I’m asking is, why? Why should people in the lime light have to justify their actions during times of grief, separation and hardship, in order to avoid a negative image? In perspective, issues of mental health are sensitive, taboo topics in society, and to make a public remark on a person dealing with that struggle, would be looked down upon and disrespectful. What we stand for, believe in, our morals and values, are completely neglected when our lives are recorded and shown to the world. Another issue to consider is, where does the line draw between paparazzi and the well being of others? Perhaps a reason for the importance of privacy is to also protect ones self from damage, mentally and physically.
So, why do celebrities like Britney Spears, seem to not apply? Because their private life is a part of the public world, thanks to media outlets who ‘document the personal.’ However, due to the emergence in technology over the years, it is just not media outlets who provide audiences with information now. Citizen journalism has allowed ‘documenting the personal’ to also become, front page news.
To shed some positive light in this post, I’ll reflect on the success of two little British girls you may have heard of or seen on The Ellen DeGeneres Show – Sophia Grace and Rosie.
In late 2011, a woman from Essex, England, uploaded a home video from her iPhone of her daughter and niece performing Nicki Minaj’s Superbass. Dressed in their signature outfits, pink tutus and tiaras, eight-year-old Sophia Grace and five-year-old Rosie became YouTube famous almost instantly, reaching over 43 million hits in less than two weeks since the original video had been posted. Just under a month later, producers from The Ellen DeGeneres Show contacted the girls, requesting for them to be on the show and to perform.
Since then, the girls have revisited the Ellen show multiple times, met with famous celebrities, reported live on the red carpet at the 2013 Grammy Awards and have starred in their own movie, Sophia Grace and Rosie’s Royal Adventure, coming to DVD this May.
Now despite the obvious talent of the singer, Sophia Grace, (Rosie is considered the ‘hype girl’), and the adorable, innocence they possess, much like any other eight to ten year old, there is a series of issues to consider in regards to exposure. From what was meant to be a personal documentation, filmed in the privacy of their home, being uploaded onto the Internet for the purpose of probably sharing it to family and friends, has gone viral and been viewed by billions of people, all around the world. I’m sure we’d all like to believe that we live in a happy, safe environment, however that’s just not the case. Without even realising it, the parents of Sophia Grace and Rosie have exposed their daughters to the media and potential predators of the online community. Now because these girls haven’t even reached puberty yet, have gorgeous Essex accents and are literally bubbling with excitement every time they appear on television, we tend to overlook that we are applauding two very young girls for their renditions of sexually explicit songs. Nicki Minaj may be a nice lady and enforce staying in school, but her lyrics are clearly not suitable for this age group. Beth Glaser (2012) states, “Her lyrics are vulgar and demeaning, and elementary-aged children aren’t mature enough to discern pop culture from reality. In addition to Super Bass, they’ve also sung Minaj’s “Moment 4 life” and “Starships,” and recently the two girls branched out with dirty pop song, “Domino” by Jessie J (if that song isn’t explicit about it’s sexual message, I don’t know what song is). What does it say about our culture that little girls rapping explicit lyrics is considered to be endearing? And where are these girls’ parents? Sophia Grace and Rosie are talented, but they need to be performing age-appropriate material.” It goes to show that with citizen journalism and emerging technologies and platforms, that public and private lifestyles have become more easier to consolidate.
When it comes to fame, it seems like you have to make a deal with the devil – sacrifice your personal, private life for fame and wealth. In covering two different cases, I hope I have conveyed my understanding of how ‘documenting the personal’ has become a prominent trend in distinguishing public and private life.
Next week, I will be discussing the public sphere of imagination.
Until then, goodnight, unless you’re still interested in a bit more entertainment –
Belkin, L., 2012, ‘Sophia Grace And Rosie: How Do You Parent Daughters Like These?’ The Huffington Post, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-belkin/dominic-brownlee-sophia-grace-dad_b_1327233.html
Carper, J., 2008, ‘Britney Spears Goes into Meltdown, This Time She Looses Visitation Completely’, Yahoo, viewed 23/03/2014, http://voices.yahoo.com/britney-spears-goes-into-meltdown-time-she-looses-778667.html
Davies, M., 2013, ‘I’m Worried About Sophia Grace’, Jezabel, viewed 23/03/2014, http://jezebel.com/im-worried-about-sophia-grace-511472192/all
Glaser, B., 2012, ‘SICK OF SOPHIA AND ROSIE’, Stitch, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.stitchfashion.com/?p=18995
Dr. Marcus O’Donnell, 2011, ‘Documenting the personal’, Lecture Powerpoint Slides, BCM310, University of Wollongong, viewed 17/03/2014, https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/197431/mod_resource/content/0/Documentary.pdf
Martin, D., 2008, ‘First Look: MTV’s ‘Britney: For the record”, Los Angeles Times, viewed 23/03/2014, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2008/11/first-look-mtvs.html
Taraborreli, J R., 2008, ‘I fear my friend Britney will kill herself’, Daily Mail, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-507788/I-fear-friend-Britney-kill-herself.html
The New York Times, 2008, ‘Britney Spears in Hospital After Standoff’, The New York Times, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/05/arts/05brit.html?_r=0
Vincent, A., 2013, ‘Sophia Grace Brownlee: Britain’s new child star’, The Telegraph UK, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10228626/Sophia-Grace-Brownlee-Britains-new-child-star.html
Warner, B., ‘Britney Spears Net Worth’, Celebrity Net Worth, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.celebritynetworth.com/richest-celebrities/singers/britney-spears-net-worth/
Wenn.com Source, ‘Britney Spears Repeatedly Threatened to Kill Herself During Police Standoff’, Hollywood, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.hollywood.com/news/celebrities/5033842/britney-spears-repeatedly-threatened-to-kill-herself-during-police-standoff
2008, “Hit me Britney one more time’, Daily Mail, viewed 23/03/2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-437993/Hit-Britney-time.html