Thursday, July 31, 2008

Being Britneyfied

I had planned a feminist blog post on the recent McCain advertising campaign which tries to associate Obama's celebrity status with that of the celebrities we all love to hate: Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. They just happen to be women, too. But someone has done the work for me. Or at least most of it:

Again, I'll leave the analysis of the ad's claims about energy policy to Factcheck—who says they're false—and just look at the semiotics of that opening few seconds, which, as Michael Scherer writes elsewhere at, is becoming a major thrust of the McCain argument. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world," the female voiceover intones, intercutting footage of the massive Berlin crowd chanting "O-bam-A!" with the pop of flashbulbs and Britney Spears and Paris Hilton:

* There are a lot of celebrities out there. Why those two? The message: sure, he may draw a big crowd. But he's a lightweight. He's famous for doing nothing. (Actually, I'd argue that conclusion about Britney, who, whatever else you can say about her, worked insanely on her career since she was a child.) Oh, yeah—and he's a girl.

* Seriously, why not contrast him with some male celebrities? (A McCain spokesman did compare Obama with Tom Cruise in a statement, but Maverick didn't make the cut in the TV ad.) It may say something about the attack: that it wants to question Obama's masculinity, in connection with the ad's overt attack on his leadership. Or it says something about our culture: right now, the celebs most mercilessly mocked in the tabloids and blogs—Spears, Hilton, the Olsen twins, Lindsay Lohan, etc.—are mainly women. (Spencer Pratt? Maybe not the most recognizable figure to McCain's target demo.)

I bolded that last bit for your attention.

The most hated celebrities are women, both in the U.S. and in the U.K., even though it wouldn't be that terribly hard to find equally hateworthy male stars. Why this is the case is indeed something worth thinking about. My guess is that lots of free-wheeling misogyny can be safely expressed by framing it as something about a couple of silly famous women. Sadly, this is done by both men and women. And note how those women-we-love-to-hate are always picked carefully to reflect something "unearned" about their fame, something about their good luck they don't deserve. Something about them not knowing their proper place, perhaps?