The Young Entertainers


Now not everybody with Britney’s background turns out like Britney but, even so, this should not deflect us from an assessment of the grand social experiment in which the popstress has been involved for much of her young life. In a comprehensive Observer piece by Elizabeth Day, we learn that from the age of eight Britney was groomed to be an entertainer. It’s at about that age that little girls (and boys) are awakening to the power of this particular elect and start, some of them, to dream about acquiring membership one day. To be enrolled in entertainer classes at this point must be profoundly confusing – the distance between subject and role model suddenly collapses, the sense of a future in which personal development must take place is eclipsed and the possibility of fantasising about other ‘things I want to be when I grow up’ is removed, possibly for ever.

Far more damaging, however, is the winding down of the interior life in favour of its learned imitation. When you are tap dancing, for example, it is advisable to smile. In ballet classes it is best to look solemn. When acting in plays it is good to foreground your feelings to the extent that nothing should be expressed without expression. Your body, when not actively engaged in an act of impersonation, should impersonate centredness, openness and willingness. (I must apologise if I have inadvertently given valuable advice to readers – this was certainly not my intention.)

Once the business of show has been mistressed, the rest is relatively easy. How long does it take to ‘train’ a young entertainer in the basics? Two or three years, maybe, especially if they attend stage schools or talent academies. So by the time the child is 11 or 12 a workable vocabulary of response is in place. A vocabulary of initiation is a trickier proposition.

Clearly it is desirable to appear to be both motivated and proactive. If the wherewithal for this has been systematically diminished then processes of identification may prove more than adequate to the task. By which I mean that when interiority is treated (as in ‘treating damp rot in the timbers of the roof’) a residue always remains. (Surely it can’t be long before this quantity can be neutralised.) It has its uses. The young entertainers (the term is now used to describe not just showbiz kids but all those unwittingly participating in the grand experiment) are able to associate themselves with those who are proactive, use their training to ‘get into their character’ and thereby present a learned, imitative vocabulary of initiation.

I’m not suggesting that the government rings up Britney’s parents and says “We have a marvellous new personality type on the drawing board – your daughter could be its polished standard bearer – get to it!” The shaping of persons by pernicious consumerism is subtle, protracted and certainly the worthwhile subject of a book I’m not equipped to write. What is clear, though, is that the mere display of goods is not enough – shell-like consumers must be recruited, their exteriors of painted sugar, their interiors echoing and free of psychological residue.


Britney, then, has been rousted from the trenches and sent over the top to field-test the kit. She took some bullets and went down. But there are lessons to be learned from this. If the progress of capitalism is to be untrammelled then certain personality types are needed. Essentially, you need empty people. People who want to feel filled. But it’s a bugger emptying the bastards. A small amount of residue is actually needed but, because it is psychological, it is unreliable. (A bit like the idea of the ‘hostile witness’ in a judicial context.)

The great experiment, part of which consists in show business functioning to communicate the desirability of the business of show, is largely successful though. In the United Kingdom, for example, hundreds of thousands of people have been successfully converted to celebrity worship. The cost of this success has not been excessive – for every celebrity meltdown there are dozens of examples of those who can play the game rather well. Mind you, it’s handy Britney is a woman because the attack on her behaviour is subsumed under the general attrition of wayward women of any stripe.

Britney has certainly let everybody down. She wasn’t meant to fall to bits – there are plenty of myths offering strategies of colourful bohemian survival that she might have utilised. When something like this happens there are no winners and everyone is betrayed. Not to worry though, Britney, waiting in the wings of the great social experiment (in which new person types are trialled) (hate that verb) are those who would counsel the waverers: cadres of recently trained counsellors who, as long as the waverer cancels her subscription to the psychological, will deliver her from evil in six weeks. These longbowmen of the post-interior persuasion – often known as cognitive behavioural therapists – are skilled at overcoming those who only have spears.


Let There Be Lite

Following the lamentable indulgence and gratuitous abandon of the previous post I feel it is necessary to compensate by furnishing a visit to Pedant’s Corner. I noticed that on more than one occasion in Strength Weekly I have inveighed against the notion of ‘re-invention’, such as here and here. An article by Andy Gill on Radiohead in today’s Independent Arts & Book Review features the observation that, after OK Computer, ‘again they re-invented themselves’. This strikes me as a perfectly good example of the non-romantic use of the term. Such moderate use is increasingly rare, however.
My beef is that the most common use of the term refers to an impossible psychological operation. Since it is impossible its execution can only be illusory.

When David Bowie was being Ziggy Stardust in 1972 we were told that the singer had been inhabited by the character. In 1973 he released Aladdin Sane and would subsequently only ‘become’ Ziggy intermittently. However, he was and continues to be, described as capable of ‘re-inventing’ himself.

This was seen as unusual within the pop business but even then it was recognised that Bowie was only doing what actors do every few months, if they can get the work. It was not his ‘self’ that was being re-invented – just a performance persona. Hardly psychological rocket science.

What Bowie and Radiohead do is develop. In less exotic milieux people do this all the time. Often the development is gradual but if you haven’t seen them for a bit it strikes you as a sudden change. Sometimes it is actually sudden, insofar as the components of what will be the new development are not evident, for a variety of reasons, until the last moment.

But the current use of ‘re-invent’ refers to a transformation that is adept, magical and barely involves any process. It seems to be premised on the conviction that there is nothing in our psychological makeup that could prevent rapid and profound transformation. It seems, in fact, to be based on the idea that there is nothing psychological.

Once the tiresome baggage of the psychological is disposed of then what is left is, presumably, feather-light and infinitely malleable. It’s purely reactive – at night time it shuts down and is unburdened by dreams. It is My Little Pony.

This cheap-airline-hand-baggage-only quantity (we can’t really call it a ‘self’ without confusing the issue) resides on the other side of the skin to the tattoos, the adornments and the garments. It is a possession, like the other accoutrements. It is owned. As such it is readily replaceable. There are no ‘circumstances’ that define it or constrain it. You can change it whenever you want. There is nothing ‘beneath’ it.

I blame capitalism but then I usually do. Even the newsreader’s ever-changing tie has a newsreader behind it.