Destroying Britney For Profit: Notes On Jann Wenner, Clive Davis And Other Vampires In Decline
by Joe Carducci
Originally published Mar 5, 2008 on Arthur’s Yahoo blog
It was a bit much to read Rolling Stone’s recent cover story on Britney Spears. It was probably written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, though three others are accused of “additional reporting.” But none of these wrote this sentence:
“She’s the perfect celebrity for America in decline: Like President Bush, she just doesn’t give a f**k, but at least we won’t have to clean up after her mess for the rest of our lives.”
That one’s gotta be by Jan Wenner. (His byline has been Jann Wenner since he went skiing in Gstaad in the early seventies and fell in love with Alpine Teutonic machismo.) But this particular issue’s real offenses were:
1. Wenner Media’s corrupt humility in the Britney piece, where Rolling Stone is counterposed to OK magazine, a Brit competitor just rolling out an American edition. You’d never know that it was Jan himself who brought the fleet street scumbag sensibility up from the Florida-based drugstore tabloids and onto supermarket shelves via his own Us Weekly. “Us!” As if! The PR media began to turn on its celebrity subjects when the movies, TV and music that featured them began to be faked even more cynically in the 1980s. It’s Jan’s cash that keeps those jackals with their digicams running through the streets of Los Angeles after Britney whether she’s coming from or going to rehab, court, or the mall. He debased the People magazine formula and now the Brits are setting up directly to chase him downmarket.
2. The same issue’s piece on Clive Davis wherein Rich Cohen attempts to fob off this pop vampire as the last of the “record men.” It’s right there in the article: He was the first of the suits, not the last of the record men! He made Barry Manilow record “Mandy” which don’t you know made his whole career possible! Who edits this rag?! Clive Davis was last seen trying to break down Kelly Clarkson with the promise of turning her into a Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston! Sounds like an actionable threat to me. Only a true record man would hire Mike Watt to play on a pop session, and Davis opposed it.
Wenner is the perfect mogul for a Media in decline.
According to the new issue of The Atlantic (again a Britney cover), the gossip sites see their heavy traffic “during the corporate lunch hour, from women between the ages of 16 and 34.” What is Britney exploring for her audience? Author David Samuels writes,
“In the dark sewer of misanthropic, gynophobic, and Rabelaisian epithets running through the comments section of celebrity blogs, one can also find gems of authentic emotional connection to celebrity foibles… A good number of readers seem to write in the openly delusional… belief that if their post is sincere or hateful enough, the walls separating their own lives from the lives of celebrities will dissolve, transporting them from the backlit world of their LCD screens to the super-pollinated atmosphere of the media daisy chain.”
Samuels claims the blog-staff at X17, the leading paparazzi agency with a new retail blog, are “USC film-school graduates who prefer to conceal their real names in order to preserve their future viability in the rapidly disintegrating Hollywood system.” Good thinking, kids. I can somehow picture the films you will one day make.
Nowhere in this Britney coverage high and low is any consideration of what she is doing in her roomful of mirrors. She did more than “give it up” in the paparazzi parlance as other stars that subtly position or pose to help them create their shots. She seems to have doubled down on stardom just as it’s dissolving from something once as concrete as George Clooney’s bone structure into something ambient or liquid. Additionally, within the secret world of young women, new rapidly normalizing options like anti-depressants, cosmetic surgery, and period-suppression are whirling into the still unsettled breakthroughs of contraception and abortion. Lindsay Lohan’s sad reprise of Marilyn Monroe’s final photo session before her suicide in a recent issue of New York, and Heath Ledger’s simple drug O.D. seem small compared to the level Britney is operating on. She’s the new media supernaut; I hope she escapes their death watch and lives to tell, or dies in private.
Joe Carducci is the author of Rock and the Pop Narcotic and Enter Naomi: SST, L.A. and All That…. This is his first blog post for Arthur Magazine.