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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Britney Spears: A Metaphor for the Fall and Rise of Western Society?

Okay, so this analogy might be a bit of a stretch, but that's the point - it's by testing out extremes that you find the truth, nestled somewhere in the middle.

It's Britney, bitch

I can't say I've spent a lot of time following Britney Spear's career.  My primary impression of her is as something of an icon to a friend of mine, also a pretty blond named Brit from a small-town background but living in the big city. 

Of course, there were the tabloid headlines and pictures jumping out from grocery-store magazine racks, but it was through my Brit's lens that I saw Brit Spears - as a relatable person going through personal challenges under the harsh glare of the public spotlight.  As the drama increased and Spears' life seemed to continue spiraling out of control, I began to feel bad for her, as a human being.  I snapped when I heard "townie" references, but then, I'm from a small city myself. 

While part of me hoped things would turn around, it really looked like the fate of an Amy Winehouse or Whitney Houston was what was in store for her.
Yet, Britney Spears apparently never went away.  In fact, despite the family challenges and the health concerns both physical and mental, it looks like she's actually getting better as an artist and performer.  Spears' Wikipedia entry says her dancing on the Circus Tour was the best in years.  Her songs are receiving positive reviews and she's breaking records.  Beyond that, it looks like her life is coming back to a semblance of order. 

Not what you'd expect from someone everyone was waiting to erupt.

Of course, Britney Spears didn't write all her songs.  She purposely claimed no credit for the songs on her latest album, Femme Fatale.  What makes the songs interesting, though, is that they reflect her personal trajectory; Spears' lineage is captured by her lyricists, and it's that narrative that makes for interesting stories.

What brought Spears' to mind today was hearing the song I Wanna Go on the radio.  It took me a second to recognize whose voice I was hearing and in that moment, I was reminded of Tell Me by another female music icon whose life has unfolded in the media fishbowl, Madonna.  Years before, I'd written a short story about drinking wine in Barcelona (written while drinking Cuba Libres in Ljubljana) that referenced Tell Me, with one character describing Madonna as having her microphone on the pulse of the times.

Britney Spears equally continues to endure and, just like Madonna, she continues to adapt.  Neither one can be pigeon-holed to one genre; they evolve with the times, find new forms of expression and yet continue to stay loyal to their core fan base.

So, I Wanna Go stuck in my head.  When I got home I found and watched the video on Youtube.  I expected it would play on Spears' bounce-back from mental health issues, and was right.  There's a bit of a sharp-edged, rage-against-the-machine to the direction, but there was something more.  Much of what I do in politics revolves around reading and understanding behaviour, particularly in those who train hard to control their behavioural tells.  What I got from Spears' physical delivery, the little ticks and actions, is a sense of comfort in her skin.  The kind of comfort that only comes from someone with an adverse challenge that they have learned to accept as part of themselves and use as a tool of empowerment rather than a burden to bare.

Having some familiarity with cognitive function and symptoms of mental illness, I did another search - Britney Spears and Bipolar Disorder. It just made sense. While we look at Bipolar Disorder as a branch of crazy, the thing we miss is that the stigmatic term crazy is an over-generalization pregnant with meaning, but without a clear definition. The brain is biology; just as we're getting to the point where diverse skin colours aren't considered an illness, nor are conditions like asthma or even cancer causes to ostracize an individual, the brain is just another piece of physical hardware that comes wired in different ways. Slowly but surely, we are beginning to change the view about mental fitness.

It would surprise me none at all if Spears one day was labeled with an official Bipolar Disorder diagnosis.  I don't get the impression that would trouble her much - she's been labeled before and has still kept going.  Her particular cognitive wiring is something she has come to understand at some level and is now starting to channel.  Britney Spears will have moods, spells of cortisol-fueled depression and anger, but she will also have times when she is artistically on fire.  As she is conscious of this, she now has greater control over it.

So - what does this have to do with the ongoing, phoenix-like demise and rebirth of Western Society?

The "Western World" has been globally dominant for quite some time, with the 20th Century being the pinnacle of the American Empire.  The world has changed, though - the US is rapidly losing ground as the world's economic superpower.  In fact, across the board we're in a spiral of brushfires ranging from the Great Recession to the Eurozone Crisis and the broader depression that is likely to follow.  Here in Canada, we have a federal government repeating history's mistakes both internally and externally.  There's lots of wealth at the top, not enough opportunity at the bottom; the growing influence of social media is putting this imbalance front and centre in the consciousness of the masses.  We need release, uncontrollably.

That release is manifesting itself through the Occupy movement, student protests and the rise of intolerance.

Which isn't necessarily inaccurate.  The world we have grown accustomed to can't last - but then, society was never meant to be static.  It's a living, breathing entity, like a person.  It evolves.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about that evolution and, based on what's come before, I think that while oops, we are doing it again, we're going to emerge stronger on the other side.  And a big part of that is going to lie in cognitive flexibility, the capacity to adapt.  Which brings us back again to mental health.

Thanks to social media, the unspoken, internal burdens that have strained our society are all coming to bare.  What we see are political scandals, police scandals, economic scandals.  Always the bad, never the good.  It's not clear to us yet, but that level of scrutiny is liberating - it forces us to come to terms with who we are, as individuals and as a society.  This heightened transparency will set us free.

So there's the connection.  People counted Britney Spears out because of a downward behavioural spiral.  She proved us all wrong; she has tapped her internal flexibility and came back stronger than ever, more confident, less concerned about position and more determined to be herself to the max. 

Western Society is going through the same bust and boom cycle as Britney did.  It's nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, it's a positive - it means that the best is yet to come for all of us. 

See, our society is a bit Bipolar, too.  It's when we really come to terms with that and learn to find balance that we'll consciously start finding success.

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