1 Britney, the Body, and the Blurring of Popular Cultures: A case study of music videos, gender, a transcendent celebrity, and health issues Catherine Sabiston School of Human Kinetics 210, War Memorial Gym 6081 University Boulevard University of British Columbia Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA V6T 1Z2 Office: (604) 822-0219 E-Mail: email@example.com Brian Wilson School of Human Kinetics 156G Auditorium Annex 1924 West Mall University of British Columbia Vancouver, British Columbia CANADA V6T 1Z2 Office: (604) 822-3884 FAX: (604) 822-5884 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Citation: Sabiston, C. M. & Wilson, B. (2006). Britney, the body, and the blurring of popular cultures. A case study of music videos, gender, a transcendent celebrity, and health issues (pp 199210). In L. Fuller (Ed.) Sexual Sports Rhetoric: Teaming up gender with the language of sport. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan. 2 Britney, the Body and the Blurring of Popular Cultures: A case study of music videos, gender, a transcendent celebrity, and health issues Catherine Sabiston & Brian Wilson Abstract Although rhetoric around the celebrity body has been widely studied in the sociology of sport, the focus of this work has largely on professional athletes. In this paper we argue that in order to understand the increasing blurred distinction between popular cultures, and the (potential) intertextual influences of media messages about the body (e.g., on young people’s perceptions of the their bodies), it is important to also consider rhetoric around non-athlete celebrity bodies. Pursing this goal, this paper examines sexual rhetoric around the female body through a case study of Britney Spears videos. Drawing on political economy and feminist-based perspectives, the analysis revealed that the images and language of the videos were contradictory in that they could be read as both articulations of female power and as expressions submissiveness – although in all cases the ‘ideal’ female body was promoted. The paper concludes with suggestions for research that examines not only key sites where messages about the body and gender are distributed, but also relationships between the popular cultures that may work together to promote these messages. KEY WORDS: BODY, CELEBRITY, MEDIA, HEALTH, GENDER, MUSIC, POPULAR CULTURE, YOUTH 3 Britney, the Body and the Blurring of Popular Cultures: A Case Study of Music Videos, Gender, a Transcendent Celebrity, and Health Issues Introduction It is well documented that mediated images of the ‘ideal’ female body – the tall, thin, and attractive body and the more toned and athletic body that is increasingly in vogue – are linked to body image disturbances and feelings of dissatisfaction with physical appearance for many females (e.g., Bordo, 1993; Cusumano & Thompson, 1997; Dionne, Davis, Fox, & Gurevich, 1995; Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Lavine, Sweeney, & Wagner, 1999; Myers & Biocca, 1992).1 Among the many concerns expressed by those who are critical of these types of portrayals is that very few females are genetically able to achieve the body shapes, sizes and traits depicted in the media, yet many females continue to internalize and make efforts to attain these bodies (Markula, 1995). In the same way, these depictions have been critiqued because they implicitly support the deceiving and problematic belief that there is a relationship between having the ‘ideal body’ and being healthy, successful and productive (Ingham, 1985). These consequences and issues are especially important to consider for those living through their adolescent years, a time when body image is centrally related to physical activity and dieting behaviours and a time when life-long perceptions of the self and body tend to be established (Bordo, 1993; Crossen & Raymore, 1997; C. Davis, 1997, Heinberg & Thompson, 1992; Koff & Kiekofer, 1978; McDermott, 1996).2 Those who study issues to do with young females’ perceptions of their bodies have focused much attention on the types of media messages that are produced about the body and on 1 These issues are particularly salient in Western cultures where female physical attractiveness tends to be measured against media-influenced ideals of body shape and size (Hesse-Biber, 1996). 4 the ways that these messages are interpreted. Although scholars have adopted various approaches to understanding media impacts/effects, common to most literatures has been an emphasis on the potential influences of portrayals of celebrity icons. For example, those working from various psychology-based perspectives have drawn links between the use of constantly thinning models and celebrities in the media and increased incidences of dieting, fears of physical activity, and excessive fitness behaviours (Fay & Price, 1994; Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz, & Thompson, 1980; Heinberg & Thompson, 1992; Joseph, 1982; Myers & Biocca, 1992; Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994). Those in critical media studies have argued that sexualized images of females – celebrities and otherwise – tend to reinforce perceived differences between males and females and support a view of women as passive, weak, and lacking control (e.g., Duncan, 1990). Other work in this context more directly links gender issues with perspectives on political economy as part of examining how media images of celebrity bodies that are often used to promote consumer products contribute to the maintenance of existing power structures while fueling the perception that these products can lead to happiness and satisfaction (Duncan, 1994; Finn & Dell, 1999; Garner et al., 1980; Silverstein et al., 1986). Sociologists of sport and leisure – who in many cases are part of the critical media studies group noted above – are among the leaders in studying links between media, celebrity, gender, and the body. As a recent review of the area by Cole (2000) reveals, a wealth of research has focused on topics in such areas as media, deviance, and sport celebrities (e.g., that describes how ‘acceptable’ and ‘transgressive’ bodies are defined through sport media), and on celebrity bodies, consumer culture and the fitness industry (e.g., that describes the intended and unintended 2 Body image is defined as attitudes that individuals express concerning their body and physical appearance (Cash & Pruzinsky, 1990). 5 consequences of the promotion of certain body types). Work by Caroline Davis (1999) on eating disorders, physical activity and sport is especially pertinent here because she not only recognizes the biological, psychological and sociological factors that, together, impact young people’s perceptions of their bodies, but also emphasizes the impacts of media and celebrity images on youth. For example, Davis draws on a study by Tiggemann and Pickering (1996) to describe how young females who watch programs that show women in “stereotypically ‘feminine’ roles (like music videos, soaps, and movies)” tend to be less satisfied with their bodies (Davis, 1999, p. 92). Underlying most work on these topics is an acknowledgement that messages about the body come from various sources (e.g., advertising, movies, fitness videos), are promoted by various celebrities (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Jane Fonda), and are in many cases ambiguous (c.f., Andrews, 1996). The singer/actress Madonna is perhaps the most pronounced example of a celebrity whose active body has been marketed and consumed in diverse and ambiguous ways. Observing this, scholars in the early and mid 1990s were inspired to consider how the shifting images and looks of Madonna’s body were both empowering and constraining for young females (e.g., Kellner, 1995). As Bordo (1993) has noted, Madonna, who was a model of resistance to the ideal body in her expression of satisfaction with a slightly robust body during the early stages of her career, eventually altered her body to approximate the thin and athletic figure (i.e., a figure that was both a symbol of power and an object of desire). There are instances in the sociology of sport literature where bodies like Madonna’s that transcend the various popular culture genres (i.e., music and sport) are referred to. However, there is little research that considers the relevance of, for example, music videos as a way to advance understandings of celebrity bodies and their impacts on the health of young people. 6 This is surprising considering the many links that popular music culture has with sport – in performances by bands and singers at events like the NFL’s Superbowl, in the release of albums by ‘athlete-musicians’ like NBA star Allen Iverson, and in the collaborative promotion of consumer products by athletes like former NFL and MLB player Bo Jackson and musicians like Bo Diddley (who shared the spotlight in Nike athletic apparel commercials). David Rowe, one of the few to focus on connections between sport, leisure and music, has argued that these two cultural forms require joint attention “not only because of their raw popularity and economic significance, but also because each is devoted to the body and its pleasures by means of both participation and spectatorship” (p. 9). Continuing this point, Rowe suggests that sport and music are each “are key cultural industries of the body, constantly replenishing the stock of corporeal images which also function as metaphors of social and cultural change” (1995, p. 9). In the same way, Steve Redhead (1991, 1997) has discussed in some depth the relationships between the escapist/hedonistic rave dance music cultures and hooligan soccer-fan cultures in the UK (e.g., similarities between sportswear styles and dance club clothing styles). When our concern with body, body image, celebrity influence and young females is considered along with Rowe’s argument that sport and music can be seen acting together to influence and represent the contemporary cultural landscape, then the lack of existing research on transcendent active/sporting bodies of female celebrity music icons becomes even more disconcerting and glaring. This is not to say that no work exists in the area. Kellner’s study of Madonna remains a powerful departure point and sport sociologist Marg MacNeill (1998) has provided a compelling analysis of social issues surrounding celebrity fitness videos that feature actress, singer and model icons Jane Fonda, Cher and Cindy Crawford. Having said this, Madonna, whose fame and influence was at its peak in the 1980s and early 90s, is by no means 7 the most relevant contemporary example considering the continued evolution of youth and media cultures leading up to and after the millennium. MacNeill’s (1998) work could also be usefully extended to include female music-related celebrities (and their bodies) that are most relevant to the lives of young females post-millennium. The goal of the following paper is to speak to these various issues about the body, gender, health, media, celebrity and intertextuality through an analysis of selected representations of and productions by one of the most well-known and well-publicized of today’s female celebrities – Britney Spears. Spears, a best-selling musical artist and renowned endorser for Pepsi and for a Skechers sneaker line, has recently appeared in movies like Crossroads and Goldmember, and is slated to star in an upcoming “NASCAR-themed” (yet still unnamed) film (King, 2002). According to Forbes Magazine (2002), Spears is among the most influential females in the past decade and, according to Stern’s (2002) recent article in the Vancouver Sun, media portrayals of Britney and others like her are largely to blame for increases in body image disturbances among young females. The sometimes overzealous claims made by certain journalists notwithstanding, there is no question that Spears is a media sensation that inspires a variety of reactions from mainstream press.3,4 On the most obvious level, the following study is pertinent because it will allow for a discussion and evaluation of some of these claims about media impacts and body image through an examination of media messages that are at the core of Spears’ influence. In the same way, it will allow us to address some of the shortcomings in the literature, such as the disparity of work There is some evidence that confirms allegations like those lodged by Stern, such as Irvine’s (2001) observations that parents of girls as young as 5 years old claimed that their daughters regularly complained about being overweight or not possessing the defined abdomens that are portrayed in images of Britney Spears and other celebrities. 4 We are acutely sensitive in this context to the problems associated with journalistic panics about mass media influences on ‘the impressionable young’ (c.f., Acland, 1995). 3 8 describing relationships between music culture, transcendent celebrities, the body, and health. This research is (less obviously) notable because, despite her notoriety, Spears is conspicuously understudied in media and cultural studies literatures. Except for the journalistic discussions of Britney’s media portrayals and intertextual positioning, we could find no rigorous media analysis research that critically examined media portrayals of Spears. In attempting to address these issues, we have organized this chapter as follows. First, a theoretical framework for examining celebrity bodies, health, leisure, media and popular culture is outlined. This is followed by the presentation of a case study of the lyrics and images in three Britney Spears videos/songs, with particular attention to the various emergent messages about and expressed through the body. The paper concludes with a discussion of the ways that these study findings pertain to and inform existing literature, and with recommendations for future work in the area. Theoretical Considerations This paper is guided by a political economy influenced view of popular culture that is sensitive to relationships between bodies and consumer spectacles, and a feminist perspective on mass media that acknowledges the ways that existing power relations are reinforced through portrayals of gender that implicitly support dominant/problematic ideologies about the body. Both of these positions are underscored by a more psychology based understanding of the impacts of celebrity and ‘ideal body’ portrayals on young people’s perceptions of themselves. In approaching our analysis of music and music celebrities as they pertain to various body and sport related culture industries, we were guided by David Whitson and Rick Gruneau’s (1997) essay “The (Real) Integrated Circus: Political Economy, Popular Culture and Major League Sport” and David Rowe’s (1995) book Popular Cultures: Rock Music, Sport and the 9 Politics of Pleasure. Whitson and Gruneau’s essay powerfully describes the processes by which leisure and entertainment industries have become increasingly integrated as they attempt to attain economic advantages (e.g., the AOL-Time-Warner mergers) – advantages most often gained through the cross-marketing of products, merchandise and brands (e.g., The Disney Corporation’s purchase of the Mighty Ducks NHL Franchise, the marketing of the film The Mighty Ducks, and the marketing of related souvenirs and merchandise – c.f., Whitson, 2000). Similarly pertinent in this context is work by Andrew Wernick (1991) that examined the ways that various forms of publicity interact and circulate, such that celebrities like Britney Spears come to be promoted in a range of intended and unintended ways – what Wernick called a ‘vortex of publicity’. Rowe’s work is a useful extension of this economic argument because he focuses on and describes the specific ways that music and sport cultures have become increasingly blurred in recent times – what some have called ‘postmodern’ times (c.f., Rail, 1998). These cultural features are crucial for understanding not only how big business might benefit from music-sport relationships, but also the ways that celebrity bodies that promote these integrated industries have become increasingly indistinct/aligned. As Rowe (1995) explains: There are now few sports in which the leading players do not attend systematically to presentational codes in a manner formerly associated with rock and pop stars, while, by the same token, there is an increasing number of rock and pop icons (including Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop and Madonna) who proclaim their bodily fitness through rigorous exercise and dietary regimens. In this way, the figure of the sports star has merged with that of the rock star as embodiments of style, just as rock, pop and sports cultures interact to produce increasingly short-lived and unpredictably hybrid forms (p. 167). Taking this one step further are those who study bodies that transcend the conventional boundaries that tend to exist around, for examples, one’s popular cultural affiliation (e.g., as a sport or music celebrity ) or one’s racial identity. Douglas Kellner’s (1995) study of Madonna mentioned earlier is one example of work on a ‘transcendent celebrity’, as is his similar analysis 10 of Michael Jordan (Kellner, 2001), who he describes (like he did with Madonna) as a contradictory and polysemic signifier, and as a: figure that mobilizes many fantasies (e.g., athletic greatness, wealth, success, and upward mobility) for the national and global imaginary, providing a spectacle who embodies many desirable national and global features and aspirations” [while at the same time, representing the threatening black figure], the negative fantasy figure of black deviance from white normality (Kellner, 2001, p. 48). Making specific reference to Jordan’s physicality and bodily presence, Keller (drawing on Giroux, 1994) went on to suggest that contemporary media is “characterized by a simultaneous fascination with the accomplishments of the black male body while also fearing the threat it poses” (Kellner, 2001, p. 48) Marg MacNeill’s (1988, 1998) essays on gender portrayals and fitness-related videos/shows likewise extend Rowe’s and Whitson and Gruneau’s work by linking political economic concerns with feminist-based media analyses of (non-sport) celebrities’ active bodies. MacNeill, much like Caroline Davis (1999), remains sensitive to both the ways that power differentials between males and females are reinforced through mass media depictions of women and ideal bodies, and moreover, to the ways that young females’ (perceptions of their) bodies in particular can be disciplined and controlled through these portrayals. By linking these theoretical arguments with existing (often psychology-based) research that examines body image and media, our hope is to provide a more comprehensive basis from which to consider the potential impacts of Britney Spears portrayals. Especially pertinent in this context are studies that focus on the impacts of music and music videos on young people’s behaviours and beliefs – studies that, to date, tend to contradict one another (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1996; Andersen, 1996; Signorielli, 1997). Some researchers optimistically maintain that music is important to adolescents’ identities because it helps them define important social and subcultural boundaries. Other researchers are less positive, claiming that music 11 videos contain an excess of inappropriate health behaviours, beliefs and messages that confirm dominant systems of power (Gow, 1996; Kalof, 1999; McKee & Pardun, 1996; Signorielli, 1997). Along the same lines, Borzekowski, Robinson, and Killen (2000) determined that hours of watching music videos was related to perceived importance of appearance and weight concerns among adolescent females, and claimed that frequent music video exposure could be a risk factor for physiological and psychological health problems in adolescent females. These finding are consistent with more broadly focused research by Caughey (1994) who described how celebrities, like those portrayed in videos, are often perceived as idealized images because they possess qualities and traits that non-celebrities would like to develop or maintain in themselves – especially traits that appear ‘within reach’, like fit and thin bodies (Goethals, 1986; Gulas & McKeage, 2000). Methodology With the goal of developing a better understanding of the types of messages that young females are exposed to and discussing potential implication, an in-depth analysis of three Britney Spears’ songs and videos were conducted. These are: Baby one more time (release date: January 1999), Oops…I did it again (release date: May 2000), and I’m a slave for you (release date: October 2001). Abridged video descriptions appear in Appendix A. All three chosen songs are title tracks, and the corresponding albums have debuted at the number one spot on The Billboard 200 (mtv.com), a music distribution and ranking index based on popularity and demand. All albums have also demonstrated international appeal. Textual analysis techniques were used to conduct the study. The intent was to detect possible ideological contexts and messages embedded within Britney Spears’ videos. The research was partially guided by Duncan’s (1990) interpretive/semiotic analysis of sports 12 photographs and Bradby’s (1992) discourse analysis of musical lyrics in some of Madonna’s songs. There are no attempts to generalize the analyses of these specific videos and lyrics to the remainder of Britney Spears’ songs, although we suggest that this analysis is suggestive of possible interpretations of music videos and lyrics and illustrates the use of body discourses in this form of media. Results and Analysis Although a variety of themes emerged from the analysis, three stood out. These related to: (i) power and control; (ii) identity development; and (iii) gender stereotypes and sexuality. These are described below. Visions of Empowerment, Words of Submission: Contradictory Messages about Power and Control A range of messages about power and control in the lives of females are entrenched in Britney Spears’ videos and songs. In some cases, Spears, as the lead female character in the videos and the lead vocalist for the songs, is shown to be dependant on and submissive to male characters. This is especially evident in …Baby one more time, which features images and lyrics that are in synchrony with dominant notions of masculine strength and knowledge. For example, the main chorus line in the song is “Hit me baby one more time”, a line that suggests in this instance that Spears wants ‘another chance’ with the absent and now-dominant male character. Spears’ submissiveness is also supported in the video’s camera angles and lighting that emphasize her loneliness and inferiority, evidenced primarily in scenes where her head is bowed or resting in her arms with solemn and her saddened eyes are gazing at the audience. Having said this, when Spears’ sings that she “shouldn’t have let you [i.e., the male character] go,” it seems that an ambiguous power relationship is being described, and that Spears’ character, while emotional 13 and angst-ridden, was an active decision-maker in the relationship (i.e., is not necessarily ‘out of control’). Spears video and song Oops…I did it again, while including implicit allusions to submissiveness, embodies many themes that support notions of female empowerment and control. For example, at the beginning of the video, Britney Spears’ descends from a spaceship to join a cast of dancers/actors/others. Spears appears to be the leader of this group, not only from her dramatic entry ‘from above’, but also from her attire – a red suit which contrasts the less prominent attire of the others. Her positioning as the dominant figure is reinforced when she restrains a male dancer with chains, and when she is shown to be ‘yearned for’ by a male astronaut to whom Spears appears disinterested. Spears’ aggressive actions and intense facial expressions similarly support this portrayal of a dominant female figure. However these messages are to a certain extent mitigated by Spears’ lyrical admission to being out of control. As she sings, “Can’t you see I’m a fool in so many ways, but to lose all my senses, That is just so typically me.” The portrayal of Spears as an empowered female is less conditional in her most recent video for the song I’m a slave for you. Her more assertive positioning is most evident from the predominantly eye-level angles that are used throughout the video – angles which, according to Duncan (1990), are indicative of an individual’s superiority and dominance. She is also depicted as having control over the male characters in the sequences (e.g., male characters appear awestruck as they gaze at her; Spears is lifted above others in the dance sequence). Once again though, the lyrics – which articulate Spears’ dependence on the male character that is depicted in the song – contradict the video’s images of female power. The following repeated and emphasized sequence is most relevant in this context: I’m a slave for you. 14 I cannot hold it; I cannot control it. I’m a slave for you. I won’t deny it; I’m not trying to hide it. In offering these interpretations, we acknowledge Bradby’s (1992) suggestion that the lyrical messages in pop songs like these are less important (i.e., less spectacular, less noticeable) conveyors of meaning than the corresponding visual images. In this sense, the predominance of visual images of Britney Spears as in control could be interpreted as ‘more relevant’ than the often lyrically-based messages of disempowerment. At the same time, and responding to Duncan’s (1990) argument that visual images are often politically motivated signifying systems that preserve patriarchy and other traditional forms of social relations, we suggest that these videos contain images that could be viewed as somewhat counter-hegemonic in that they might be empowering for young females who see Spears as a figure in control. This point is tempered, though, by the fact that Spears’ identity is so often defined by her (shifting and contradictory) relationships to men, a point that somewhat dilutes this pro-feminist reading of the message. For example, the words for the song …Baby one more time, imply that there are extreme consequences associated with being alone. Relevant lyrics such as “my loneliness is killing me” and “When I’m not with you I lose my mind” complement a general malaise that Spears expresses about being alone following a failed romantic relationship with the male she refers to throughout the song. From Innocence to Independence, From Schoolgirl to Diva: Britney’s Mediated Identity Development According to Synnott (1993), the body is the prime symbol and determinant of identity. It is evident from the evolution of Britney Spears’ songs and videos that her body and physical characteristics are the principal mechanisms through which her identity and development are inferred, displayed, and celebrated – just as athletes’ relationship with and understanding of their 15 bodies tend to shape their identity (Hargreaves, 1994). More specifically, Spears’ songs and videos provide evidence of her mediated identity crisis, her apparent struggle between and development from adolescence and adulthood – a struggle and development most evident from changes in her physical appearance and in the construction and maintenance of her body. The inexperienced and innocent mediated image/identity of Spears is conveyed in the lyrics and poses in her first video, …Baby one more time. The lyrical reference to “baby” appears to have largely romantic connotations (e.g., “Oh baby, baby, I shouldn’t have let you go”), yet the video-contexts – in school-related areas, such as a classroom, courtyard, and gymnasium – suggest a youthfulness and innocence. In contrast, the song from Spears’ subsequent album, Oops…I did it again, shows her to be both an agent and product of change. There is more emphasis on her robust body and physical characteristics that imply an older female adolescent (see Appendix B and C). The suggestion that the Spears character in the video is more romantically experienced than before (or than the audience thinks she is) is especially evident from the lyrics in the song’s chorus: Oops!...I did it again I played with your heart, got lost in the game Oh baby, baby Oops!...You think I’m in love That I’m sent from above I’m not that innocent The final line of the chorus is emphasized through a combination of higher volume lyrics and a close-up of Spears’ face. Prominent images of a powerful and seductive Spears dressed in red overshadow less remarkable images of Britney in youthful and (deceivingly) innocent-looking white clothing (images that flank the ‘Britney-in-red’ image). This is a somewhat unstable mediated identity, although the dominant reading of a powerful, more ‘grown-up’ Spears seems clear. 16 In her more recent work, Spears implies and expresses a frustration with being perceived as an adolescent instead of the young adult she wants/appears to be. For example, the lyrics to I’m a slave for you include a request for independence (“All the people look at me like I’m a little girl, well, did you think it would be okay for me step into this world”). Accompanying these kinds of lyrics are images of Spears with adult-like body features and physical characteristics (e.g., her thin and developed muscular body in revealing clothing, styled hair, and an abundance of cosmetics). These images are easily counterpoised against portrayals of Spears from her first album, in which she is not apparently wearing makeup and her hair, which is much darker than the present bleach-blonde appearance, is in pigtails (see Appendix D). There is an obvious and intentional visual identity shift over time that is evident not only visually, but to a certain extent explained lyrically. The Millennium’s Madonna?: Challenging and Confirming Gender Stereotypes and Bodily Displays Although existing research has demonstrated that females in popular culture are usually displayed in stereotypical, feminine-appropriate roles and poses (Bordo, 1993; L. Davis, 1997; Duncan, 1990), Kellner’s study of Madonna highlights the contradictory character of some contemporary portrayals, and, more pertinently, emphasizes the idea that any interpretation of dominant and sexualized images of women need to be understood in relation to the values and beliefs of the media analyst. As he explains: How one evaluates Madonna depends on one’s specific politics and morality, and someone who cultivates an aesthetic of shock and excess, as does Madonna, is certain to offend and become the target of criticism…[Yet, Madonna’s] breaking of rules has progressive elements in that it goes against dominant gender, sex, fashion and racial hierarchies and her message is that identity is something that everyone can and must construct for themselves is appealing. Yet, by constructing identity largely in terms of fashion and image, Madonna plays into precisely the imperatives of the fashion and consumer industries which offer a “new you” and a solution to all your problems through purchasing products, services, and buying into regimes of beauty and fashion (Kellner, 1995, p. 291). 17 Kellner’s argument is relevant to Britney Spears’ video portrayals – portrayals that could be viewed, on one hand, as challenges to traditional female roles and, on the other hand, as contributors to a media environment that is dominated by images of ‘ideal’ young female bodies. Evidence for the more conservative interpretation could be found in the video portrayals of a sexualized Spears’ body that was emphasized through her form-fitting attire such as spandex sports bras, faux leather suits, mini skirts and tight jeans (see Appendix B). Still, the …Baby one more time video is an example of a text that allows for multiple and contradictory interpretations. In the video, Spears appears to be involved in a subversive and symbolic ‘play’ with images and values traditionally associated with the typical rigid private school girl’s uniform. That is to say, girls in the video are shown wearing white dress shirts unbuttoned and tucked up to reveal flat abdomens and cleavage that are typical features of the ideal female body. In these scenes, the unusually high socks appear more like high boots – an obviously sexually suggestive and arguably pornographic image. Although these images could be read in various ways, an obvious reading is that these images reinforce the view of pop music videos as texts where young women are shown to be objects of desire and where desirable ideal bodies are on display. The consistent portrayal of Spears in suggestive and form-fitting clothing, and in both dominating and submissive sexualized poses in all her videos within these videos supports this view (see Appendix B, C, and D). An alternative reading though, akin to Kellner’s reading of Madonna as ‘progressive’, is that institutions and societal structures (for which the private school is a metaphor) that tend to be governed by traditional and conservative rule systems that are often restrictive and potentially oppressive for (young) females are being challenged and subverted through these images. 18 In the same way, this ‘floating’ portrayal of Spears as, on one hand, dominant and deviant, and on the other hand submissive, is confirmed in Oops…I did it again and I’m a slave for you (see Appendix B & C). In these videos, changes in outfits tend to emphasize contrasts in Spears’ often-changing bodily persona. For example, a shift from a red full-body spandex dress to a white shirt and skirt within Oops…I did it again alludes to Spears movement from a position of dominance to one of submission (Appendix C). This transition is also reflected in her poses and actions. While wearing the red suit, Spears is shown from an eye-level camera angle dancing and, as part of the dance, projecting a closed fist in front of her – atypical portrayals of femininity. While wearing white, she is shown lying down in a sexually explicit, almost pornographic pose while her long blonde hair surrounds her body. These poses are imaged from above, inferring disempowerment and inferiority (Duncan, 1990). The lyrics in the song are consistent with this alternation between a passive and submissive Spears (“I’m dreaming away, Wishing that heros, they truly exist, I cry, watching the days, can’t you see I’m a fool in so many ways…), and a powerful and manipulative one (“Oops, I did it again, I played with your heart”). Discussion The most striking findings that emerged from this study were that messages embedded in the Britney Spears videos were often contradictory, that portrayals of Spears evolved over the three videos (from the earliest video to the latest), and most pertinently, that images of the ‘ideal body’ were in all cases present and emphasized – although at times gender stereotypes were mildly subverted. In relating these findings to previous work on celebrity icons and political economy (e.g., Gruneau and Whitson, Wernick and Rowe), it is important to reiterate that the images studied here exist within a much broader context of Spears portrayals. Most notable here are the images 19 of Spears that have emerged from her association with Pepsi. That the studied videos in some way resemble her Pepsi commercials (in which she is also shown leading dance sequences and wearing revealing and form-fitting clothing) is itself significant because it reinforces existing links between Spears’ music-promotion activities and the brands/companies she represents. In the same way, the compelling images of Spears’ body and clothing and the spectacular nature of the videos she appears within – images and messages that are a large part of her appeal to a range of audiences – are of benefit to Spears-related enterprises. As noted earlier, it is this appeal that made Spears such an attractive celebrity to be associated with for NASCAR, a sport and entertainment business that is trying to not only heighten the sport’s allure to existing fans who find Spears desirable as a sexual object/image, but also to young people who, because of Spears’ association, might ‘give NASCAR-entertainment a chance’. At the same time, by creating links with Spears’ image and, at least inadvertently, with the music industry she is a part of (and, in turn, with the publicity she receives through other sponsors), the ‘vortex of publicity’ that Wernick (1991) referred to is created and fuelled. In the same way, Spears’ association with sport through NASCAR and through the promotion of her active/sporting/alluring body is an example of what Rowe described as the economically profitable and culturally ‘blurred’ relationship between the sport and music popular culture arenas. What is somewhat novel here is that the relationship is not only purposeful but unavoidable, a point which, we think, is a mild update to Rowe’s work on sport and music that was conducted at time when ‘seams’ between rock music and sport (in the 1980s and early 1990s) were more noticeable. Extending these arguments in ways that inform the more feminist-oriented analyses of MacNeill and Kellner, we suggest that our findings provide a basis from which to suggest that 20 Spears’ positioning as a feminist figure who holds power and is often ‘in control’ is questionable. That is to say, while Spears was often shown to be a figure that could be adulated and respected for her accomplishments (e.g., as a charismatic presence within the video and as a successful female performing artist and business person more generally), because her identity was so much defined by her ideal physique and through her romantic relationships with males, her profeminist positioning was diminished. This contradiction is reflected in Spears’ recently established relationship with the television hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a show on which Spears will be playing a villainous-vampire for 6 episodes in the upcoming season. Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, has been similarly viewed as a paradoxical figure in relation to feminist discourses. The SkyNews commentary on the Britney-Buffy relationship that states “millions will tune in to see the two of them fighting in their trademark figure-hugging outfits” (Sky News, 2002) confirms Spears’ intertextual positioning as sometimes powerful, but always defined by her ever-emphasized body. Perhaps most notable in this context is how Spears (as she appears in the studied videos) compares to the mediated Madonna who she is so often measured against. Like Madonna, Spears’ videos embody various, often conflicting symbols and meanings – which include an inconsistent interplay between music and lyrics: [Madonna’s] performances on her music videos highlight the meaning of the words, or use images to undercut or subvert the meanings of the lyrics – as she chooses. Her music videos are often complex modernist systems of meaning, demanding interpretation and allowing multivalent readings. Madonna is a meaning machine and her performances articulate her ideology, vision and messages. Indeed, one level of meaning perpetually conveyed in her music videos and performances is that Madonna herself is a superstar, that Madonna is cool, that Madonna rules (Kellner, 1995, p. 288). Unlike Spears, though, Madonna’s transgression is far more consistent and radical (and original) than anything Spears has approached. Madonna has challenged conventional codes of popular music while Spears is almost unwaveringly ‘pop’. It would be, for example, a stretch to call 21 Spears’ shift from the semi-innocent schoolgirl to diva-temptress nonconformist or experimental when it does not seem to challenge conventional understandings of femininity beyond showing a sometimes powerful and sometimes submissive young female in a variety of always seductive poses. Madonna, on the other hand, was rarely submissive in the way that Spears has been shown to be, and moreover, was renowned for challenging conservative views on race, sex, class gender and religion (Kellner, 1995, p. 291) – although the efficacy of these challenges remains in question, since she seemed to be both promoting and undercutting feminist discourses according to some commentators. In the end though, Madonna and Spears are similar in that they are contradictory figures within feminist discourses that are, above all, marketing-machines and body icons. In the same way, the music videos which feature images of Madonna and Spears (subversive images and otherwise), are nevertheless commodity forms “which are, after all, at bottom, advertisements for songs” (Kellner, 1995, p. 292). Our findings also speak to existing claims by some researchers that health-related behaviours and attitudes that are portrayed in music videos are possible conveyors of meaning for young people (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1996). We are referring here to the largely psychology-based body of research that includes evidence of links between exposure to music videos and extremes of violence and sexism (Peterson & Pfost, 1989; Seidman, 1992; Vincent, Davis, & Boruszkowski, 1987), substance abuse (Durant, Rome, Rich et al., 1995; Robinson, Chen, & Killen, 1998), suicide (Stack, Gundlach, & Reeves, 1994), inappropriate sexual behaviour (Klein, Brown, Childers, et al., 1993), feminine disempowerment (Reid & Finchilescu, 1995) and weight and body image disturbances (Borzekowski et al., 2000). Before proceeding with this theme, it is important to acknowledge that critical media scholars often take issue with researchers that claim ‘media effects’, arguing that studies in this 22 tradition tend not to adequately account for the social positioning of the audience being studied, the multiple cultural influences that might impact audience interpretations, and the ability of viewers to understand and use media messages in novel and resistant ways (c.f., Brown, & Schulze, 1990; Lewis, 1991; Wilson & Sparks, 1996, 1999). Lewis (1997), for example, has been critical of some of this work because he felt it disguises ‘television’s many subtleties beneath a façade of arithmetic precision” (Lewis, 1997, p. 89). Confirming some of Lewis’ concerns, we found existing work focused on the consequences of exposure to the ideal body has, for the most part, been reported based on surveys and questionnaires pertaining predominantly to advertising (i.e., Cusumano & Thomspon, 1997; Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Lavine et al., 1999; Myers & Biocca, 1992). Our suggestions here about the potential impacts of Britney Spears videos and songs on young females should be understood with these points in mind, since our analysis was guided by both an understanding that the relationship between media and youth is an interactive one, as well as a recognition that mass media are certainly capable of influencing attitudes and consumer habits (Wilson and Sparks, 1996, 1999).5 These qualifications notwithstanding, we strongly assert that constructions/portrayals of Britney Spears are contributors to a media environment that privileges and promotes the ideal female body. That is to say, even if Spears’ videos are ‘read’ as pro-feminist texts, where Spears portrayals as powerful and in-control are revered for their potential to empower and inspire young female viewers, it is still unquestionable that Spears remains defined by her body and its presentation. Although we certainly cannot claim from these focused findings that mediated images of Spears ‘lead to’ body image disturbances, we will unhesitatingly assert that these images reflect societal preoccupations with the female body, as has been argued in work on 5 Debates about the power of the audience, the power of the media text and the value of audience research/ethnography have been played in articles and books by authors like Allor (1988), Cobley (1994), Grossberg 23 media, gender, the body and sport (Cole, 2000). In this way, our case study of Spears could be viewed as a departure point for research like Wertheim, Mee, & Paxton’s (1999), who are interested in the relationship between an environment where there are high numbers of images and agents that are promoting and reflecting preoccupations with the feminine body, and the tendency for adolescents to view these depictions as ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’. Recommendations and Conclusions From the above findings and commentaries emerge a variety of departure points for future research and practical action. On the broadest level, this study highlighted the need to focus more research attention on the diverse and vast media environment that young people maneuver within. This means not only identifying key sites where messages about the body and gender are distributed, but also relationships between the popular cultures that work together to promote these messages (especially the music and sport relationship). In the same way, it is crucial to be attentive to the mechanisms through which these cultures are linked and the strategic ways that these messages are promoted (e.g., through celebrity endorsers like tennis player Anna Kournakova and Britney Spears). Acknowledging that textual analysis is limited as a method for understanding the potential impacts of media on audiences, we also strongly suggest that future research be conducted that focuses on the meanings that young females give to ‘ideal body’ portrayals like those studied here. That is to say, through audience studies that provide a more detailed and nuanced sense of young peoples’ experiences within the type of media environment we have outlined in this paper, a better understanding of media impacts can be discerned. The hope is that this enhanced sensitivity to relationships between media consumption and everyday life will (1988), Lewis (1991), Lull (1988), Seaman (1992) and Seiter et al. 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Impacts of black athlete media portrayals on Canadian youth. Canadian Journal of Communication, 24(4), 589-627. 31 Appendix A: Abridged Video Descriptions …Baby One More Time: The video is set at a high school. Britney Spears, the lead female character, is at the centre of a series of group dance segments in the hallway of the school, outside in a courtyard, and in the gymnasium. These group scenes are blended with shots of Britney appearing solemn and lonely as she sits next to school lockers, in a convertible automobile, and on bleachers in the gymnasium. Only in the gymnasium-set scenes is the audience presented with shots/glimpses of the male character who is referred to throughout the lyrics. Spears appears to be yearning for the male, who is sitting on the bleachers, bouncing a basketball and appearing ambivalent to Spears. The final scene of the video shows Spears sitting in class at school. The implication is that Spears has daydreamed the entire ‘video’. Oops…I Did it Again: The video is set on a planet in outer space. A male astronaut is shown observing a spaceship land. When the ship lands, the music begins and Spears, the lead character, begins to descend on a platform inside the spaceship. A series of group dance sequences begin. The dancing is fast-paced and very rigid. Accompanying these dance scenes are scenes of Spears lying on a platform surrounded by others who are all rhythmically moving their arms and legs. Cutting away from these scenes, Spears in then shown flipping through the air from the spaceship to land in front of the astronaut. In the same sequence, the astronaut is shown giving Spears a small gift -which she does not appear to appreciate. She returns to the spaceship – at which time the focus is on the astronaut who, despite Spears’ ambivalent response to the gift, appears elated to have had the opportunity to speak with Britney. The dance and platform scenes continue, interspersed with camera shots of the astronaut who is dancing. At the same time, a male computer programmer on earth, who has seen what was going on through a camera, is also dancing in his chair. The video concludes with shot of Spears lying on the platform with outstretched arms and legs, wearing a cropped white form-fitting shirt and white mini-skirt. I’m a Slave For You: In the opening scenes of the video, Britney Spears is shown standing on a balcony of a rundown high-rise building overlooking a city. The sun is rising behind some distant buildings. Inside the building where Spears is located are several individuals who are all either walking around, dancing, or sitting on the floor sweating surrounded by empty water bottles. The video progresses through sequences of Britney Spears dancing in front of a mirror, on the balcony, and walking through the halls singing. At one point, she enters a room and becomes the leader of a dance segment, where the emphasis on her dance moves and body is strengthened by frequent images of single males starring at her with amazement and admiration. Spears is also shown to be persistently touching and admiring her own body. The video follows through a series of group and single dance scenes, interspersed with sequences showing the female dancers being caressed by male dancers. Interjected into the dance scenes are with snapshots of a DJ and the dancers sweating profusely. The video climaxes when an individual holds a lighter to the indoor safety sprinkler to set it off. The final scenes show a rainstorm outside that is greeted by the dancers – all of whom rush onto the balcony to join a single male character. The video end with Spears stepping away and turning towards the door.