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TODAY

Monday, February 18

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Airbags

Friday morning I checked my news feeds — which include the Chicago Trib, BBC News, CNN, Yahoo!, the New York Times, Google, the Washington Post and Gapers Block, of course — because I wanted to read more details about the results of the Iowa caucuses. Instead, I was flooded by headlines about Britney Spears. Oh, there were still stories about victories for Illinois's own Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, but they were sandwiched in between accounts of how Spears, who has missed numerous court dates and burned through several teams of lawyers in her custody battle with Kevin Federline, had been rushed to the hospital after an altercation inside her home in which she allegedly refused to turn over her two sons to their father. She was conscious and strapped to a gurney as personnel wheeled her through the media throng to the waiting ambulance.

I didn't watch the video.

I was in an Irish pub in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport in June 2007, and the television was tuned to CNN for unceasing coverage of... Paris Hilton's house. The entire hour or so my best friend and I waited for another friend's flight, the coverage hovered between overhead shots of the celebutante's home and pundits saying little to nothing. Hilton would eventually emerge from her home, crying profusely, to finish out the remainder of her jail sentence for violating her probation (she had been convicted of a DUI). How is this hard news? When did infotainment become so entrenched in our times and lives that a major cable network — one known for its amazing coverage of the first Gulf War — dedicated its primary coverage waiting for a "scoop" about a woman who made a career from a sex tape, acting spoiled and stupid on a "reality" show, and releasing a truly horrible album?

I canceled my subscription to Newsweek several years ago because I already got Entertainment Weekly. So many of Newsweek's covers were about trends (I always knew when a fad was over when I saw a photograph or illustration spread beneath the red banner with white type) and media tie-ins that I decided to save my money and look for my "real" news elsewhere. In spring 2007, Newsweek ran a cover story about "The Terrible Three" — Spears, Hilton and Lindsay Lohan — titled "Girls Gone Bad." (My column about Hilton's and Lohan's mothers was posted several days earlier; insert your own joke about my irrelevance to the pop culture landscape here.) It asked important questions about how these women and their actions may influence girls growing up today. Which is an important issue, but the issue was packaged in the glitz and glamour of "bad" girls in question. A lovin' spoonful makes the sociological medicine go down? In the most delightful way!

(Aside: Hilton and Lohan seem to be doing better than this time last year, even if the latter did have a relapse in Italy over New Year's. How much have you heard about either of these two recently? Exactly. )

Early Friday morning, Spears was placed on an involuntary 72-hour hold for observation. At the time of this writing, Spears had been released after only 36 hours — allegedly against medical advice — but not before she had been visited by Oprah flunky Dr. Phil McGraw, who of course had an exclusive statement for ET.

"My meeting with Britney and some of her family members [Saturday] morning in her room at Cedars leaves me convinced more than ever that she is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention. She was released moments before my arrival and was packing when I entered the room. We visited for about an hour before I walked with her to her car. I am very concerned for her."

Rumor has it Spears might appear on McGraw's show sooner rather that later. After all, she should tell her side of the story to a national audience within days of being dragged from her house to be practically committed. After her return home, police had to surround her house in an attempt to keep camera crews at bay.

Note: When I went to find the link to the Newsweek article, the top story was "What's Wrong with Britney?" Obviously people are fascinated by the pop singer's train wreck of a life, including me. I wrote about it just a little over a year ago, when Spears was making headlines for divorcing her husband and leaving her young boys — and her underwear — at home while she partied nearly every night. And that was before she shaved her head, went to rehab, appeared unprepared and out of it on the MTV Video Music Awards, and lost custody of her kids. How long before she goes the way of Anna Nicole Smith? Should the media, or the public, take a measure of responsibility for this? Spears is an adult, but she is obviously disturbed and needs professional help. It is her choice to seek treatment, but how will she ever get recover if every minute movement is under such intense scrutiny?

We are still at war with Iraq with no viable end in sight, the U.S. unemployment rate hit 5 percent, and the Republican Iowa caucus winner wants to criminalize abortion and equates homosexuality to sadomasochism, pedophilia and necrophilia. If anyone gets the appeal of escaping one's life through entertainment, it's me. But not in place of things that are truly important, things that matter... or should matter.

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About the Author(s)

As a child, Dee Stiffler was only allowed to watch one hour of television a day. She usually chose Sesame Street. Today, she overcompensates by knowing far too much about the WB's lineup as well as pop culture in general. Email her at pop@gapersblock.com.

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