backhand stories the creative writing blog

When your personal income for the year is $542, with $500 of that total coming from a tax write-off for donating a car to charity, you obviously have time to consider the world around you. You read a lot and start to notice patterns emerging in the culture you inhabit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can wear you down. It may be better just to focus on yourself – as Warren Zevon sang shortly before his death “It’s the land of the brave and the home of the free…the less you know the better off you’ll be.”

The cover of the magazine staring back at me is completely filled with a photo of Britney Spears face. The heading on the cover says Britney Spears: Inside an American Tragedy. Think about that for a moment – the reality that, at the point of your most difficult personal struggle, a time of immense need, you could look at a magazine (circulation thousands) and seen a crappy picture of yourself with a denigrating label. I’m waiting for the day someone’s face fills the cover of Time magazine with the heading $542 this year: An American loser!

Reading through the article, a typical pattern repeats itself, over and over and over: dominating people who care only for their own interests and advancement enter Brit’s world and suck her dry, sending her farther down a path of self-destruction.

It starts with the hillbilly mother, a woman locked in a trailer-park marriage and looking for a way out. Brit, the promising daughter, provides a chance for mom to escape living one exit down from Deliverance. The daughter is corralled through television commercials like a young sheep heading for the stun-gun at a veal factory and eventually lands a spot as a Mouseketeer. This leads to an album and a hit video, where the daughter is portrayed as a schoolyard vixen, ready to be ravaged. She’s on her way to slaughter, but no matter – mom can now afford to have someone cut her hair and no longer needs to cook the bologna-string cheese casserole over a wood fire.

A new crew of domineers take over and start sucking greedily at the trough. They quickly push Mom out of the picture. Double-chins who probably don’t even like music start managing Brit’s career, controlling her every step, dictating the songs she sings, her wardrobe, her image, etc. She will make the transition from squeaky teen to hostile slut, a change required to ensure future revenues, when and only when they say so. Away from the photo-ops Brit’s starting to crumble, but the money is too good for the businessmen, who drive Britney’s ascent like a dot com stock. At this point she’s become a human version of, before everyone knows that the stock is heading south.

Like rats sniffing out a half-eaten Whopper in a dumpster, the men entering Brit’s life sense opportunity. KFed trades in a truck for a quarter-million-dollar sports car and spends his days in a basement studio smoking bowls and laying down tracks for a rap album destined to tank. Dirtbag guys that you wouldn’t trust to empty your Honeybucket come and go, working sordid schemes and plying the contours of Brit’s mounting self doubt.

No one is real. No one has ever been real. Best friends are complete strangers. They’re just here to dominate and cash in. The slide continues, becoming more visible every day.

New snakes board the plane. The ranks of the paparazzi swell with the inevitable meltdown looming large. They’re even coming from the Middle East for the spectacle, hoping to cash in, God willing. Breakdowns are very good for business and Brit provides a growing portion of gossip magazines’ revenue. Web businesses proliferate and traditional news outlets add reporters to the Brit beat, not wanting to be seen as “old media.” When Britney appears on the cover of The Atlantic Magazine, the very last place you’d expect to see those enormous sunglasses, it’s obvious that everyone is gunning for a piece of the action.

Brit is one of America’s few remaining growth industries and it’s almost time to dust off Barbara Walters for an interview. She is now a one-person economic bubble, and everyone wants to cash in when she pops.

Mom re-enters the picture, throwing a block and taking attention off her older daughter. A truly caring parent, she sells photos of Britney’s pregnant teenager sister to a magazine for a cool million. The alleged father lays pipe for a company nearby the family’s mansion. The attention shifts briefly, but soon swings back to the real gold mine.

Distant relatives from the swamp start giving interviews and professing their concern. They might be legitimate, or they might be trying to sell their stock before it becomes worthless, it’s impossible to tell. But it doesn’t really matter – it’s too late.

The end comes quickly. Hospital visits, courtroom sagas, restraining orders – these are the last recourse for vulnerable people trapped in a world where genuine people are non-existent and predators abound.

Most of us can’t sing for shit and we don’t know how to dance. There’s nothing creative about us and we plod through our lives feeling simply regular. The last exciting thing we experienced was getting President’s Day off. Brit can dance and can sing, and we hate her for it. So we dominate her. We use her to make a few bucks and add some temporary excitement to our lives. We tear her down to feel creative and lift ourselves up.

We’re the insane ones.

In no time at all, a decade or so, we’ve ground her to dust. The predators have killed the golden calf and are shopping around for a new one, another human bubble to feed the pain industry that never stops growing. Watch out Miley, they’re coming for you next.

In a world of predatory greed, Britney, like so many others, never had a chance. She was just too profitable. No one can remain sane when they become a commodity.

Thomas Sullivan’s most recent book, entitled Life In The Slow Lane, recounts a hair-raising summer spent as an instructor inside a driver’s education car. His writing has appeared in Eleventh Transmission, Grumble Magazine, Rumpot Magazine, and The Externalist.