Say Hello to Britney: The Object
What if we explored Britney—not Britney the person, but the presence or the event of Britney—as an object?
Taking many cues from OOO’s principal thinkers, I’m talking about going beyond the objectification of women or a particular woman, to talk about the object that is the public or shared experience of that woman: as we experience the hyperobject of climate change, for example, don’t we also experience the Britney similarly? As something that has happened to us? And also to Britney the woman?
At the moment I’m developing an object-oriented approach to Britney, who has always interested me as a phenomenon. I’m not especially interested in the person of Britney, her identity and her feelings and so on, and I’m definitely not talking about some kind of biographical study or even a cultural study of her impact as a celebrity.
Whoever Britney the human person is, that person is surrounded by a thing: an agglomeration of economics, fame, visual effects, cultural signals and cues, some doubtless emanating from the person beneath, amplified; some doubtless pure fictions. But this exoskeleton of interacting messages is the web, the medium through which we receive the idea of Britney. This, I would argue, is an object in itself.
In one sense, the Britney Object is a means of exploring how contemporary culture changes people into things, from that which experiences into that which is experienced. Because OOO encourages speculation on the experience of the object, we then come to some really interesting questions concerning the philosophical or phenomenological outcome of the objectification of someone like Britney (the person).
Holding the Britney exoskeleton together are the mechanics of cultural exchange. The nature of that exoskeleton, the Britney, is fascinating as a point of focus: is it self-supporting? can it be evacuated? More importantly, could we speculate about how it experiences the world? Could we imbue it with sentience and a give it a point of view? How would it feel? What would it think? How would it go about interacting with other objects? The Britney object is viscous, nonlocal—it permeates. One could say it invades. It is multiplatform. It is multisensory. It is in your house, in your car, in the airwaves.
Why Britney? I've always been interested in her as a spectacle, a kernel of humanness surrounded by a strange and perfectly formed, for a while, exoskeleton of image, marketing, performance. Then in the mid-2000s Britney Spears underwent a transition where the Britney Spears person became incapable of supporting the Britney Spears Object. The object broke open (to the delight of the media that helped create it). The Britney has undergone a number of evolutions since, and doubtless will continue to do so.
I’m building too on McKenzie Wark's ideas concerning the virtual event; I’d like to think through how virtual events, like the Britney, are objects and vice versa. The central question is: when a person becomes an object, and that object becomes sentient—what does it think, and why?