November 14, 2009
The Canberra Times & The National Times

Washed out in limp-sync

Last night I was wishing I was Britney Spears. If only I could lip-synch. Sometimes when I read the evening news on television, the words tumble out incorrectly. Take Wednesday night. Actually, I’d rather you didn’t. It’s best forgotten. But on some rare occasions, despite all the best intentions in the world, and the sturdy efforts of a sharp team of news journalists, producers and directors, things still go wrong. That night was a case in point.

With just 10 seconds to go before being live on-air, I made some rushed script changes. And whooska! I accidently deleted a couple of key sentences. It was at that moment I wished I could mime like Britney, and hear the right words, with perfect modulation, pour out. But of course I couldn’t. I had to ad-lib.

Unlike Britney when she’s ”live in concert”, the television news is real – and live. Britney is not. She’s an illusion and her performance is pre-recorded – which is nothing scandalous. It’s just fact.

But what is scandalous, is that many Britney fans are shocked to learn that her show is all smoke and mirrors; that it’s just theatrical entertainment, with state of the art technology that’s so good at manipulating this thing called ”Britney” that they took her for real.

Britney’s Australian tour began just over a week ago, but already the controversy over her ”dud” Downunder performances, and the lip-synch saga, have filled thousands of column inches and hours of talkback. While the global entertainment world is buzzing over the spat her tour operator had with the Australian media over the ”totally inaccurate reporting” – yes she lip synchs, but no fans did not walk out of her first concert – surely the rest of the world is wondering why it matters.

It doesn’t matter. Fans are better off allowing the illusion to do its magic. They ought to just sit back and enjoy the show. After all, if you’re crazy enough to pay up to $1000 for a ticket, surely you’d want to indulge in a bit of make-believe and fantasy. Even those who shelled out $150 for the cheapest standing room tickets are entitled to a bit of high tech showbiz manipulation. Because, shocking as this might seem, the real Britney is not worth paying for.

Listening to what really comes out of those vocal cords, as she huffs and puffs her way around the stage, is like listening to a chubby and unfit mouseketeer, squawking on karaoke night. It’s dreadfully unkind I know, but true – according to YouTube. And given we’re sloshing around in the world of celebrity stardom – where Britney occupies a stratospheric ranking – it’s fair to say cyberspace rules, even though the accuracy of cyber videos can’t be verified. So I suggest you take a look at the YouTube posting that claims to be a true recording of what Britney Spears really sings into her microphone when she’s performing. And yes, she’s been lip synching for years.

Frankly, it should come as a relief for many young girls to learn that Britney sounds awful without high tech manipulation. The fact that she sounds just like any out-of- breath schoolgirl should be a great comfort. But I suspect the reverse is true.

Celebrity worship is a sort of modern day malaise – a condition that creeps into our emotional nerve centre and causes it to rot. Unfortunately, the cult of worship encourages starstruck nobodies to reinforce their own ”nothingness” by idolising others – to the point of deifying them. Which is a problem, because the so-called ”stars” aren’t gods or goddesses – they’re just ordinary people. Like Britney.

Perhaps Andy Warhol was seriously misunderstood when he made his quip about our ”15 minutes of fame”. The common context for this quote is to suggest we all want our 15 minutes in the spotlight, our relished moment of fame. But such is the fleeting nature of the spotlight, we know the glow will quickly fade, and the public’s attention will move on. So why 15 minutes? Why not five? Or why not the length of a television sound bite, 10 seconds?

The answer could be that Warhol wasn’t talking about the public’s attention span, but rather about the length of time we can pretend to be something we’re not – before we’re found out.

A bloke I know who’s on TV every night, and has a sizable cult following of his own, told me he’d love to see Tiger Woods in the flesh. ”I just want to stand near him.” Such is the power of celebrity, and the fascination with being in its orbit, that to be near a ”star” brings inexplicable joy. But if this bloke was to stand near Woods for more than 15 minutes, would the aura fade? If he didn’t know about the golfer’s talent, and saw him at the supermarket, would he be stuck by Tiger Woods presence? No – of course not. The man with the nice teeth would be – just another shopper.

Which is not to suggest that Britney is just another slapper. But it’s good to know she’s nothing special either.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

Related Media

March 5, 2023
Go hug yourself? IWD cause lost in mindless mush
Brace yourself for a barrage of silly slogans and cutesy cupcakes. International Women’s Day is on the way and as...
February 24, 2023
The Woman President: Book Review
The Woman President: Leadership, Law and Legacy for Women Based on Experiences from South and Southeast Asia Ramona Vijayarasa Oxford University Press
February 17, 2023
Trolls are vile, but DFAT should never have posted this video
Let’s get this out of the way first. The one-minute video of Australia’s new Ambassador for Gender Equality, Stephanie Copus...
February 15, 2023
‘Feared and Revered’: women throughout the ages Radio Broadcast
The ‘Feared and Revered’ exhibition, currently on display at the National Museum of Australia, explores goddesses, demons, witches, and female religious figures –...
November 1, 2022
Feminism and the Making of a Child Rights Revolution 1969-1979: Book Review
With a title like this, of course I was going to dive into Feminism and the Making of a Child...
October 2, 2022
Here’s what you need to know about Mahsa Amini and the protests in Iran and around the world
If you can’t hear the echo of women’s anger leaking out of Iran right now, or feel the rumble of...