Roadside Breakdown? Better Get Help.

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

When a superstar celebrity melts down in a very public spectacle of addiction, tirades and rage, is there a way for her to make a comeback later, to clean up the mess?

How far must she go before the masses of fans are able to forgive, allow her to be redeemed?

Does the road to redemption begin when the celebrity reveals herself as ordinary, human, lost, or so low that down looks like up? Do the fans begin to empathize when her rage is caught on camera and she, in the middle of some black night, is hitting a parked car with a green umbrella? Crazed.

After all, every woman, if she has lived long enough, has had a moment of unadulterated rage. Blind indignation. Righteous wrath. Mind goes blank. Grabs a pot of grits. Breaks the vase. Slams the bedroom door so hard it comes off the hinges. Takes an umbrella to his windshield, making not a dent but proving a point.

If you are a regular somebody, your moments of rage happen in private (or almost, if the neighbors can hear). But if you are Britney Spears, the story is different.

There she was, exposed, photographed, looking far from glam, in gym shorts, sweat shirt and sneakers, shaved head, madly swinging a green umbrella at a car parked near her estranged husband's apartment.

The road back is not easily traveled. But it has been done: Drew Barrymore did it. So did Mariah Carey. And Robert Downey Jr.

What would it take for Spears?

"What is happening with Britney is nobody is accepting her now," says Stuart Fischoff, a professor emeritus of media psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. "She is seen as someone who has gone around the bend. It is not clear she will come back."

If the 25-year-old pop star were to try to come back, he said, she would have to apologize, show some introspection, beg forgiveness for crumbling in front of us all, even if it is the fault of the culture that makes child stars grow up too fast.

"The point about Britney is that she started her meltdown when she started to sexualize her persona," Fischoff says. "That was her bid for adulthood. That is when she began to walk on the razor's edge."

Fischoff has a path back for Spears: She would have to grow up. Become more complex. Grab hold of whatever talent she has. Take back some privacy. Put on some decent clothes.

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