Aerial View of America...

[Guardian Article]

Jonathan Bernstein's Aerial view of America

Saturday July 9, 2005
The Guardian

Britain. 1973. Industrial action. The three-day week. Blackouts. Dead bodies rotting in fields. Unattended garbage piled high in the streets. America. 2005. Something similar is occurring in celebrity culture. It's like every publicist in the country suddenly woke up and found themselves almost pulsating with self-respect. It's like they were all struck by the realisation, "the world thinks of us as cringing, craven, apologetic, butt-kissing parasites who lie for a living" and, as one, downed tools leaving their charges to fend for themselves. That hasn't actually happened. Obviously. But it's like it has. It's like the handlers who keep the masses from being able to see what really lies behind the force-field of fame made a conscious decision to stop holding the lid down on the lunacy. Look at Britney and Kevin. Look at Tom and Katie. And, most shocking of all, look at Being Bobby Brown. Or rather look at Mrs Being Bobby Brown. Audiences numbering probably well into the mid-hundreds may be tuning into this new slab of celeb-anthropology to witness Bobby Brown's assertion that there are many more sides to him than the wife-walloping, child-support-dodging, jailbird dope fiend of tabloid legend. The remaining millions of viewers give as much of a toss about Bobby Brown as they do Gordon Brown. They're on the edge of their comfy couches, mouths agape, wondering, what the frickety-frack is up with Whitney Houston?

Just in case there was some question, I'm referring to Whitney Houston the singer. America's classy, colourless, crown princess of soaring song. Remember Whitney welcoming the troops home from Desert Storm with a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner so stirring that aspiring divas who tried to emulate her high notes instantly expired, victims of exploded lungs? Now compare and contrast that Whitney with the staggering, cackling old trout with the fag hanging out of her mouth who shows up midway through the first episode to welcome her shambling wreck of a husband home from yet another bout of incarceration. Clive Davis must have been one hell of a Henry Higgins because the Whitney Houston under his tutelage was perceived as a performer capable of carrying on the torch lit by Aretha Franklin. Cut free of his puppet strings, this incarnation of Whitney Houston is slugging it out in the same arena as Anna Nicole Smith (though it should be noted that, from the neck down, Houston's in knockout shape). The new emboldened, empowered, non-role model version of Whitney cracks - if you will - up as Bobby, who we join in court fighting another domestic violence charge, commends himself as a caring and attentive husband. "I dug a dookie bubble out of your butt," he declares, reminding her of his hands-on approach to her constipation problem.

I'm not weeping into Kleenex over Whitney's decline and fall here. We're all complicit in deriving entertainment from human wreckage. But instead of promoting greater understanding of the important cause that is Bobby Brown, the series promotes the perception of his missus as a scary old bat who snaps at civilians begging for autographs but who appears to be unaware a camera crew is recording her every utterance (with particular emphasis on her frequently-muttered catchphrase "Hell to the no", which is probably on its way to appearing on a million T-shirts). While there are exactly no moments when we are laughing with the Browns rather than at them, there's no denying that this is a series which paints a picture of a happy marriage. It may be a brutally extreme version of Stockholm syndrome, but Whitney and Bobby aren't good enough actors to fake being as made for each other as they appear to be. The times he's not behind bars and she's not in rehab seem to be filled with enthusiastic rumpy pumpy - "can I impregnate you?" is one of his smoothest invitations to the boudoir - insane laughter and undisciplined kids running riot. In fact, Being Bobby Brown is the R&B Shameless.



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