Chris Uggen's Blog: symbolic interactionism and britney spears

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

symbolic interactionism and britney spears

i'm sometimes caught off-guard by the ferocious intensity of celebrity news and the savagery with which it is reported. i learned this week, for example, that ms. britney spears shaved her head. she took so many hits for this act that it actually made news when a talk show host refrained from trashing her.

i have no idea why she did it or what else is going on in ms. spears' life, but shaving one's head is a fairly common practice among those making life transitions. for example, some friends have been encouraged to shave their heads and toss their makeup upon entering a rehab facility. other friends have shaved their heads upon reaching milestone birthdays or when the last kid leaves the house, just to symbolize their fresh start. still others regularly shave their heads for religious reasons, for athletic performance, or simply to get the best bang for the buck at great clips (you know who you are, dude).

hair has long been associated with youth and sexuality, i suppose, and it can sometimes be healthy to just take a little break from thinking about one's outward appearance or sexuality. more basically, however, hair is superficial. it isn't necessarily an unhealthy development for a pop star to start afresh and change the way that people look at her. were i to shave my head tonight, others would perceive me differently tomorrow, opening up new reflected appraisals of self, new identities, and new behavior. so, maybe britney spears is just a thoughtful symbolic interactionist -- changing herself from the outside-in.


At 5:05 AM, Blogger anonymous said...

I hope she recovers soon

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Tina said...

It warmed my heart to see my hubby showing a picture of the shorn Spears to my toddler and say, "Mommy shaved her head before you were born. She looked a lot like that," to which toddler replied, "when am I gonna shave my head?"

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Minor Threat said...

I shaved my head once -- felt great and I think it's good look (I always thought Sinead O'Connor was gorgeous albeit crazy). The second it becomes socially acceptable, you'll see me with no hair (or perhaps when Riles goes off to college)...

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Jay Livingston said...

“Adolescents who commit delinquent acts show less rather than more inclination to live up to the expectation of their peers. In matters of fashion in dress, speech, and music, they appear to be generally unfashionable or to take peer fashions to such extremes that they become objects of derision rather than admiration. (If the current fashion calls for short hair, they will tend to shave their heads. . . .)”

Sound familiar, crim students? G&H 1990

The interesting thing (interesting to me at least -- I blogged about it today ( -- is the discrepancy between the stories the public says it wants to hear about in the news and the stories that public gives its attention to.

At 7:14 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

nice, tina. i miss toddlers -- teenagers' comments are usually somewhat less heartwarming.

oh sure, that's easy for you to say, threat, now that you're off to balmy southern california.

thanks, jay -- i'm guessing that americans really want most of the celebrity news they get, but i just wish it didn't get so nasty.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Mike W. said...

At the risk of playing the role of the functionalist, stories like Spears and Anna Nicole Smith help remind me of the role of the media - to deliver you to the advertisers and keep you watching, whether it's in depth examination of pending federal legislation, or a "virtual fireplace" for two hours. A nod to Bourdieu, in any case.

But it helps keep in perspective the superficial nature of the news. I've been irate all week with CNN's coverage of "teen sport killings" of the homeless (

They completely avoid the nuances of the reasearch findings in favor of what has the most "bite" to spurn outrage and more consistent viewership. Misrepresenting research, or poorly summarizing it, is a more sinister thing than celebrity news. I can turn off celebrity news, but few people are going to go out of their way to peruse the NCH report, instead accepting CNN's summary at face value.


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