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Tragic Britney, brought down just like Lolita By Jenny McCartney, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 12/08/2007
One of the saddest little public dramas of our times, captured daily by gleeful paparazzi, is the ongoing nervous breakdown of the pop star Britney Spears. Last week it emerged that Spears's ex-husband, Kevin Federline, a dancer and aspiring rapper known as K-Fed, is seeking primary physical custody of their two young boys, on the grounds that she is not in a fit state to bring them up happily and safely.
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Spears's breakdown reminds me of a tragedy contained within a novel, and the novel in question is Nabokov's Lolita, the story of how Humbert Humbert, a fastidious European aesthete and paedophile, seduced and destroyed a 12-year-old American girl. Lolita, despite the furore caused by its subject matter, has always seemed to me an intensely sad and moral novel: it exposes not only Humbert's chillingly selfish fascination with exploiting the precocious sexuality of "Lola, the bobby-soxer", but also his towering indifference to the fact that he has ruined her character and future prospects. Her school observes that she has become "antagonistic, dissatisfied, cagey", and when she leaves Humbert, it is for the arms of another predator, until she finally winds up pregnant, penniless and married to a much older man.
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It is, perhaps, heavily ironic that the two great social movements of the late 20th century were the rise of feminism and of black civil rights. Their leaders, who preached an aspirational, political message of access to the echelons of genuine power, would weep to see the stereotypical role models that the consumer industry routinely dangles today before young girls and black boys. It is hard for the teenage coquette to age happily, and the violent drug-dealer to stay out of jail. These days, children have got to be careful what they wish to be when they grow up. The terrifying thing is, it just might happen.