Britney Spears and the Power of Cheese

The other night during my “special guest star appearance” at the local pub quiz – sadly, I don’t get to play as often as I used to – our team had a bonus round question which I found difficult to answer.  The question was, “Who was the only music artist to have had 14 music videos retired from Total Request Live?”  The answer ended up surprising me, although not in the way I first thought that it would.

I should explain for those who do not know, that back when MTV still played some music throughout the day, Total Request Live was a countdown-type program.  A music video voted by viewers of the show onto the countdown successfully for a month was eventually “retired”, i.e. callers were no longer allowed to continue voting for it.  This kept the turnover of music videos going, while demonstrating a particular artist’s level of popularity.

There was much debate at pub quiz as to who had achieved said popularity with MTV viewers back in the 2000’s.  Various acts were suggested around the table, but one fellow in our group insisted that the answer had to be Britney Spears.  I repeatedly rejected this, explaining that I doubted I could name more than four or five Britney Spears songs in total, let alone fourteen that were so popular that they would have been formally “retired” by MTV.

Despite my doubts, in the end the team decided to go with this answer, which turned out to be the right one.  Surprised that it was correct, I took a piece of paper, and began to write down the names of whatever Britney Spears songs came to mind.  It turned out that I could not name four or five.

In point of fact, I could easily name ten.

We don’t always realize how insidious the entertainment industry is in our present culture, until we notice the impact it has on what we might call the “background” in our lives.  Music, film, and television are all-powerful forces, even if we think of popular entertainment as nothing more than an outlet which we turn to as needed.  We may not realize it, but these works really do find their way into our subconscious, so that suddenly, we can find ourselves thinking of the lyrics to a song, or a scene from a film, and making a neural connection between that piece of entertainment, and something decision or challenge before us.

Thus, it’s important to think about the nature of the material that we are taking in, because of the lasting effect that it can have.  We don’t always stop to consider the consequences of such a decision, even as we allow such things to surround us throughout the day.  The music we mindlessly sing along to during our morning and evening commutes to work, for example, if we analyzed it, we would likely find lacking in redeeming qualities,  It often doesn’t match up with how we live our lives, or the people and ideas we hold dear.

Now of course, I’m certainly not going to say that you can’t ever enjoy some cheesy pop.  If I did, that would be both short-sighted and enormously hypocritical of me.  Not only does Britney Spears’ tune “Toxic” just so happen to be one of the best-crafted, catchy pop-dance songs ever written, but also because I do enjoy a good evening of singing pop karaoke from time to time, where I belt out songs by pop acts like Billy Idol, Weezer, and Lady Antebellum.

What’s important, it seems to me, is to recognize that you need to be consuming substantial entertainment, not just living on processed cheese.  If you supplement your entertainment diet with great works of music, film, art, literature, and so on, to counterbalance the easily disposable stuff, you will be better off.  You don’t have to give up the easy stuff altogether.  Just be sure to go for the real stuff, as well.

Detail of "Still Life with Cherries and Cheese" by Joseph Plepp (1632) The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Detail of “Still Life with Cherries and Cheese” by Joseph Plepp (1632)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

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