Kathleen Parker

``This is the Ultimate Britney Spears Experience!" boasts the site.

At the same time we might recoil from these prurient displays, we're also involuntarily mesmerized. The human wrecks of Britney and Anna Nicole transcend the usual roadkill metaphor, however, because we're participants -- not just spectators, but also instigators.

We are the mirrors to their vanities.

For former child stars like Britney, who didn't get to develop a normal sense of self, identity comes from what is projected by the audience. What happens when the projection stops, or when it shifts from admiring to critical?

If you're Britney, apparently, you take out the shears and turn the rage on yourself.

Anna Nicole, who was without talent except the ability to attract our attention, existed only as an object. She posed; we ogled. But what happens when no one's looking? If you're Anna Nicole, apparently, you take more drugs and make a spectacle of yourself as a slurring, stumbling bimbo with her own reality TV show.

The parallel sagas of these two sad divas -- one dead and one self-destructing -- have the feel of reality TV that has spiraled out of control. Too much exposure. Too much celebrity. Too much attention -- if never enough.

The desperation that drove them both to extremes, and then to the brink, may have been born of the truth that reveals itself to all celebrities eventually: What the public giveth, the public also taketh away.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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