Our favorite pop princesses have all been branded with the TW status, so what’s it really about? She’s brash, she’s unapologetic, she’s … acting like a lot of men. Drinking too much, enjoying sex, driving too fast, using drugs and swearing at crowds are all bad girl behaviors, but they’re more than that. They’re culture pushers. They take our accepted norms of female etiquette and ask: why are we still so limited?
From the new book TRAINWRECK The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear . . . and Why, By Sady Doyle,
“She’s Britney Spears shaving her head, Whitney Houston saying, “crack is whack,” and Amy Winehouse, dying in front of millions. But the trainwreck is also as old (and as meaningful) as feminism itself.”
From the NYT:
“She’s the girl who breaks the rules of the game and gets punished, which means that she’s actually the best indication of which game we’re playing, and what the rules are,” Doyle writes in her preface.
As a result, the train wreck may also be one of society’s biggest hopes, who — despite our self-proclaimed admiration for “strong women and selfless activists and lean-inners,” as Doyle puts it — “might turn out to be the most potent and perennial feminist icon of them all.”
In a culture that explains away similar (or worse) behavior by men, the train-wreck phenomenon is amplified by new technologies in surveillance and social media, which track the transgressions of public figures in real time and replay them on endless loops. Yet Doyle is smart enough to know that the seeming novelty of the train wreck only masks her timelessness: She is the age-old “fallen woman” gone millennial.
In her treatment of Billie Holiday and Whitney Houston — two artists who, after years of struggling with drug addiction, broken hearts and rumors about their sexuality, died tragically — Doyle’s lineage is especially compelling.
Doyle is more persuasive on her book’s ultimate heroine, Britney Spears, the quintessential good girl gone bad. With her shaved head, broken marriages and fights with the paparazzi, Spears lost custody of her children, had a string of uneven comeback performances and now, despite the success of her Las Vegas run, remains under parental conservatorship. Unlike Doyle’s other examples, Spears and her antics are usually seen less as a feminist apotheosis and more like its antithesis, a warning sign to America’s daughters to avoid the pitfalls that come with ambition and attention.
Yet this is exactly Doyle’s bigger point. The train wreck is “a signpost pointing to what ‘wrong’ is, which boundaries we’re currently placing on femininity, which stories we’ll allow women to have.” Spears’s career coincided with the emergence of new media platforms that gave us round-the-clock access to celebrity meltdowns.
Read the full review here on the The Times Site