A few weeks after Britney Spears announced she was divorcing Kevin Federline and immediately turned into America’s favorite out-of-control party animal, another gorgeous, panty-free creature, Tatiana the Siberian tiger, tried to devour her keeper’s arm at the San Francisco Zoo.
Over the next year, Britney captivated gossip-lovers with her unpredictable but human-like antics. Look, she’s shaving her head! Look, she escaped from rehab, and now she’s mauling a silver SUV with a big green umbrella! Look, when she bends over like that, you can almost see her uterus!
Tatiana maintained a lower media profile but was scrutinized just as thoroughly, her every poop a public spectacle. Like Britney, she exhibited flashes of apparent contentment, but mostly she seemed kind of depressed, sleeping her afternoons away, bingeing on supersized portions of horse meat, restlessly pacing the lush concrete confines of her 4,256-square-foot home.
Then came the holidays, with all their usual stresses. On Christmas Day, for reasons that remain unclear, Tatiana snapped. Somehow, she scaled the 12 1/2-foot wall of the moat that was supposed to buffer her from the public. Then, like Sean Penn spitting on a paparazzo, like Tommy Lee smashing a freelance snoop’s camera, like Britney running over a tabloid bloodsucker’s foot with her Mercedes, Tatiana attacked. Because she was a 350-pound tiger with claws more lethal than Amy Winehouse’s fingernails, however, this wasn’t the typical celebrity trainwreck. One zoo patron died at the scene. Two others ended up in the hospital. Somewhat surprisingly, police beat celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos to the scene and killed Tatiana before he was able to mount a defense for her. (Now he’s representing the two brothers who survived her attack.)
Nine days after this tragic event, when Kevin Federline’s manny showed up at Britney’s house to collect the ex-couple’s two children, the troubled pop star refused to relinquish them. An elaborate multi-hour stand-off ensued. When Britney finally emerged from her house, strapped to a gurney, dazed and unkempt, there were neon sirens, popping flashbulbs and dozens of background cops, paramedics and paparazzi strutting around in slow-motion, poorly choreographed chaos. It almost seemed like her MTV VMA performance all over again.
An impressive convoy of police cars and ambulances transported her to Cedars-Sinai Hospital for undisclosed reasons, and she remained there overnight. According to hospital administrators, her room was widely believed to be Dr. Phil-proof, but somehow the massive, 240-pound Texan psychologist managed to gain entry to it anyway and conduct an unprovoked, 15-minute assessment. Britney needed “dire medical and psychological intervention,” the stealthy head-shrinker concluded, but the staff at Cedars-Sinai apparently failed to share his opinion. Spears was released to the wilds of Studio City less than 48 hours after she had been captured.
Did Tatiana’s victims goad the tiger in some exceptionally inflammatory manner? Was Britney gonked out of her hat-holder on undisclosed substances, a danger to herself or others? Despite the international attention both incidents have generated, nothing particularly definitive is known about either one.
What’s interesting, though, is the different responses these incidents prompt. How many pundits, bloggers or message-board posters have opined that Tatiana was a messed-up head-case who ultimately got what she deserved? How many have said the same about Britney? Obviously, the erstwhile Mouseketeer has had much greater control over her fate than a zoo-bred tiger. When you go out in public dressed in the same amount of clothing it takes to sheathe a 12-inch Barbie doll, it conveys the message that privacy is not one of your major priorities. When you engage in the sort of self-stalking that occurred in Britney & Kevin: Chaotic, the singer’s giddy, PG-13 peep-show that aired on UPN in 2005, it helps certify the notion that every single moment of your life is fresh meat for hungry predators.
But have you ever imagined what it must be like to have dozens of camera-wielding goons shoving their Canons up your ass every single time you leave the house? Whatever Tatiana’s victims may have done to antagonize her, if anything at all, they did it for minutes, maybe seconds. Britney’s parasites do it every day, for hours on end. They act as if Spears and every other celebrity on the planet are their craven beasts of burden, there to exploit without any fear of reprisal. Their presence in her life is just one of her problems, of course, but it’s hard to imagine the kind of in-your-nostrils surveillance they practice is anyone’s form of Prozac. That Britney hasn’t gone for their throats yet probably qualifies her for a Nobel Peace Prize, or at the very least, a proclamation from the Pulitzer Foundation celebrating her commitment to the First Amendment.