Let's get one thing straight, okay? In that strange, vulgar, brightly colored section of the popular culture known as Celebrity World, the paparazzi are the lowest form of human life. I have been touched by them only peripherally, and it's been years since I really engaged their flea-like attention, yet recalling their exuberant shouts ''Hey, Stephen, look over here! Stephen, just one more! Hey, Stephen, where ya goin'?'' is still enough to make my skin prickle with shame and fury. The intrusion is part of it, the sense of entitlement is more of it, but the constant bray of your first name is the worst of it. They use your first name the way the cops on The Shield do when they're interviewing child molesters.
So when Britney Spears finally broke down during her interview with Matt Lauer on the June 15 version of NBC's Dateline celebrity grope, I wasn't surprised that it was the paps who pushed her over the edge. When asked what she would say to them if she could talk to them as individuals a ridiculous idea in itself, since when working the paparazzi travel in packs, like hyenas, and when alone they don't exist Britney replied, ''[I'd tell them] You have babies at home.... You have to realize that we're people.... We just need privacy and we need our respect.''
Never going to happen. And surely Poor Brit, who turns the waterworks off just as quickly as she turns them on, knows this. She has never projected a tenth of Madonna's savoir faire, getting by on a kind of puffy cheerleader charm that isn't in the same league as the Material Girl's come-here-darling-and-let-me-eat-you-alive sensuality, but that doesn't make her stupid. She began setting off flashbulbs at the age of 17, in that oh-baby schoolgirl's outfit. Now she's stuck trying to explain pics of herself driving with her child in her lap and looking like Ms. Yuma Trailer Park of 2006. It's a little embarrassing, but hey, anyone who appears on national TV in a low-cut see-through purple maternity blouse can apparently deal with embarrassment.