Why can't we leave Britney alone?

After a brief period under the radar, Britney Spears' personal life is back in the spotlight. Jason Alexander, the man Spears wed in Vegas in 2004, claims her current boyfriend/agent Jason Trawick beat her, and he has taped phone-calls with the pop star to prove it. Spears has denied Alexander's claims on her website and threatened legal action.

Whether or not the rather shocking allegations are true, one thing is certain: this kind of attention can't be healthy for Spears or her children. Remember, it was just three years ago when the 29-year-old was essentially pushed to the edge of sanity. We watched her marriage crumble, her children taken away. We saw her carted off to a mental ward in the middle of the night. Websites disturbingly took bets on the day she would die. Photos of her crying or tripping with her baby in her arms sold for thousands. With each tragedy ratcheting up the next, the prices followed suit. By the weekend she shaved her head with a demented smile and later attacked her photographic stalkers in the rain, two things were clear: the public scrutiny was driving her mad, and, strangely, she couldn't get enough of it.

Neither could we. As much as we tsk-ed Britney's press goading, the star-making machine, her parents, her managers, Kevin Federline, drugs, or paparazzi, for driving her over the edge, we still bought (and read!) the papers that bought the photos that followed the star down her rabbit hole.

When the court and her family finally intervened and Britney receded from the public eye, she seemed to recover--at least a little. Soon the public's Brit-Brit addiction waned and updates on her custody battles barely made it in celebrity news round-ups. Her relationship with Trawick wasn't front-page fodder either. This week might be one of the first since she's led the celebrity gossip train and it needs to stopped before it starts moving too fast again.

What created the feeding-frenzy for her downward spiral in the first place? In 2002 at 21-years-old, Forbes Magazine named her the world's most powerful celebrity. Her income that year was upwards of $34 million. The consensus, as it usually is with celebrities, was she didn't deserve it. Entertainment insiders bristled when the vocally-limited star won a Grammy. Parents fumed over the self-professed role model's stripper-inspired dance moves and style of dress. Then her fans grew enraged when ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake's song called her a cheat. From every angle, public opinion converged at the same place: she was too lucky and she didn't deserve it.

But when a few holes were poked in her body-guarded image, we saw a life less polished. Cheetos bags, a lazy husband. Maybe it was a relief to see a woman we thought had it all, actually have just as hard a time as the rest of us. But then her life got harder.

Ever since celebrity, reality TV and the internet intersected, being famous has meant being scrutinized. If you're young, beautiful, and rich and living recklessly you'll likely be followed everywhere. Watching Lindsay Lohan or Mischa Barton's star collapse has become a twisted blood-sport with no referee. Like Britney, the young stars that started early don't know how to remove themselves from the spotlight. Too much money rides on their name, and their name relies on their press coverage.

Already new photos of Spears with Trawick out in public after the allegations are pulsing on the web, driving their price up. What if we stopped clicking on them? Whether or not her partner is violent, is a matter of concern for her lawyers, friends and family. For the general public, the best way to help Britney is to ignore her. What if we stayed out of her business entirely, even if she lobbied for the attention? It might put a dint in her thriving merchandising career, and our gossip-browsing breaks, but she'll be better off in the long run; so will her two young sons. Last time she backed away just before the public scrutiny pushed her over the edge. Let's back off first this time.

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