So, I’m late addressing this issue, and thankfully, at the time of writing, it looks like there may already be a light at the end of the tunnel for Britney in all of this mess. I heard the court testimony the day it happened and have been ruminating about it ever since–as anyone who’s spoken to me in the past month can attest to. As far as my biases go towards Britney Spears, I was not a fan of her music as it was coming out,* and I don’t say that to put her or the fans down. I’m saying it because I want to emphasize first off that this issue goes beyond whether any of us are fans of hers or not. This is a matter of human dignity, specifically bodily/personal autonomy, a right which is debatably absent even in our hallowed Constitution. (Or at least, it’s certainly not properly enforced.) In this dying, fucked up world we live in, where we can’t even agree COVID and climate change exist, the one thing we all should be able to agree on is that this woman must be freed. (Fortunately, that actually seems to be happening!) We must, from even the most racist or sexist among us, agree that slavery and human trafficking have no place in the 21st century.
*ASIDE: I was aware of her early hits as a kid but it just wasn’t my jam at the time, and as I aged I preferred older music and less of what was contemporary. Watching those videos of her singing as a child, nobody could deny Britney is and has always been a great talent though. Her dance choreography is fantastic too, and by all accounts she’s an absolute sweetheart in real life. Anyway, as it happens, I’ve been listening to some of the music now and I enjoy it, but I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a fan yet if I’m only rediscovering her in the last few weeks. As I see it, I don’t deserve to call myself a fan anyway because (and maybe it’s giving myself too much credit,) if anything I was part of the problem for a long time. [See below.]
For anyone who needs to familiarize themselves with the situation, there’s a fascinating multi-part YouTube deep dive that goes into about as much detail as anyone could possibly want. Also, there’s a more concise documentary from the New York Times if that’s preferable. There’s also this even more succinct video for those who just need a refresher. I made backups on the Internet Archive in case those links don’t work. With all of that context in mind, you’re ready to hear the heartbreaking testimony, in the woman’s own words, what she’s enduring even now under her conservatorship.
How Society Destroys Us All
I used to have a maxim: “Everyone you know in this life is going to hurt or disappoint you at some point, whether they mean to or not. You will also hurt many people as you navigate through this fallen world, impaired by your own formative traumas, regardless of intent. So, you ought to forgive people, maybe not all of them, but as a general rule it’s the preferable course of action. It’s better to live with even flawed people than it is to go without.” Britney’s situation is the antithesis of that. In fact, she surely ranks among the most miserable and thoroughly betrayed people in the world right now, regardless of her privileged economic status. So much ink has already been spilled pouring over the allegations she makes in this statement: from the forced medication, forced performances even when sick, withholding access to her kids, forced IUD and constant surveillance even when she’s getting dressed. Additional details have emerged since then, including friends coming forward to say that Britney’s handlers prevented them from staying in contact with her. The situation is very reminiscent of my old hero, Brian Wilson, but at least he had family members in his corner. Britney’s entire family threw her under the bus to milk her brand for every last cent–she even said she wants to sue them once she has the ability to do so. Now, I’m not going to parse through all the specifics again just to reiterate how ghastly every last individual charge against her conservatorship really is. Instead, I would like to give my personal reaction to the situation as a whole.
I was initially compelled by Britney’s testimony, knowing nothing of her situation at that stage, because of the righteous indignation in her voice in spite of the horror she was describing. This is a surrogate speaker for every person who’s ever been unjustly imprisoned, wronged by the system, abused by those whom they’ve loved and trusted. This is the bearer of the serpents of wisdom, like Asherah of old, whom society has built up only to unfairly vilify. This is the personification of what our post-modern, late capitalist society does to anyone who’s not in the echelon of the 1%–even celebrities and millionaires. While these issues plague hundreds of us common folk every day, for better or worse the wider public doesn’t take note until it happens to the rich and glamorous. Britney Spears, by standing up for herself against unimaginable injustice, is channeling our focus onto the depressing scope of man’s inhumanity to man. She is further revealing the deep cracks in the shoddy foundation on which our country has been built. Britney did not ask to take on that responsibility, and it’s unfair that 13 years (arguably her entire life, really) were stolen from her so that we might pay attention to our own cultural degradation, but it’s the role history seems to have thrust upon her.
Britney Spears is the moonchild I’ve described to you all, the ultimate recipient of our collective wrongdoing. From every creepy old host asking her sexually inappropriate questions, to every interviewer grilling her over things that weren’t her fault or were overblown and out of context. (By the way, who the fuck is Matt Lauer to lecture anybody?) From everyone who uses other people to get ahead professionally, to every ex who unnecessarily airs intimate matters in public. From every unsupportive gold-digging partner to every abusive family member. From every shyster lawyer looking out for a buck, to every corrupt public magistrate who ruins lives from the bench. From every invasive paparazzi destroying a person’s private life to those who create a demand for that garbage by buying trashy publications. Even people like me circa-2007: who looked down on public figures for no reason except they don’t like their art, who buy into the “haha crazy chick” branding without having some sympathy. We all failed Britney terribly, just as we fail each other every day, and the disturbing magnitude of this ongoing tragedy reflects badly on all of us. The enslavement of a fully-grown, cognizant human for 13 years is an indefensible condemnation against this entire society in which we all play a part.
We need to rethink the way we do things. We need to stop being a society which prioritizes money above the common wellbeing of humanity. We need to stop glamorizing celebrities and Wall Street brokers above teachers and honest servicemen of all kinds. We need to stop pushing kids into the public light, turning them into breadwinners before they’ve even known the joy of innocence. We need to do all of this because society is breaking down: from the disastrous effects of climate change, to the hopeless poor of the abandoned rust belt cities, to the persistence of misinformation resulting from a lack of trust in our institutions. Britney Spears is perhaps the best example of our shared lack of morality or purpose condensed into the abominable treatment of a single, widely recognizable figure. Instead of writing someone off because their circumstances seem glamorous on the surface, we ought to appreciate that we’re all carrying on with our own private struggles. Those seemingly ditzy Hollywood socialites may not necessarily be worthy of scorn–some were forced into the business young and are either kept in against their will or it’s all they know. Some never finished school because their careers were made to come first, so mocking their perceived lack of intelligence is out of line. I would bet that most of them agree with us that it’s stupid their petty drama with an ex, much less their emotional breakdown, make the front-page/prime-time news slots.
I don’t want to completely obscure Britney’s private tragedy by soapboxing about other issues, and I’ve written about specific shortcomings of society as well as solutions already, so I’ll leave off here. The short and sweet of it is: Britney deserves justice after everything she’s been put through. When I think of what just her family has done, I hear the quote from Rebel Without a Cause about a similarly abused innocent: “this poor baby’s got nobody. Just nobody.” Of course, our rebel has several causes, and as she works to free herself, we need to stand up with her and do our part. We need a call to sanity and I hope Britney can be just that: end conservatorship abuse, end the predatory culture around vulnerable young entertainers, end toxic celebrity worship–the celebrities in question will also be grateful for it. And remember always that it takes all kinds to make fruit cup.
Leave Britney Alone
Normally I hate celebrity gossip and I think it’s wrong to pry into every detail of their personal business. I feel that way for the excessive fans who obsess over things which probably ought to stay private and I feel that way for most instances of haters. In Britney’s case though, it was the over-analyzing uber-fans who first uncovered that something was wrong and got the #FreeBritney movement going. Plus, the woman herself has said she wants her story told and she wants people to know she needs help. So in this instance I think it’s more than justified to spread awareness of the situation while simultaneously telling the naysayers they need to keep their mouths shut and still claim the high road. Even now I see a lot of toxicity surrounding Britney Spears and it infuriates me. The woman literally said she was afraid to speak out for years because she thought people wouldn’t believe her. Britney was afraid everyone would make fun of her like most of us did in the ’00s. It’s unfortunate that her fears turned out to be somewhat well founded.
I see assholes online arguing that she is too unhinged to be independent because of the 2007-2008 breakdown which was over ten years ago. They conveniently leave out the fact that post-partum depression, photographers following you into the bathroom or blocking your car anytime you try to go anywhere, a custody battle with an unsupportive ex-husband and the media constantly talking about how stupid/crazy you are would make anyone snap. I had a bad year once, the ’14-’15 academic year. I did things and got into situations I never would have thought possible of myself, I alienated people, I posted things on social media I regret. I shudder to think of anyone using that vulnerable period against me for the rest of my life. Britney’s breakdown never should have been a matter of public record, that’s just another example of how predatory our media industry is. This constant surveillance of celebrities for our “entertainment” is a very recent phenomenon in human history, and it’s toxic.
That’s to say nothing of all the douchebags I’ve seen picking apart Britney’s speech patterns to show how “disorganized” her thinking supposedly is. Do any of you people realize how stressful it must be to finally speak out after unimaginable emotional abuse going back over a decade? To know you have this brief window to sufficiently tell your story and convince the world just how bad it is? She was probably afraid one of her handlers might snatch the phone away before she could finish. In the back of her mind, she was dreading her father’s retribution later that day. This woman’s been through more than most of us could possibly imagine–I’m sure we haven’t even heard half of what her father’s done yet. She’s also still technically under the thumb of the conservatorship and very much at risk of their reprisals.
Most distressing for me are the concern trolls who say “oh but what if she blows all her money” or “oh but what if she’s actually crazy.” Being transgender I have a lot of experience with bad-faith arguments like these by disrespectful people trying to deny my truth. It’s the most infantilizing feeling in the world, having other people argue what your fate ought to be as if you’re not even there. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to fight desperately for your freedom only for some smug redditor who thinks they have all the answers to flippantly dismiss your story on a baseless hunch. (And, by extension, argue that you ought to stay incarcerated indefinitely.) Guys…if she wants to blow all her money, that’s her damn right. Plenty of people are demonstrably more “crazy” than Britney and they’re not under conservatorships.
It’s time certain people realize not every argument needs a devil’s advocate, that their uninformed opinions are not adding anything of value to the conversation, that it’s not their god given right to insert themselves into topics they have no business in. Britney told us her truth and she’s stable enough to make millions of dollars performing nonstop to pay an entire team of people. She’s suffered enough under a situation that never should have happened and deserves to be able to prove herself as an emancipated adult woman. That’s the end of the conversation as far as I’m concerned.