If you’re into pop culture, documentaries, the 2000s or all three, you’ve probably heard all the buzz about “Framing Britney Spears,” The New York Times’ newest documentary in their series. You may also know about the #FREEBRITNEY movement that originated when fans grew suspicious of the star’s conservatorship. Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship for what will now be 13 years, losing control over her person, her estate and her finances. It puts into question the motives of her conservators–blood-related or not–and whether they are really acting in Britney’s best interests. The success of a woman like Britney gives reason for someone like her father, Jamie Spears, to take on some of her fortunes for personal benefit, silencing her.
Though many of us in college now were very young at the start of Britney’s conservatorship, we saw pictures of her being painted as “unfit” or “mentally unstable” without knowing the real story behind the photos. The media perpetuated only the bad parts of Britney for financial gain, and, as an audience, we fed into the media’s tactics and further silenced Britney. From objectifying and misogynistic interviews to paparazzi bombardments to sweeping the conservatorship under our feet, everyone owes Britney an apology.
What is a conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a court case where the judge names someone to take care of a person they believe can no longer take control of themselves. It’s typically used for people without the mental ability to take care of themselves, such as the elderly or someone who has become physically and mentally impaired in an accident. The conservator is meant to act in the conservatee’s best interest, and a conservatorship is typically established out of their concern for the conservatee’s safety. In Britney’s case, the conservatorship started in 2008 after a series of mental breakdowns amidst her divorce and what her mother suspected to be postpartum depression, a;; while she was constantly being criticized in the media’s eyes. Now I understand the role a parent may want to take on to protect their daughter, but when Britney’s conservatorship went from being temporary to permanent, it put into question who the conservatorship benefited. With little control over her life, Britney’s voice could not be heard. She was placed in mental facilities, even while releasing new music and performing in the years following, making people question why she was under the conservatorship in the first place and if her well-being was actually being taken into consideration. If Britney could release new music, perform and deal with the press, why did the law say she was incapable of making decisions for herself?
Being a woman in pop culture
There is no doubt sex plays a role in this. The documentary shows several interviews from when Britney was just 10 years old, asking her about the boys in her life, which was the beginning of her being objectified and sexualized despite being so young. This only progressed when she started dating Justin Timberlake. The two were a target for the media who wanted all the details of their relationship, and there’s no doubt Britney was painted as the one who led to their downfall. In a breakup, there’s angst and spite on both sides, but of course, Justin’s word was taken more seriously, allowing him to distort Britney’s image. There was so much more to Britney than the interviews showed us because they only focused on her being a woman in the industry rather than who she was as a person, and this made it easy for the media to tarnish our view of Britney because all the press cared about was her sex life. I’d like to think that in today’s world, we are more open to women embracing their sexuality and embracing being a girl—everything Britney did in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s—but the misogyny and double standard against women at the time completely surpassed this effort.
The latest on Britney
The most recent news on Britney’s conservatorship is from this month. On Feb. 11, 2021, Jamie Spears’ objection to having a third-party, Bessemer Trust, be a co-conservator of Britney’s estate was overruled, meaning that Jamie is now sharing autonomy over Britney with a third-party. Though Jamie has not lost power over Britney completely, we are starting to see judges listen to her. Even though she still lacks control of her life, having a third-party works out in Britney’s interests as her father now has to negotiate and cooperate with another party.
By overlooking her mental well-being, making fun of her and profiting off of her multiple breakdowns, we owe Britney an apology. The #FREEBRITNEY movement has impacted the way we now view Britney. If we hadn’t picked up on the suspicions, I could only imagine where Britney’s conservatorship would stand today and how she would be portrayed in pop culture. Her family and lawyers that have helped continue the conservatorship owe her an apology, as do the media and paparazzi that tried to capture Britney at her worst moments for their benefit. The best way for us, the audience, to help Britney’s situation is to fight on her behalf. Thankfully, her fans still manage to love her through everything, though the conservatorship has limited contact between them. Her passion for music and dance and her story resonate with us, and we all see a part of ourselves in Britney.