By Mica Anderson
I will be the first to admit it – I’m not what you would call a ‘Britney Spears stan’. I don’t know the choreography to ‘Slave 4 U’. I am not part of the ‘Britney Army’ – yes, that is what her fans call themselves, and yes, I had to Google it.
But I am acutely aware of Britney Spears’ contribution to pop culture. She deserves her status of ‘icon’ – her music, fashion, and personality have permeated across generations. I was too young to be hit by the first wave of the Britney craze – I was born the same year ‘…Baby One More Time’ came out – and I was also too young to understand the intense misogynistic scrutiny she came under throughout the beginnings of her career. I was seven years old when she shaved her head, in a moment captured maliciously by paparazzi. Now, I am twenty-one, and Britney still rules popular culture – but in a very different way.
Whether you are a fan of hers or not, you will have undoubtedly seen/read/heard about article reviews of Framing Britney, a New York Times documentary about Britney Spears’ career beginnings and the #FreeBritney movement that has come out of her decade-long conservatorship.
This article is not going to be a review of the documentary, nor is it going to be an in-depth explanation of the conservatorship – there are plenty of articles, podcasts, and YouTube videos that you can watch in order to explain all the ins-and-outs at length. I should say, though, that Framing Britney is not the greatest documentary I’ve ever seen. It feels disjointed, for the most part – the first half is dedicated to Britney’s upbringing, her career beginnings, her family dynamic, the sexism and criticism she faced, and what led to her mental decline and subsequent conservatorship. The second half then jumps ten years, to today, and the rumblings of the #FreeBritney movement. It doesn’t serve to make a point, or argument, but simply to state facts. After watching the documentary, my immediate reaction was not one of inspiration at the demonstrations being done by her fans outside of a Los Angeles courthouse. I did not feel obliged to take to Twitter and proclaim my solidarity with the movement. I did not want to sit and comb through her Instagram for signs that she was in danger and needed help. Because, frankly, not only do I think those things are unnecessary, but I think they are damaging.
At face value, the #FreeBritney movement strikes me as something that is well-intentioned, but poorly executed. Followers of it maintain that they want what is best for Britney and her family, and they believe that the conservatorship is not what is best. Now, I am not going to sit here and say that it is right or proper for Britney to still be under the control of the conservatorship – because, frankly, I don’t know. I’m not her doctor or her therapist or a close friend of hers or her lawyer or a judge that knows all the details of her case. None of us are. And that is why I worry about the movement, and how they speak in absolutes. How they believe Britney is being abused or hurt. How they think the entire conservatorship must end. I worry that in their zeal to act for Britney depending on what they think she is saying, they are ignoring what she is actually saying. Let us not forget that this modern iteration of the movement, and its focus on her social media in particular as proof of her conservatorship being harmful, originated from a podcast titled ‘Britney’s Gram’- which, originally, was dedicated to combing through and dissecting Britney’s Instagram posts. And if you visit Britney’s Instagram now, you will see all of her posts flooded with comments of fans desperately trying to work out if she is sending subtle messages – and it’s hard to differentiate who is making fun of Britney’s mental health and her situation, and who isn’t. I find that some followers of the movement tend to have leanings that feel like tin-foil hat territory – there have been frequent allegations in the movement, aside from those that her social media is being controlled, that those around her do not truly care for her wellbeing, and that doctors and lawyers working around her are acting against her best interest. Moving away from the fact that this is a undermining of the work of entire judicial system and the work of her lawyers, these allegations deliberately ignore what Britney herself is saying – in an Instagram post from three weeks ago, she seems to make a comment on the content of the documentary and the implications of #FreeBritney movement as a whole – “I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person… […] Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories […] Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens”.
Britney is clearly telling her fans that she is taking time for herself away from the spotlight, and that while they can assume things, they do not know her full story – and yet here she is, continually dragged into the media circus for speculation and judgement yet again, and this time, by her fans who purport to support her. And so I must quote that age-old adage, ‘Leave Britney alone.’ Allow her to reconcile her personal issues in peace. The woman has had every aspect of her life for decades scrutinised, and currently, that has not changed. She has told her fans that she appreciates them and their care, but that they do not know the full story – and yet people continue to delude themselves that they know what is right for this woman whom they know next to nothing about. It sounds to me like they are no different from the petty rumour-peddlers and gossip mags of the early noughties that led to her mental spiral in the first place – something that she is clearly still recovering from. I do not believe that the way to help a woman that is trying to break free of being told what to do and how to live her life – is to tell her what to do and how to live her life. Let her be free of attention. Let her have the peace she deserves. If you claim to love her so much, you should grant her that.
I would highly recommend listening to the ‘A Note on #FreeBritney’ episode of the ‘It’s Britney, Bitch’ podcast, which highlights the inconsistencies of the movement and it’s leanings into outrageous conspiracy theorising. And, as a final word, I will leave you with the lyrics to Britney’s 1999 hit, ‘Sometimes’ – lyrics that I think we should all take to heart regarding her situation:
“Sometimes I run,
Sometimes I hide.
Sometimes I’m scared of you,
But all I really want is to hold you tight,
Treat you right. Be with you day and night,
Baby all I need is time.”