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The Free Britney Spears movement in-depth: A history of conservatorships

Last week, the New York Times showcased the Free Britney movement through their docuseries The New York Times Presents. The episode highlights the conservatorship Britney Spears was legally placed under after her historic rise, giving her essentially no control over her finances.

The doc also highlights the other multitude of injustices that have littered Britney Spears’s career since her humble beginnings.

Britney Spears’ 2000 VMA performance where she covered “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones (Cred: Insider).

Spears was undoubtedly the media’s biggest target in the early 2000s. The lyrics & music video of her 2007 song “Piece of Me” creatively reveal the severe invasions of privacy that paparazzi and also other media outlets subjected her to.

Many saw her as a celebrity living the lavish life to poke fun at. But Britney Spears’ privacy troubles, all the way into a real conservatorship, expose major problems within the social and legal spheres in America.

The song is Britney Spears’s clap back to the countless media outlets who constantly demonized and over-sexualized her. (Cred: YouTube)

The rise of Britney Spears

The rise of Britney Spears followed the mass success of her album …Baby One More Time in 1999. With it, she reintroduced the notion of women taking control of their sexuality through contemporary pop music.

Consequently, the rise of Britney Spears paved the way for nearly every modern female pop star to creatively address their sexual image. And, her popularization concurred with Monica Lewinsky’s scandal – when Lewinsky received some of the worst public scrutiny and slut-shaming of her time.

New York Times critic-at-large Wesley Morris suspects that this ruthless criticism directed towards Lewinsky bled into conversations Americans had about Britney Spears’s liberated sexuality.
Author Kaitlyn Greenidge criticizes the inescapable torment young women in media faced in the early 2000s.

Thus, Britney Spears was depicted as a crazed slut. She was also shamed about her virginity and appearance. To such a point that even people on Twitter invoked a very relevant Dave Chapelle video to reference Britney Spear’s harmful environment.

Chappelle asserts that the celebrity is not to be blamed without first addressing their toxic environment.

Britney Spears’ relentless torment

Furthermore, interviewers on The New York Times Presents phrase it perfectly when stating that Britney Spears became the “school-slut” of mass media.

And slut-shaming Spears became the hottest subject for nearly a decade. All major news outlets and trash-magazines alike devoted extensive segments to her whereabouts.

Now, still being aware of her exploitation, listening to her music adds such heart-wrenching layers of depth. This is seen through her song “Piece of Me.” The song aimed to flip the media’s derogatory-constructed narrative of her on its head:

I’m Mrs. ‘You want a piece of me?’
Tryin’ and pissin’ me off
Well get in line with the paparazzi
Who’s flippin’ me off
Hopin’ I’ll resort to startin’ havoc
And end up settlin’ in court
Now, are you sure you want a piece of me?
I’m Mrs. ‘Most likely to get on TV for strippin’ on the streets’
When getting the groceries, no, for real
Are you kidding me?
No wonder there’s panic in the industry
I mean, please

Britney Spears (Cred: YouTube)

These lines expose Britney Spears’s vulnerability during her rise (and still today) by outlining the self-confirming biases paparazzi had when capturing her worst moments. News outlets would pay up to $40,000 per image that could be used against her.

Maybe you should’ve tried sourcing real news instead of terrorizing such a well-intentioned, talented, young woman.

Brtiney Spears crying with her baby chased by paparazzi

Celebrities dragging Britney Spears down

There was no paparazzi shooting the paparazzi so it took a while for people to sympathize with Britney. The general public was continuously fed with blasphemy on her without knowing the truth of how poorly she was being treated.

Also, at that time, very few people defended Spears. But today, Craig Ferguson and Aaliyah are commended for refusing to talk down on Britney’s name.

But now that awareness is being spread about the #FreeBritney movement, many of the celebrities that once trashed her are beginning to apologize.

britney spears rise
Aaliyah and Spears’ similar iconic images display their fierce feminism through the powerful implications the snake invokes (Cred: Twitter).

These apologies feel more like statements written to avoid being “canceled” online.

Most notable of these is still Justin Timberlake’s fabricated apology.

britney spears rise
After Spears and Timberlake dated, he spun the narrative that she ruthlessly broke his heart through his press, songs, and music videos (Cred: Insider).

Timberlake vilified Spears, thus leading her down a press rabbit-hole that blamed her for his emotional distress.

And now, after Britney’s documentary aired, JT finally apologized. This makes his sympathy look like a publicity stunt.

It’s not just Britney Spears, conservatorships have a nefarious history

As much as Britney Spear’s fans wanted her to succeed, the industry wanted her to crumble.

Consequently, Britney’s father, Jaime Spears, gained legal control of her estate and person. Jaime, who was absent most of her life, officially became Britney Spears’ conservator against her will in 2008.

Usually, a conservatorship is granted to elderly people who are not capable of functioning on their own. But Britney realized that courts would not view her case against a conservatorship favorably and accepted her upcoming fate.

Still, Britney Spears feared her father and the conservatorship at the time and sought legal counsel. But she lost the case.

britney spears conservatorship
Fans show support outside Britney Spears court hearings (Cred: Vice).

For nearly a decade, countless pieces of evidence proved how dangerous Jamie’s conservatorship was. Yet still the courts continued to rule against Britney’s requests to reassign guardianship.

Thus, the legal system ruling so unfavorably towards Britney Spears rings very similar to the Osage-Tribe’s conservatorship and downfall in the 1920s.

A precedent for Britney Spear’s conservatorship case

In 1897, the Osage people discovered the land the U.S. government had forced them on was situated on a lucrative body of oil. The tribe profited from its resources and became some of the wealthiest people living in America.

Racist individuals found issues with the Osage people’s rightfully acquired fortune and demanded they be legally monitored.

britney spears conservatorship
This chilling image shows Osage-Native Mollie Burkhart and her husband Ernest Burkhardt, who murdered her family in an effort to inherit their wealth (Cred: AtlasObscura).

In 1921, the US Congress passed a law that required courts to assign Osage adults and minors with guardians. They would manage their royalties and finances, and thus exploited their wealth.

The law states that the guardianship would end when the people demonstrated competency. How is competency demonstrated?

Britney Spears’ conservatorship functions on similar terms. Yet, regardless of her improved behavior and blatant competency, she’s still not granted freedom.

In fact, conservatorship lawyers interviewed on The New York Times Presents explain that they’ve never seen a victim in a conservatorship ever escape the relationship.

The legal terms on conservatorship laws are so ambiguous that conservators tend to always have the upper hand. It’s also important to note, Britney’s career pays for her entire family’s lawyers.

Do you really think Jaime has her best interest at heart?

Britney deserved better

Britney Spears entered the entertainment scene radiating feminism and talent. Her music remains an inspiration for all and her story is just one incident revealing horrible corruption in media.

Undoutfully, the #FreeBritney documentary sheds light on the maltreatment she has been going through. Especially considering that these forms of exploitation still happen today.

When the documentary was released, 16-year old Claudia Conway capitalized on American Idol in scarily familiar ways.

And in 2020, the daughter of Kellyanne Conway (former Trump advisor) revealed her tumultuous relationship with her parents through a series of TikTok’s. She accused them of abuse and shared that her liberal ideologies contradicted that of her family’s.

Horrifyingly, Kellyanne humiliated and delegitimized her claims by posting a topless picture of Claudia on Twitter. Shortly after the pictures were deleted, Claudia announced that she’d be taking a break from social media to work on her relationship with her family.

Perhaps the best thing for Claudia Conway to do is only speak out on personal social media accounts before external media sources take advantage of her (Cred: VantifyFair).

Why Kellyanne wasn’t charged for child pornography? No one knows.

Yet the worst part is that American American Idol used the extremely vulnerable Claudia Conway in all their promotions for the upcoming season. Surely, they knew all the media attention that this would grant them.

Social media and celebrities reclaiming their images

Now more than ever, sound-minded people can share their thoughts on injustice with the general public. Paparazzi once controlled the images of celebrities that circulated.

But through social media, public figures can shut down the unreasonable press and share more authentic representations of themselves.

I really hope the growing flame of the Free Britney movement doesn’t die down any time soon. Britney Spears’ conservatorship must be dismantled, just like many conservatorships that are rooted in oppression.

We’ve seen countless celebrities lose their lives over an exploitation of publicity; i.e. Kurt Cobain and Lady Diana.

Let’s encourage offering humanity to celebrities who’ve devoted their lives and art to their fans before its too late. And always, #FreeBritney.