Will We Ever Leave Britney Spears Alone?
Police might have determined that Britney Spears was not in danger after social media users called for a welfare check this week, but the singer still feels “bullied” by the incident nonetheless. It’s hard to blame her.
“As everyone knows,” Spears wrote in a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, “police were called to my home based on some prank phone calls. I love and adore my fans but this time things went a little too far and my privacy was invaded. The police never entered my home and when they came to my gate they quickly realized there was no issue and left immediately.”
— Britney Spears 🌹🚀 (@britneyspears) January 26, 2023
Once the incident became a news story, Spears wrote, she felt “gaslit and bullied” as she was “portrayed once again in a poor and unfair light by the media.”
Her statement concludes: “During this time in my life, I truly hope the public and my fans who I care about so much can respect my privacy moving forward. All the love, B.”
TMZ reports that authorities knocked on Spears’ door close to midnight on Tuesday after social media users called the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office to say that she might be in danger. She’d deleted her Instagram account, and days before, she’d changed the display name on the account to “River Red.” At least one fan’s call to the police somehow happens to have made its way to TikTok. Sources close to Spears said she was “annoyed” by the incident, and while she understands her fans care deeply about her wellbeing, she reportedly described the uneventful visit as an inconvenience.
For many of us, “an inconvenience” would likely be an understatement to describe a late-night visit from the police. But what would it be like for Britney Spears, a woman who has lived most of her life under surveillance, constantly aware that each tumultuous turn and every encounter with authorities will likely become fodder for public discussion? What would it be like, as a person who was once separated from their children by police and placed on a 72-hour hold? How would it feel to process all of these thoughts and memories as you open your door sometime around midnight on a random Tuesday?
Britney Spears’ Tragic Family History Sheds Light on Jamie’s Control
In November 2021, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge decided to release Spears from the restrictive conservatorship that had run her life for more than a decade. As the trial came to a close, some fans and journalists expressed their concern that the public might—as music journalist Gerrick Kennedy put it in an October 2021 column—“destroy Britney again.” It turned out to be a prescient warning—she might be free, but it seems that neither the media nor the public has learned how to leave her alone.
As long as someone makes a case that they are worried about Spears’ well-being, it seems both the media and the public are being given carte blanche to invade her privacy and intrude upon her life. Spears might no longer live under the conservatorship, but she is still apparently not free from the harsh consequences of other people’s concerns.
In July 2021, months before being granted her freedom from the conservatorship, Spears spent 23 minutes in court describing the allegedly repressive arrangement. She said she’d been denied privacy, even while changing her clothes, and she alleged that on certain occasions, she’d been forced to take drugs that were not her norm and to speak with therapists she’d never chosen. She said her conservators would not allow her to remove her IUD—an act that the president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America later described as reproductive coercion. All of this was supposedly for Spears’ own good, and out of concern for her well-being.
Endless tabloid coverage made the public case for Spears’ conservatorship back in 2009, and it appears that it’s already begun to do so again since the arrangement ended.
Tabloids are still all over Spears. The welfare check at her home this week comes on the heels of a so-called restaurant “meltdown” that’s fueled media coverage for more than a week. The incident was reportedly filmed by a “fan”; a witness described her behavior as “manic,” although it’s unlikely they were qualified to say so in a clinical sense. It’s only the latest in an endless stream of updates about Spears’ family strife. Seemingly everything she posts on Instagram winds up in tabloids, which makes it easy to imagine why she occasionally shutters the account.
Are the Britney Spears Documentaries Exploiting Her All Over Again?
In case there’s any doubt about where this train might be headed, consider that last December, the New York Post ran a story about “former #FreeBritney fans” who are now “deeply concerned” for the singer. The article’s first sentence: “Some Britney Spears superfans who once condemned her contentious conservatorship are now singing a different tune—and insisting the pop icon might just be too toxic for her own good.”
Supposed former #FreeBritney supporters told the Post that, based on her Instagram, they now consider her a “gross excuse of a mother.” (In the lead-up to Spears’ conservatorship, tabloids ceaselessly discussed her fitness as a mother.) A 33-year-old woman from Ireland told the outlet, “Freedom can be very dangerous for someone who has no idea how to navigate life without being controlled. We should’ve been more mindful of that [in calling for the end of Spears’ 13-year conservatorship]. Instead, we were just so eager to free her without thinking of the consequences.”
We saw what happened last time the public and the media came together to bully Spears. Do we think things will go better the second time around? Is this care, or is this surveillance? Is this a community rallying around a beloved figure, or is this yet another display of ableist doubt that a person with a history of mental health issues can take care of herself?
It’s easy to watch a bunch of documentaries and say we’ve learned something. But if there’s one thing we should have internalized from all that streaming, it’s that relentless scrutiny nearly destroyed Britney Spears once. #FreeBritney, the movement that helped end her conservatorship, might’ve begun on social media, but like everything else, the internet’s obsession is a double-edged sword. If we’re not careful, it could easily cut her down again.
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