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Is #FreeBritney a Political Movement?
The Free Britney movement is once again gaining steam. Last week, Britney’s friend and former photographer, Andrew Gallery, posted a series of TikToks in which he read letters from Britney Spears claiming she was “lied to and set up” during her 2008 mental breakdown. Instagram account @DietPrada broke down Britney Spears’ legal conservatorship in an extensive post after it was revealed that other celebrities had been bullied and threatened to take down #FreeBritney posts by her legal team.
There’s also been an uptick in the awkward Instagram videos Britney puts out herself. These have only stoked the flames of conspiracy theorists; from fans looking for clues in her captions to “seeing the numbers 9-1-1” reflected in the irises of Britney’s eyes.
Then, the @FreeBritneyLA account announced a “rally” scheduled for Wednesday July 22, in Downtown Los Angeles at a courthouse. This will be in advance of her conservatorship hearing, which Britney may attend via Zoom from her home in Las Vegas. Free Britney had its first actions in 2019 at other court hearings. But, next week’s is the first action of 2020.
The movement also posted a slate of Action Items to encourage fans of Britney to do in the next seven days.
Since her public struggles of 2008, Britney Spears’ financial decisions have been under control of another individual - it’s been her father, and then a care manager intermediary for most of the time. Conservatorship also means that big life decisions like marriage and children are subject to the conservator’s approval. Britney also can’t vote, change medicine or buy property on her own. She can only spend $1,500 a week on basic necessities, including house bills that keep up her lifestyle. At 38 years old, this situation is a rarity.
Since last year, Britney has been formally petitioning to end the conservatorship. She even announced a “infinite work hiatus” until it was settled, which many see as a labor strike. Others point to a three-month stint in a mental health facility that started last January because Britney refused to take her medications and went to In-N-Out Burger without getting permission. This 12-year conservatorship is set to be examined in court on August 22.
Many fans and Free Britney advocates feel that the conservatorship is a chicken-and-egg problem. They believe Britney experienced postpartum depression, which led to her making poor public decisions, which led to the conservatorship, which led to her children being basically taken away from her. The conservatorship’s strict rules and somewhat infantilization, plus this loss of custody causes her mental health issues to deepen.
Also, because there are plenty of millionaires and billionaires with severe mental illness who don’t have someone monitoring their finances, the whole thing seems pointless. Britney reportedly wants to get married and have children with her boyfriend, Sam Asghari. In April, court documents revealed that Britney Spears’ father, when applying for the conservatorship in 2008, claimed she had dementia, which allowed him to put her in a mental facility at any time. But Spears has released 5 albums since 2008, done 2 Vegas residencies and countless product endorsements. Tough to do if you have dementia.
As my friend and podcaster Sue Smith (co-host of the podcast ScamWow) said, “I wish we could hear Britney’s opinion on everything before we free her.” She’s right. Britney has never spoken publicly about the conservatorship, or her mental health journey. Because she is prohibited from doing interviews on the topic, we don’t know how much help Britney is getting, if she’s happy with her treatment, and what degree of independence she’s seeking.
There’s also the idea that many people in Britney’s life, namely her father, Jamie, feel that this conservatorship saved her life and career. Journalist Molly Lambert has described Spears as “Marilyn who lives.” Indeed, if Britney is thriving, why is she still under conservatorship? Is it just greed at the hands of people who are paid ($1.1M in fees and $100K salary to her father), or is there an actual need for this that we Internet randoms can’t speculate about from behind our computers?
Back to Instagram. The Free Britney movement seems to be adopting activism techniques used on social media by political groups like Black Lives Matter, the Peoples’ City Council of Los Angeles, and the National Rent Strike. From the fonts, to the calls to action, #FreeBritney hasn’t just become something to shout, it’s seemingly become a political platform.
Free Britney positioning itself alongside BLM even goes deeper. Cait Raft, host of celeb show Hot & Rich and frequent reporter of Britney news, reminded me that the Free Britney rally is happening on the same date a BLM-led #JackieLaceyMustGo protest (to demand the resignation of District Attorney Jackie Lacey) just a few blocks away, also in Downtown Los Angeles. In fact, this action happens every Wednesday and has been for awhile.
When I asked Cait if she thought Free Britney was a “political movement,” she said, “Although I’m furious about what Britney is going through, it’s definitely an injustice. However, if conservator abuse is something that affects a lot of people I think spreading awareness can’t hurt. If the protest includes other victims and listens to their stories, that would make me less skeptical.”
Unfortunately, the Free Britney movement is 99% just about Britney, as opposed to globalizing greater issues surrounding her case. Instead of being about elder abuse (the most common form of conservator abuse) or a broken mental healthcare system, or about the exploitation of Hollywood celebrities in general, it’s nowhere to be found on any Free Britney Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram page. Hell, it doesn’t even mention the fact that Amanda Bynes, another beloved child star, has also faced strict rules under the conservatorship of her parents and has been battling this publicly as of this year.
Though once in awhile, the hashtag #EndConservatorAbuse will be added to a photo caption, “calls to action” of Free Britney have a narrow focus. Supporters are asked to sign petitions demanding Britney be able to choose her own lawyer. They’re also asked to write to a County Supervisor to audit Britney’s conservatorship and boycott her brand as a way to “dry out” the funds going to her father. While one letter template to Attorney General Xavier Beccera states that, “California’s probate court system is among the most corrupt in the country as court-appointed fiduciaries and court-appointed counsel abuse probate for financial gain. This conflict of interest must be addressed and investigated by the Attorney General,” the letter focuses squarely on Britney.
It’s pretty clear that Free Britney doesn’t believe all conservatorships should end or even most, but the movement hasn’t really expanded to give the microphone to other victims and survivors who have faced similar situations to Britney’s. I mean, maybe that’s just it. In their eyes, nobody is going through exactly what Britney is going through.
But globally speaking, we can empathize. I spoke to self-described Britney Spears “intuit” and host of the podcast We Need to Talk About Britney, Jennifer Zaborowski on her thoughts about Free Britney as a political set of beliefs. Jen totally blew my mind with her theories on the conservatorship and its importance in this current moment.
Jen describes Britney’s conservatorship as a reflection of “The prison we put her in as a culture.
We were tormenting this young mother who was experiencing postpartum depression. We labeled her as crazy.” Now, as a culture, Free Britney is about us trying to redeem ourselves. We’re more woke. In our personal lives and in the media, we’re more upfront about our mental health; we’re sensitive to those in treatment.
And, in some ways, Free Britney may be coming to a head because during this pandemic, we empathize more than ever with what it’s like to feel stuck at home and unable to fulfill our desires, despite feeling capable and healthy enough to do so.
In Jen’s eyes, like mine, Free Britney is not a political movement, and probably shouldn’t masquerade as one. “In a political movement you want to achieve social change.” Free Britney wants to achieve Britney-change. But this doesn’t mean Free Britney should necessarily be dismissed. “Britney is a pillar of pop culture. It’s not surprising to me in 2020 when people are rallying together to support different ideas that this is happening now when it is happening to Britney Spears.”
Optics aside, aligning yourself with Free Britney has nowhere near the impact that aligning yourself with Black Lives Matter has. Saying #FreeBritney is saying you’re upset about the injustices (or perceived injustices, since we don’t have all the facts) happening to one, very rich, very privileged white pop star. Saying Black Lives Matter is a lifelong commitment to racial equality, ending racial injustice, and joining the fight for Civil Rights. If you’re a White person, saying Black Lives Matter means a lifelong commitment to educating yourself, listening to the ways your privilege benefits you, taking concrete actions against racism in your community and amplifying the voices of BIPOCs.
Saying Free Britney isn’t a radical act. Nobody is getting tear-gassed or subjected to police brutality next Wednesday at the Britney action. But around the corner, those who will be standing up against systematic racism will still be seen as radical. The Free Britney supporters should stand with them in solidarity. After all, that feels like something Britney would get on board with.
But then again, we’re all just speculating.
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