Why #FreeBritney Matters

(Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Britney Spears is a hostage.

Before you laugh or scoff, read this. It matters. Her situation matters to anyone who stands on the side of freedom and personal responsibility.

It matters because it’s high time Americans understand that wealth and fame do not provide immunity to abuse.

This week, Spears went to court for the third time to have her conservatorship removed from her father’s hands. Jamie Spears has controlled his daughter’s nearly $50 million dollar estate since 2008, after Britney Spears allegedly suffered some severe mental health issues and it was decided she could not be trusted to make clear decisions regarding her estate or her children.

You may recall the now infamous ‘shaved head, umbrella attack’ incident. At the time, we had yet to be treated to the Harvey Weinstein era , where Hollywood’s shameful secrets became more commonly known. She appeared to us as a spoiled brat who couldn’t deal with her fame and was selfishly lashing out. I know that’s how I looked at it. I laughed at her.

I’m ashamed of that now, and if for some weird reason Britney ever reads this I just want to say…I’m sorry. I believe you.

To hear Spears’ testimony, her predicament was far more complicated than simply being a spoiled woman. In fact, she may be the least spoiled person in her family, given that for decades she has been the only one working while her entire family “earned” their own money in her employ. That’s a pretty lucrative machine to let shut down or walk away from the industry, and if Spears’ testimony is true, it seems that her own father found a legal way to make sure that could never happen; and then, frighteningly, he set about isolating her to the point that she may have been forced by her father’s aides to lie in years worth of strange and lonely-looking Instagram posts that were the catalyst for many fans questioning her safety.

USA Today covered the virtual hearing:

“I’m not here to be anyone’s slave,” Spears said while appearing in Los Angeles court remotely via telephone. “I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK and I’m happy. It’s a lie. I thought that maybe if I said it enough, I would maybe become happy because I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized … I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed.”

If you think her “slave” rhetoric is a bit overdramatic, look at how she describes her life at the hands of staff that she ultimately paid for out of her own pocket, a pocket she has no control over.

“I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” she said during the hearing. “I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have (an) IUD inside of (me) right now so I don’t get pregnant.”

Spears noted: “I wanted to take the IUD out so I can start trying to have another baby but this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have any more children.”

It seems unthinkable in modern day America that one of the most successful artists in pop history is not even allowed to leave her house for a doctor’s appointment…not even allowed to have a say in her birth control…not even allowed to marry.

Is this 2021 America or some rural, remote Indian village where parents still control the bodies and decisions of their daughters before they pass them to a husband to control?

The “Hit Me Baby, One More Time” singer stopped performing in 2019 after refusing to renew her Vegas residency. As it turns out, that was probably an intensely brave decision on her part. Spears testified that her father and management used “scary” tactics to “punish” her when she refused work or tried to get out of touring dates, including changing her medications literally overnight in order to make her more pliable.

“(My therapist) immediately, the next day, put me on lithium out of nowhere. He took me off my normal meds I’d been on for five years,” Spears said, referring to a medication typically used for treating bipolar disorder that she “never wanted to be on to begin with.”

She continued: “You can go mentally impaired if you take too much … but he put me on (lithium) and I felt drunk. I really couldn’t even (stand up) for myself. I couldn’t’ even have a conversation with my mom or dad.”

Spears said “six different nurses” came to her home for a month to administer the medication and she wasn’t allowed to go anywhere: “Not only did my family not do a goddamn thing, my dad was all for it.”

This explains so much, and we should all feel some measure of shame for the insults and ridicule we at one time or another hurled her way. I’m recalling her infamously terrible “comeback” performance at the 2007 MTV Music Awards. Spears was lambasted for the showing, in which she appeared sluggish and disengaged. She forgot choreography and even flubbed her lip-sync track more than once. Her appearance (at least considering she was on a national television stage) was disheveled, as if she had just woken up and forgot to do her hair and check herself in a mirror.

I thought at the time that she was probably struggling with substance abuse. It did not occur to me that she was being abused with substances at the hands of her own parents. I wasn’t seeing a rich, lazy woman. I was seeing an overworked indentured servant who had literally been working her entire life; someone who was mentally and physically exhausted and forced to perform nonetheless.

The only control she had was whether or not she could perform on stage. It must have taken an extraordinary amount of courage for her to say, “No more.” The price she paid was her freedom. Spears says she was forced into two weeks of intense psychological “testing” before she was forced into a “small rehab program” that was actually just something they fabricated out of whole cloth before they deposited her into a small Beverly Hills home. The “rehab” cost her $60,000 a month.

She calls her horrific story the equivalent of “sex trafficking” and frankly, I don’t think she’s wrong. These people held her freedom and her earnings in an effort to force her to sell her sexuality to the music industry.

Spears equated her experience at the rehab program to “sex trafficking,” saying she was stripped of all her possessions, including her credit card, cash, phone, passport and car, forced to work seven days a week, lived with nurses and was subjected to security 24/7.

And one more absurdly sadistic violation of this woman is that while her fortune has been in the hands of her clearly deranged father, he’s been earning $16,000 per month as her executor. That’s twice the amount of her monthly “allowance.”

All of this is horrifying, but it is her closing statement that really broke my heart.

“My family has lived off my conservatorship for 13 years. I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people. It makes no sense. The laws need to change.

“I deserve to have a life. I feel ganged up on, I feel bullied and I feel left out and alone.”

Britney Spears has been performing since she was a toddler. For many years she has been the family’s sole source of profit and income while having no control of her own friendships, work schedule, or downtime. “Slavery” is an apt term, even though she had the outward trappings of success. If you view her past behavior through this lens, it isn’t hard to see why she may have made some crazy decisions. Everything was a cry for help, a cry for freedom.

Worse, everyone around her saw it, knew it, and let it slide.

This is precisely why we should always be loathe to accept moral direction from the entertainment sector. Their jobs are smoke and mirrors, redirect, putting a shine on reality. They get paid to lie, to tell us our favorite stars are “selfish” instead of mentally ill, “difficult” instead of resisting sexual abuse, “financially irresponsible” instead of abused by managers and accountants and family leeches.

Think about how many people outside of her perverted circle knew what was happening to her and said nothing. Worse, let her character be assaulted even as a helpless teenager. Think about her loneliness and frustration, think about her abject fear – the world’s most famous performer, trapped in her own crystal prison. She did everything we tell each other to do in order to find success. Worked hard, worked long, worked well. She smiled and learned to grin and bear discomfort for a chance at something better.

But when the time came to enjoy her “something better” the goalposts changed. She had done her job so well that the people around her became greedy and dependent on her labor. They stopped looking at her as a human, as their daughter, and started looking at her as their right. Spears’ situation is softened to our eyes by the spectacle of the opulence surrounding her, but stripped bare of the glitter, it is woefully reminiscent of the stories of many modern day slaves (and even those of the past ) and of many young women who to this day suffer the horror of human trafficking anonymously.

#FreeBritney is not just some funny, quirky celebrity story. It should be a wake-up call for all of us. Women of all walks of life are exploited and abused every day and we look away because we are too quick to judge them as “crazy” or “bitchy” or spoiled brats.

Britney Spears has worked her entire life. She has earned rest, and even if she may make poor decisions with her money and with her life, they are hers to make. If we can’t support that then we need to get out of the business of promoting freedom.

Free Britney Spears. She does not deserve this hell.