There are principles to be gleaned from The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears, a documentary that puts a spotlight on the pop star’s struggle to wrest herself from her father’s legal control and the struggles that led up to her conservatorship.
If you’ve seen the film, maybe you recognize some of the themes below. If you haven’t seen it yet, perhaps the following themes will entice you to check it out on Hulu. And if you’re just not interested in watching it, read on anyway. They’re good principles to live by.
Axiom 1: What goes around comes around.
Fans interviewed for the film said they wanted to help her because she had helped them. One fan, who grew up as a gay boy in the Virginia suburbs, shared that she gave him permission to be himself. Another fan said she felt more empowered in her fight against mental illness watching Britney fight against hers. Another shaved her head because she didn’t want anybody touching her. They have started a Free Britney movement (#FreeBritney) to help put an end to her conservatorship.
Takeaway: She was there for them when they needed someone. They are here for her now. Inspire others with positivity. It may serve you well when you need it most.
Axiom 2: The less we do to change things, the more things stay the same.
Newton’s first law says that anything moving at a constant speed in a straight line will continue to move in a straight line at a constant speed unless it is acted upon by a force. It’s universal. Can we agree that sexism hasn’t been acted on with enough force yet?
Calvin Harris can brag about his penis and Adam Levine can bear all but Britney got flogged in the public square for a high hemline and a low-cut sweater.
And when she no longer pleased Justin Timberlake, he accused her of cheating on him. He went on to build a stellar career. The mud he flung on her encouraged others to pile on more, which put her downward motion in play.
Takeaway: Our culture tends to grant guys a free pass and girls a push down. We’ve been talking about this for decades now. Change takes time, yes. But let’s not let up on the momentum. Call sexism out when you see it. The double standard will remain the standard until we change it.
Axiom 3: Bullying wounds go deep.
Everybody loves a good story. Maybe that’s why gossip is such a popular pastime. No story is more tantalizing than a good fallen-from-grace story. Britney’s story delivered.
Britney went from mall pop sensation to international pop star to fallen woman in a shockingly short time. In the film, she tells a member of the press interviewing her that she feels totally in control of her career. She answers critics who say her act is too suggestive that “All girls like to feel sexy.” And really, who among us doesn’t?
For all those mothers attacking her for her sexuality, it could be argued that they could have just said no when their not-ready-for-sexy daughters demanded a record or magazine cover. They could have turned the radio and television off when she was on. Why censor the messenger when you can prevent the message from being delivered?
As we watch her unravel over the course of the film, there is a scene in which a paparazzi opportunist pretends to care about Britney’s wellbeing while trying to get a great shot at her through a car window. “I’m concerned about you, okay?” he says while his shutter clicks away. Candid celebrity shots are a million-dollar business.
When she shaves her head, it seems metaphoric. As if she’s saying, “I quit.” That only fueled more bullying by late night talk show hosts and other members of the media. She was diminished to a game show question on The Family Feud. So, her dad Jamie, who never seemed concerned about her wellbeing before, swooped in and placed her under a conservatorship with him in charge of her finances. It’s lasted for twelve years now, despite her demonstrating an ability to perform and earn money again. Bullying is even more damaging when it’s your own parent doing it.
Takeaway: If you’ve ever starred in a gossip story yourself, you know how humiliating it feels to be under lingering scrutiny. (Maybe that’s why those who have been gossiped about or bullied tend not to bully or gossip about others.) And once you’re fodder, it’s hard to claw out of the grips of bullies hungry for more.
So why do we do it, then?
Thoughts? Share them below.
Missy Kavanaugh is a Florida-based writer currently working on a debut novel about a heroine’s very public fall from grace. She’s also authored two children’s books.