Like many of my fellow pop-culture junkies I have been following the Britney Spears conservatorship story for much of the last decade with increasing horror, frustration and sadness. This week however, the #FreeBritney movement went mainstream when, in an incendiary and damning testimony, she was finally able to speak for herself in public. Whilst the case has gathered momentum in the last couple of years with a clutch of documentaries and high profile YouTubers questioning the legitimacy of the judgement, it has until now been largely swept to one side as a conspiracy theory peddled by obsessive fans. It sounded crazy, unbelievable and unfathomably corrupt that one of the most successful popstars in living memory could be held prisoner for so long, and be paying her captors for the privilege. Above all no one wanted to ask, if this could happen to Britney, could it happen to anyone?
A key factor in the case is, of course, the vast amounts of money swilling around in it. But while having millions in the bank, and the ability to generate more, makes someone an obvious target for abuse it also highlights a wider concern about the apparently fragile right to autonomy, both financial and bodily, for those deemed vulnerable or unstable. I don’t think anyone, including Britney herself, is arguing that she might not have some ongoing mental health issues that may require treatment, but one has to wonder how 13 years of captivity and enforced labor can possibly have been beneficial for her either.
I have often thought that the Britney Spears story, not just the conservatorship but her life and career as a whole, would be looked back on in the future with the same kind morbid dismay that we have now for the lives of golden era tragi-heroines like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe. Cynically, I thought this would not happen until after her death but this week’s testimony, and the fireball of publicity around it, makes it feel tangibly impossible that it won’t happen much sooner. And when it does I hope she, at the very least, sues the shit out of everyone involved.