ENTERTAINMENT-US-GLAAD-MEDIA-AWARDS Singer Britney Spears attends the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Beverly Hilton on April 12, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. / AFP PHOTO / VALERIE MACON (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

The New Yorker Exposes More Details of Britney Spears’s Horrific Conservatorship

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Last week, pop icon Britney Spears stood before a judge and delivered an impassioned plea to be released from the conservatorship that has held a stranglehold on her life for 13 years. Spears’s testimony revealed a monstrous level of control over her career, her finances, and her own body since her father Jamie Spears took over the singer’s estate. Spears said, “I’m not happy. I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. And I’m depressed. I cry every day.”

The judge denied Spears’s request for freedom (for now), but Britney’s testimony has sent shock waves through the world. It has also forced us to confront the blatant misogyny of the 90s and early 2000s, the relentless invasion of celebrities’ privacy by the paparazzi, and the all-too-easily abused structure of the conservatorship system.

And apparently, we don’t even know the half of it. The New Yorker released a scathing exposé written by Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino that uncovers the complicity of almost everyone in Spears’s orbit.

The article also points to the system that allows for this total control of Spears’s every move: a team of lawyers, publicists, psychiatrists, and managers all working in tandem to control Britney’s image, from her multi-million dollar deals to her Instagram posts:

“Running the business of Britney had become routine: every Thursday at noon, about ten people responsible for managing Spears’s legal and business affairs, public relations, and social media met to discuss merchandise deals, song-license requests, and Spears’s posts to Instagram and Twitter. (“This is how it works without her,” one member of the team said.) Spears, according to her management, typically writes the posts and submits them to CrowdSurf, a company employed to handle her social media, which then uploads them. In rare cases, posts that raise legal questions have been deemed too sensitive to upload. “She’s not supposed to discuss the conservatorship,” the team member said.”

Farrow and Tolentino also dig into the abusive nature of conservatorships, which don’t allow subjects to retain their own legal representation. The right to counsel, enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, is ignored in cases of guardianships and conservatorships.

“According to Jonathan Martinis, the senior director for law and policy at a center for disability rights at Syracuse University, one of the most dangerous aspects of guardianships is the way that they prevent people from getting their own legal counsel. “The rights at stake in guardianship are analogous to the rights at stake in criminal cases,” Martinis said. “Britney could have been found holding an axe and a severed head, saying ‘I did it,’ and she still would’ve had the right to an attorney. So, under guardianship, you don’t have the same rights as an axe murderer.”

The article (which is well worth reading in its entirety) outlines the outsized level of control that Jamie Spears holds over his daughter’s life. It also depicts the elder Spears as cruel and abusive, forcing his daughter to work constantly. If she fails to comply with his demands, she could reportedly lose access to her children. And while the conservatorship brought in millions of dollars thanks to Spears’s overly produced comeback, many say it left Spears a shell of her former self. In the time since the conservatorship began, Spears has released four albums, went on a worldwide tour that grossed $130 million dollars, and performed for four years in her smash hit Las Vegas residency.

“Less than two months after the second 5150, Spears taped a guest appearance on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” Publicly, her comeback had already begun—and it had been in the works virtually from the outset. Butcher remembers sitting in Spears’s home office on one of the first days after she was released from the hospital. Butcher, Lynne, and Spears were on the floor, Spears on her knees; Jamie was sitting at a desk. A flat-screen TV was playing nearby. “Jamie said, ‘Baby,’ ” Butcher recalled, “and I thought he was going to say, ‘We love you, but you need help.’ But what he said was ‘You’re fat. Daddy’s gonna get you on a diet and a trainer, and you’re gonna get back in shape.’ ” Butcher felt sick. Jamie pointed at the TV and said, “You see that TV over there? You know what it’s going to say in eight weeks? That’s gonna be you on there, and they’re gonna say, ‘She’s back.’ ”

It’s a truly frightening situation for Britney Spears, so much of which is still clouded in secrecy. The saga of Britney Spears is far from over, but it’s clear that there is so much more going on that the public doesn’t know. Hopefully Spears will finally regain control over her own life and sever ties with the army of people who abused her.

“Jacqueline Butcher, a former friend of the Spears family who was present in court for the conservatorship’s creation, said she regrets the testimony that she offered to help secure it. “At the time, I thought we were helping,” she said. “And I wasn’t, and I helped a corrupt family seize all this control.”

(via The New Yorker, image: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

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Author
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.