Froma Harrop: Free us from Britney Spears

The New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears" feeds on the tragic 39-year-old she has become.

Portrait of Froma Harrop
Portrait of Froma Harrop

At age 11, Britney Spears played the wholesome American girl on "The All New Mickey Mouse Club." A few years later, she was on concert stages surrounded by big teddy bears as she bumped, grinded and moaned. There was also a pole dance.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is entry-level kiddie porn. The despoiling of innocence has always been an easy sell. Britney and her pushing parents understood well that a schoolgirl in bobby socks singing lascivious songs would draw enormous amounts of attention. They had America debating the propriety of this act, which meant everyone was talking about her. And that sold records.

The New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears" feeds on the tragic 39-year-old she has become. By her mid-20s, Britney was in drug rehab, had lost custody of her children and had a couple of failed marriages.

After she was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, her father took control of her person and finances as her conservator. She reportedly wants control back. This legal tangle is the hook that gives uplift to a documentary that's basically an orgy of tabloid excess.

The woman's suffering is undeniable, but where this account loses credibility is in suggesting that the public drove the celebrity to this sad state. Supposedly, it was the paparazzi she intentionally cultivated who caused her unraveling.


"(I)t's so much fun to take a celebrity who's a young, beautiful, talented girl and rip her to shreds," said former Jive Records executive Kim Kaiman, who was instrumental in helping turn Britney into the teen sexpot-turned-punchline on late-night TV.

We see a video of Britney shaving her head at a hair salon. Her essential message, Times critic Wesley Morris says, is "whatever you guys are looking for, in terms of me coming back and being that person again -- that person is gone, and you have destroyed her."

Morris adds, "The idea that people could look at that and only see a crazy person, well, that just tells me what a vulturous society she was working with to begin with."

Wait a second. It was Britney who single-mindedly pushed society to obsess over her. She shaved her head in front of cameras, did she not? And at any point, she could have returned to a quiet life in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana.

There were odd efforts at feminist commentary. "I worked with all the boy bands -- all of them," said Hayley Hill, former fashion director at Teen People. "Not one of the boys was ever under any scrutiny." Hill seems to be saying that the critics' objections to sexualizing schoolgirls are thus a form of misogyny.

The pop star's fans have set up a #FreeBritney movement to push for her release from the conservatorship.

I offer no informed opinion on this. Her father's powers have been reduced to cover only her finances, and a third party, a trust, now has power equal to his.

Does Britney deserve some of our pity? She does. After all, the teen tart did possess true talent. Britney could sing and dance, and she sold a ton of records. And her struggle with severe mental illness is painfully real.


But why, exactly, are her fans populating Twitter with apologies, claiming that the world "destroyed" her? The world did exactly what she wanted it to. It feasted on the teen striptease, which she knew perfectly well was profitable because it was tawdry.

Britney's fans have their own lives, and their trials and heartbreak are as real as hers. But the celebrity machine demands that the public cheer and cry over strangers who are famous. Perhaps the public has a right to be freed from Britney Spears.

Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist whose work regular appears in the Grand Forks Herald.

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