Last night, my wife and I sat down to watch the Britney Spears documentary produced by The New York Times called “Framing Britney Spears.” I must admit that I expected to see some light entertainment, enjoying the escapism that our celebrity culture often provides us.
What I did not expect was my actual reaction: embarrassment and outrage. After all, in this era of economic inequality and democracy in jeopardy, can the plight of a rich, beautiful, young star be all that salient?
In fact, it is. I was so upset after watching the documentary that I had trouble falling asleep.
I’m not surprised that Justin Timberlake, after watching the documentary, felt obliged to apologize to Spears. His behavior in the wake of their break-up, as detailed in the program, was atrocious. He embraced the privilege that our misogynistic culture grants young men like him. It was Britney’s “fault,” to quote Diane Sawyer, that this young couple’s relationship ended, breaking poor Justin’s heart.
It would be too easy for me to simply cast aspersions at Timberlake, though. I was horrified to realize as I watched the filmmakers document Spears’s history, that I had bought into the sexist narrative surrounding her career. She seemed to have gone crazy when she partied with Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan, shaved her head, and attacked a videographer’s van with an umbrella. I lacked the empathy to realize at the time that she was a young mother denied access to her children and hounded by a relentless media. When viewed in the context made explicit in the documentary, she was at her wit’s end, behaving quite rationally under the circumstances.
After all, when Matt Lauer asked her what it would take for the paparazzi to stop harassing her, she tearfully responded “I don’t know.” It appears that her shaving her head was a desperate attempt to get that privacy, especially when she was dealing with personal problems like her ex-husband and the courts denying her access to her young children.
As a result, I too must apologize to Spears, as well as all women, for buying into a misogynistic narrative and tsk-tsking that crazy Britney Spears as she torpedoed her stratospheric career.