We Did This to Britney

To watch the New York Times' new documentary "Framing Britney Spears" on Hulu is a flashback to the 1990s. Before Covid and the impeachment trial monopolized our rapid-fire newsfeeds, when the music industry was on fire, and tabloids ruled the day.

Britney was a hitmaker. Young, talented and beautiful, she was on top of the world until she became the punchline of every late-night talk show host. Before we talked about things like mental health or slut-shaming, we couldn't get enough of her crazy, from late-night benders to tantrums and shaving her head.

Seeing her story in a fresh light, it's clear that we failed her. All of us. It's easy to blame the music industry or the tabloids for profiting from her downfall. But we were their captive audience.

The higher you climb, the harder you fall. Britney topped the charts. And so, it was that her descent was a spectacular crash and burn.

What is it with our love affair for a fall from grace? There's a word for this phenomenon - schadenfreude. There's even a song about it in Avenue Q. We feel better about ourselves when we see others suffer. An awful character trait, but I think all of us may be guilty of it at one time or another.

The film centers on the movement by her fans to pull her conservatorship from her father and let her own her life. #FreeBritney has been circulating for years. Conservatorship is generally used to protect the elderly who can no longer take care of themselves. Brittney is 39, and has been under her father's conservatorship for 12 years, all the while still boasting a robust performing career.

It's disturbing, for sure. But my takeaway, what haunts me, is the way we treated her. And why. Would we have vilified her if she was a man?

As we continue to be divided politically and socioeconomically, cancel culture is more prevalent than ever. It's so easy to cut people off. But where do they go? We banished Britney and now we're looking back and realizing her cuts ran deep. She was and still is one of our great talents. A rags-to-riches story, she was ill-equipped to handle fame and all that came with it.

We all live in glass houses. And if Covid has taught us anything it's that we're all in this together. Maybe next time we have a little more compassion.

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