The way Britney’s life was consumed holds a mirror to our own
Britney Spears may have been hounded for years by the media, but it’s only now that we can evaluate what that really says about us
Looking back today at the pop culture of my youth is like the moment your vision finally adjusts to a Magic Eye picture. One that you’ve walked past unseeingly for years, vaguely aware perhaps, if pushed, that there could be more to the abstract ocean scene hanging in the downstairs loo – once, during a sticky breakup, you thought you noticed an animal, watching you cry. But as time rolled on, the light changed. #MeToo and its subsequent conversations enabled a retelling of stories we thought we knew by heart, now illuminated with a growing understanding of sex, power, mental health and the horrors of the celebrity industrial complex.
There is very little new information in the New York Times documentary about Britney Spears; instead we’re invited to sit quietly with what we have always known. From the international debates around her sluttiness (there is footage of an interviewee asking her if she was a virgin, and Spears, so used to this now, thanking him for his question) to the frenzy of the paparazzi, these crowds of men who waited for her outside toilets, shouting “I’M WORRIED ABOUT YOU” while sticking their flashes into her car. She had two babies, quickly, and public scrutiny swelled to include not just her sexuality but her mothering abilities. The story shifted overnight – she had been too mature to be a girl, but she was too young to be a woman.