MATTHEWS: On Britney Spears and our judging of celebrities

Britney Spears arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" on July 22, 2019. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Pop singer Britney Spears has been in the news recently, and her sad story should cause us all to reflect. Both the press and the public need to consider their role in how Spears was treated after she became famous and during the obvious roller-coaster ride that came along with that fame.

Spears, 39, has been under the conservatorship of her father Jamie since 2008, at a time when the singer had been using drugs, had a breakdown, and lost custody of her two young sons. The court-ordered conservatorship reportedly was only supposed to last for a weekend, but at a later point it was made permanent, giving her father — and later a co-conservator — control over her finances, her decisions, her whole life.

She testified in court last week that the control over her was so absolute that she had been forced to perform shows when she didn’t want to, was put on medications she didn’t want to take, and was not even allowed to go to the doctor to have her IUD removed. We don’t have much more to go off of than her word and that of former acquaintances, some of who have gone on the record on her behalf, but it’s compelling.

“I was told right now in the conservatorship, I’m not able to get married or have a baby,” she told a judge. “I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby.”

“I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”

Yes, she does. Last I checked, this is 2021, and human subjugation is against the law.

But while a court will ultimately decide whether to end the conservatorship Spears has been under since she was 26, the court of public opinion is another matter entirely. And instead of the public judging Britney Spears, some judging of our own reactions to her situation at the time are most definitely in order.

It’s easy to pick up a tabloid magazine, or pull up a gossip website, to read a story and look at the photos and videos obtained of celebrities at their worst and laugh. It’s easy to see a celebrity — especially a female — standing on stage dressed provocatively during a performance, and then later see her at a low point and think maybe she deserves it for the freewheeling lifestyle it appears she’s been living.

Worse still is thinking that because celebrities make millions of dollars that they can “handle” whatever gets thrown at them, that it “comes with the territory of being famous,” so they should just “deal with it.”

When Spears was a teenager, she was asked by an interviewer about her breasts. Her sex life was also speculated on at the time, when she was dating fellow pop star Justin Timberlake. According to some reports, a billionaire even offered her a million dollars for one night with her (she refused).

She was objectified to the max, and while some would say she chose that life, I’d argue that even if she did (Spears was in her mid-teens when she first rose to fame) some grace could have been extended to her by the public, even if the paparazzi, her family, and Hollywood would not.

Non-celebrities tend to look at famous people in the abstract, because they can’t relate to someone with fame and money who seemingly wants for nothing.

But sometimes we forget that celebrities are human beings who suffer from some of the same types of ups and downs and hardships as the rest of us. We don’t like being judged for ours but don’t seem to mind judging celebrities over theirs. It’s time for that to change.

Media analyst Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym Sister Toldjah and is a regular contributor to RedState and Legal Insurrection.