When does the documentation of Spears’ trauma begin to become its own form of exploitation?
Whenever I think of Britney Spears, I can’t help but think of Marilyn Monroe. Like Spears, Monroe has been underestimated, abused, and her image remains so heavily exploited that her face is on everything from t-shirts to rehab center promotion (which you can also see every time you walk down Hollywood Boulevard). . And while Spears may be getting closer and closer to gaining the freedom that has eluded him over the past 13 years, the amount of content that has been created in his preparation for freedom still feels… gross?
Case in point: The surprise release of the sequel to the New York Times Presents series, “Controlling Britney Spears” was announced early Friday. The announcement came as out of left field as the upcoming release of Netflix’s highly anticipated surprise documentary “Britney vs. Spears.” Where the Netflix documentary is slated for release just a day before Spears’ final hearing, this new NYT addendum to last year’s “Framing Britney Spears” looks like a desperate attempt to steal some of the wind from Netflix. It might work for something like the Fyre Festival or Tiger King, but here it feels like two media entities are trying to compete for the juiciest reveal of a woman whose life has already been heavily exploited.
In the jockey race with Netflix, it might have been best to ask if there was anything new to tell, as much of “Controlling Britney Spears” feels like leftover story angles for which there was no time in “Framing Britney Spears”. With just over an hour, “Controlling Britney Spears” doesn’t have the urgency of its predecessor. Where this film served as a loophole in Spears’ guardianship armor, this documentary comes forward as a series of “Top Trending” Twitter threads, detailing the levels of control Britney Spears was under, from security to listening to his phone and setting up listening devices. in his room to control access to his friends.
The security bug has been discussed in the shadow of the gossip world for a few years, and if The New York Times Presents were serious about blowing Netflix out of the water, they shouldn’t have played things so safe. . The on-screen text speaks of 180 hours of audio from Spears, recorded presumably without his knowledge, with a talking head saying he kept a copy. This copy is never produced on the documentary, nor is there any follow-up on what’s on it and why he decided to keep it. To someone who thought it was weird for them to record audio, it didn’t seem so weird to keep a copy. Much of this audio is later said to have been taken from her bedroom, although documentary filmmakers never go so far as to question whether her sexual activity was illegally obtained.
Courtesy of FX
There is an odd level of respect (or perhaps fear) of being too open about what is now presumably secretly released from those within the wardship, and yet where “Coaching Britney Spears” seemed to be one. way of telling the Spears story, “Controlling Britney Spears” doesn’t. Yes, there are times that, in hindsight, we see reflected in ominous ways. The documentary includes large tapes from previous documentaries like “I am Britney Spears” and “Britney Spears: For the Record” which show what we could now constitute as James Spears’ control over his daughter. But this is all just a repeat of the trauma we’ve heard from many sources, from Ronan Farrow to Spears herself.
When “Framing Britney Spears” came out, I explained how the documentary avoided viewing guardianship as a disability rights issue. It’s something New York Times writer Liz Day said to open her eyes during the Spears case investigation. And yet, he’s still never touched on when it comes to Spears’ case. The Talking Heads discuss how they don’t understand how they messed up things, content to believe it was “part of the guardianship” and for Spears’ own safety. A clip defining what a guardianship is uses the elderly, while Day herself won’t say “disabled” but uses the word “vulnerable” instead. It’s hard not to say that people don’t care about Spears because that is so often what happens when the perception of disability is brought up.
It’s possible that Netflix’s documentary is just as devoid of new material as this one, but they both beg the question: when does documenting Spears’ trauma begin to be its own form of exploitation? Based on what is delivered throughout the hour of “Controlling Britney Spears,” the hope is that simply recycling what we’ve been missing on social media will be enough to get the masses to do… something? It doesn’t necessarily make you want to worry about it.
“Controlling Britney Spears” is now streaming on Hulu.