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#FreeBritney and the contentious issue of online fandoms

Britney’s attorney said that she ‘welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans’ in new Los Angeles Superior Court documents.

Britney Spears seems to have shown support for the fan-led initiative to release her from her conservatorship called #FreeBritney in newly obtained court documents.

Fans have been concerned about her wellbeing and financial situation for well over a decade (older readers may remember the vintage Chris Crocker ‘leave Britney alone!’ video from 2007), but she made headlines this summer after posting a series of bizarre TikTok’s that showed her repeatedly walking in and out of frame with flowers.

Viewers suspected she may have been trying to cryptically send a message of distress out to the public and conspirators predictably went nuts. #FreeBritney began to trend on Twitter and a petition amassed over 125,000 signatures. These new documents are the first time we’ve had any indication that she recognises and supports the movement.

Why are people so worried?

Following her public breakdown in 2007, Britney was quickly placed under a conservatorship that’s strictly controlled by her family. Though the specifics have never been made public, it essentially means that Britney is not able to make decisions about her finances, public image, or career. Everything has historically been approved and maintained by her father and care manager.

These are usually given to people with dementia or severe mental illness and most commonly apply to older people who cannot adequately care for themselves. A conservatorship is naturally quite an invasive legal binding – Britney can’t control how often she talks to doctors about her medical treatment, for example.

She’s been in this position since 2008 and has asked for more leniency with her life choices several times over the years. At present her care manager is in control of her conservatorship, though her mother Lynne Spears has reportedly filed a request to be included. #FreeBritney has remained a prominent and vocal voice from the public for the majority of the last decade, arguing that she’s been unfairly constricted, and her attorney’s documents suggest that she welcomes this support.

Should fans be this involved with celebrities?

There are upsides to fans becoming incredibly invested in the personal lives of celebrities.

Often it can bring awareness to certain mental illnesses, make a dubious legal situation more publicly known, and contribute to issues eventually being resolved. YouTubers are a good example given that they have a more personal relationship with viewers than, say, pop stars. Coming out videos or big, confessional life announcements are nearly always met with unanimous support and help to normalise different sexualities and mental health. Community engagement popularises these videos and demonstrates that fandoms can be used in positive ways.

However, sometimes this obsession can cause more harm than good, particularly when adoration becomes investigatory and intrusive. Marina Joyce was hit with a wave of hysteria in 2016 following concern over her vlogging series on YouTube in which she seemed frightened and ‘out of character’. A huge frenzy ensued and many believed she’d been kidnapped and was being held at gunpoint. As it turned out, she was completely fine and had not been thrown into somebody’s basement.

Britney’s situation is similar in many respects. We do not know the details of her conservatorship, nor do we have any real concrete proof that she is in danger. Much of the concern has come from online assumptions and armchair detectives and it may be the case that Britney’s situation is still the most appropriate for her in 2020. Though her attorney has now implied that she welcomes support, we don’t know explicitly that she endorses #FreeBritney. It remains a grey area.

So, while Britney’s fans may be helping her to be released from a suppressive legal situation, they could equally be putting her in an irresponsible or dangerous situation. The problem is we simply don’t know. Really, the best we can do is remain informed and learn about the legal implications of complicated financial entanglements such as this to keep ourselves in the loop.

And we should all apologise to Chris Crocker. My man deserved better.


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