We learned a lot from the #FreeBritney movement. The media treated Britney’s public meltdown in the 2000s as something to laugh at instead of recognizing that she needed help, and now they’re viewing the rift between Britney and Jamie Lynn as good ol’ celebrity gossip instead of a tragedy of a family being torn apart.
This leads you to wonder if the media learned anything from the #FreeBritney movement because they’re making the same mistake that they know can end horribly.
The #FreeBritney Movement Exposed the Media’s Cruelty Towards Britney
When Framing Britney Spears came out on Hulu last year, the media (especially tabloids) was forced to come face-to-face with how they treated Britney Spears and how it led to her public mental breakdown. Her mental state only worsened with the media coverage of her breakdown, eventually leading to her 13-year conservatorship. The backlash the tabloids received was well-deserved, as they would no longer deny their complicity in the mental decline of Britney in the mid-2000s.
After watching Framing Britney Spears, viewers were left with one major question: why was the media so cruel towards Britney? The phenomenon surrounding Britney was akin to the media’s fascination with other women in the public eye struggling with mental health like Anna Nicole Smith, but for some reason, it hit Britney harder than most.
Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic writes, “Framing Britney Spears illuminates, with stark clarity, how uniquely cruel Spears’s treatment was. One scene pulls up footage from an episode of the game show Family Feud in which ‘Things Britney Spears Has Lost’ was a category: ‘Her hair,’ ‘her marriage,’ and ‘her mind’ were all winning responses. The documentary’s chronology, as Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk has pointed out, is revelatory all on its own, simply because it points out how Spears’s breakdown came after she had two children in the space of one year, and before she turned 25. Not many people were talking about postpartum depression when Spears was brawling with photographers or shaving her head.”
“But it’s clearer now that whatever she was going through was exacerbated tenfold by the insatiable interest in watching her struggle in real time,” Gilbert continued. “The more vulnerable she became, the greater the interest in watching her disintegrate, and the greater the pressure upon her in turn. ‘Will she OD or commit suicide like Monroe?’ Mark Stevens wrote in New York magazine in 2007, praising Spears’s head-shaving incident as the most ‘fascinating’ thing she’d ever done. ‘Will she have a Grand Guignol death like the fat-obsessed Anna Nicole Smith?’ No one publicly asks those questions, but that’s what everyone wonders.”
Re-reading these headlines is disturbing, for it makes it impossible to argue against the complicity of the media in Britney’s mental breakdown. You’d think the media would learn its lesson, but the paparazzi who harassed her claim they were just doing their job. Though the media landscape has changed since the mid-2000s, the media further proved they didn’t learn their lesson while covering the recent rift between Britney and younger sister Jamie Lynn.
The Feud over Jamie Lynn’s Memoir
Jamie Lynn Spears started press for her memoir Things I Should Have Said in January 2022. She appeared on Good Morning America on January 12 to tell her side of the story regarding the conservatorship, and to say it was received poorly would be an understatement.
Though the stories of her father’s alcoholism and her eldest daughter Maddie’s near-death experience were heart-wrenching, fans took issue with the way she spoke about Britney’s mental health struggles and the conservatorship. Many fans believed Jamie Lynn was disingenuous and was trying to get clout from her sister, but her January 17 interview on the Call Her Daddy podcast was even more controversial.
In her book, she detailed a 2004 incident where Britney pulled her into a room with a knife and locked the door amid the scandal regarding her 55-hour marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander. She also claims Britney used this opportunity alone with her younger sister to tell her she was scared, but not about what: “Britney said to me, ‘Baby I'm scared.’ And she took a large knife from the kitchen, pulled me along to my room, and locked us both inside. She put the knife in the bedside table drawer and simply repeated, ‘I'm scared.’...I knew something was wrong and I was powerless to do something about it.”
Jamie Lynn elaborated on the incident during her podcast interview, saying it scared her, but she didn't feel like Britney put her in danger. “I never felt like she was going to harm me or anything,” she said. “It just felt weird. And I didn't understand it.”
Upon reflection, Jamie Lynn believes that Britney must have been in a lot of pain at the time. She said, “She must have been in pain too…This was a brilliant young woman who was going through a hard time – and if she couldn’t stand up herself, then somebody should have. I wasn’t an adult then. I couldn’t…Somebody should have said, ‘Stop the f—king presses. Give this girl a f—king minute.’”
After the book was released, Britney insisted the knife incident never happened and went on to call Jamie Lynn “scum” and accused her of spreading “crazy lies.” She took to Twitter to respond to Jamie Lynn, where she wrote, "Jamie Lynn... congrats babe! You've stooped to a whole new level of LOW... I've never been around you ever with a knife or would I ever even think to do such!!! The only knife I ever saw you with at home was cutting the biggest pieces of squash I ever saw in my life and it was way too big for me to cut... So please please stop with these crazy lies for the Hollywood books!!!”
Britney continued, "NOW and only NOW do I know only a scum person would make up such things about someone.... I'm actually very confused about you making that up because it's honestly not like you at all!!!! Around the kids???? Jamie Lynn, seriously??? Come on!!! Congrats on introducing your older sister the concept of getting LOW... LOWER... LOWEST... because you win on that one, babe!!!!"
Shortly after the Call Her Daddy interview went viral, Britney and her lawyer issued a cease-and-desist letter preventing Jamie Lynn from speaking about Britney while promoting her book. In part, the letter said, "We write with some hesitation because the last thing Britney wants is to bring more attention to your ill-timed book and its misleading or outrageous claims about her. Although Britney has not read and does not intend to read your book, she and millions of her fans were shocked to see how you have exploited her for monetary gain. She will not tolerate it, nor should she."
Britney also took to her Instagram page to call out Jamie Lynn. In a now-deleted Instagram post, she wrote, "I wish you would take a lie detector test so all these masses of people see you're lying through your teeth about me !!!! I wish the almighty, Lord would could come down and show this whole world that you're lying and making money off of me !!!! You are scum, Jamie Lynn."
Why Are We Sensationalizing This As Petty Gossip?
Though both Britney and Jamie Lynn have been public about their rift, maybe the media and fans should recognize that this is a family matter that should be dealt with in private. Unfortunately, media coverage of their rift dismisses it as just another petty feud by publishing timelines tracking the sisters and writing headlines like "Jamie Lynn Claps Back At Sister Britney Spears."
I’m not a psychologist, just a pop-culture lover, but Dr. Todd Grande can speak to both. Dr. Grande is a licensed mental health counselor "who specializes in personality disorders, addiction, recovery from trauma, psychopathology, and assessment." He’s also well-known for publishing videos on YouTube in which he psychologically analyzes crime and pop-culture stories, and his video on Britney and Jamie Lynn is worth the watch (side note: I highly recommend subscribing to him because he breaks down complex issues to make them easy for anyone to understand and his dry sense of humor never fails to make me chuckle).
Dr. Grande suggests that both Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears have experienced a significant amount of trauma in their lives, and the trauma might make them respond immaturely to situations. Both sisters have their problems and should work it out in private, instead of in the public eye. But as part of a family that hasn't been private in well over 20 years, it may be near impossible for the sisters to know how "privately" a normal family would handle these disagreements.
Though the timing of the release of Jamie Lynn’s memoir is interesting, to say the least, shouldn’t we know that cyberbullying is wrong in 2022? The #FreeBritney movement taught us that it’s wrong to sensationalize a woman struggling with her mental health because it will only make it worse. The media and fans seem to have forgotten what we learned from the #FreeBritney movement by sensationalizing a serious issue between two sisters, which will inevitably only make it worse.
The reaction from fans isn’t any better. Fans commented on Britney’s now-deleted Instagram posts about Jamie Lynn encouraging her to “drag” her sister like this is a fight on a reality show. Some fans have resorted to calling Jamie Lynn “Judas,” and one fan called her "a wart that won't go away." One fan also tweeted a clip from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to comment on the rift, proving that many fans are treating this like good ol’ celebrity gossip.
Chris Crocker once told us to "Leave Britney Alone," and maybe we should do that and let her and Jamie Lynn work out their problems in private?
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