Culture Crash 21-08

Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in books, film, and entertainment.

There has been a lot of chatter about Framing Britney Spears, the new documentary from FX and The New York Times that examines the details of Britney Spears’ rise to fame and her controversial conservatorship that fans have been desperately protesting to get Spears out of.

Much of the attention has been drawn to the conservatorship, a legal arrangement that has made outside entities responsible for Spears’ care and finances since February 2008. For the vast majority of that time, Jamie Spears, Britney’s father, has been the conservator, and Britney Spears has indicated she doesn’t want to be under his control any longer.

The documentary sees legal experts and fans alike question why a 39-year-old woman who has, in recent years headlined her own show in Las Vegas worth millions of dollars, is being treated as incapable of her own care.

Beyond delving into the conservatorship issue, though, Framing Britney Spears offers a thoughtful examination of the pop culture landscape of the late 90s and early 2000s, when Spears was at the peak of her fame. The documentary shows clips that include the late Ed McMahon asking 10-year-old Spears if she has a boyfriend, Diane Sawyer grilling Spears over her sex life, Jay Leno making tasteless jokes about Spears, Spears’ famous ex Justin Timberlake discussing their sex life on the radio, and a constant barrage of paparazzi hounding Spears during some of her lowest moments. In just 75 minutes, Framing Britney Spears shows audiences just how sexualized Spears was, and how much our culture demonized her to generate viewers and clicks.

Ultimately, as someone who generally loves pop culture and the discussions around it, Framing Britney Spears served as an essential reminder for me to remember just how cruel and belittling our media culture can be when it isn’t careful, and how important it is to remember that even entertainers, no matter how successful, are human beings, that even Britney Spears is a person with very real feelings, and those feelings should be respected.

Framing Britney Spears is available to stream on Hulu.

I’m Evan Rook.