On Friday, the documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” produced by the New York Occasions in regards to the pop star’s controversial life, premiered on FX and Hulu — exposing in new methods and for brand new audiences the extent to which Spears’ well being and profession suffered as she was hounded by the media and battled together with her father, with whom she has been in a multi-year authorized battle for management of her life.
Spears’ father, Jamie, has been her conservator for 13 years, exercising authority over her monetary selections and affairs (an association she petitioned to alter in August). The documentary takes viewers by means of that, in addition to again to Spears’ childhood and rise to fame, emphasizing how as a celeb she was hyper-sexualized and subjected to questions on her physique, her virginity and different subjects that male pop stars of the period hardly ever confronted. She is proven being relentlessly pursued by paparazzi and being shamed within the media as a foul mom to her then-infant son.
Many celebrities and different viewers reacted strongly to seeing Spears’ ache on display screen, expressing help and tweeting with the hashtag #FreeBritney. On the identical time, prematurely of Tremendous Bowl LV on Sunday, many individuals had been tweeting about #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay (as Jackson followers have accomplished typically for the reason that 2004 “wardrobe malfunction,” to attempt to reclaim Tremendous Bowl celebrations in her title).
What do these developments share in widespread? Amongst different issues: an expression of society’s perspective towards the our bodies and lives of well-known ladies — and Justin Timberlake, whose relationship with each ladies exemplifies (no matter his personal intention) how males profit from a cultural acceptance of misogyny.
Timberlake and Spears had been a legendary star couple. They carried out collectively on The Mickey Mouse Membership as youngsters and dated for 4 years earlier than splitting in 2002, simply as Timberlake was launching what would turn into his blockbuster solo profession and two years earlier than he, whereas performing with Janet Jackson at Tremendous Bowl XXXVIII, botched a “costume reveal” and briefly uncovered Jackson’s breast on dwell tv. Each Timberlake and Jackson apologized afterward, however Jackson suffered extreme penalties to her profession, together with being blacklisted by Viacom, whereas Timberlake’s thrived. Most notably, within the fast aftermath, Timberlake was invited to attend the 2004 Grammy Awards whereas Jackson was not.
Pushed largely by dialogue of the Spears documentary and Janet Jackson Appreciation Day, social media lit up with conversations about Timberlake’s relationship with Spears and public humiliation (even when inadvertent) of, her idol, Janet Jackson, as platforms for his profession. The layering impact of those conversations successfully reframed Timberlake’s launch and institution of his solo music profession. The documentary particularly highlighted how Timberlake appeared to regulate the media narrative about his breakup with Spears, full with claims that she cheated on him and broke his coronary heart — expressed in his debut solo album, “Justified.” In line with a current Buzzfeed report, Timberlake is receiving a excessive quantity of criticism on Instagram, together with calls for he apologize to Spears. Timberlake didn’t reply to Buzzfeed’s requests for remark.
What the documentary urged to me is the very actual chance that Timberlake’s solo profession was laid on the societal shaming of Britney Spears. Study the sequenced releasing of songs and his media promotion of the 2002 album, which centered on the couple’s breakup. “Like I Love You,” a modest success that musically located Timberlake as a Michael Jackson wannabe, set the ex-boy bander up in fashionable tradition as a faithful Romeo. Within the subsequent act, the second single “Cry Me a River” offered Timberlake as a heartbroken sufferer of a deceitful, dishonest girl — within the video, this girl is portrayed as a Britney doppelgänger.
The actress who performed this half, Lauren Hastings, was a Spears lookalike. Spears herself alluded to this in a 2011 interview with Rolling Stone, wherein she revealed that Timberlake referred to as her to inform her “by the way in which, you are in a video that is popping out.” After seeing the video, Britney added, “I ought to’ve freakin’ mentioned no to this s**t!”
In maybe the least delicate flip of those occasions, throughout a 2002 interview with Barbara Walters about his life, Walters requested Timberlake “what went unsuitable” in his relationship with Spears to immediate their (then-recent) breakup. Timberlake recalled telling Spears that he would all the time love her and promising that he would by no means say “particularly” why they broke up. When Walters pursued the query, alluding to the chance that Spears had been untrue, Timberlake mentioned “We’re not excellent, I do not choose anyone.” The interview then cuts to Timberlake performing an unreleased music (notable for the reason that interview was selling his recently-released solo debut album) referred to as “Do not Go (Horrible Lady).” Together with a press release of the girl’s relative worthlessness, the lyrics included the phrases: “Hey lady / Not less than you gave me one other music a few horrible girl / And that is you, nevertheless it’s true.” The transfer was extensively interpreted as a reference to Spears.
The chiastic impact — Britney’s downfall, Justin’s ascent — was replicated a couple of years later, this time, with Spears’s idol, Janet Jackson as Timberlake’s foil. Whereas Jackson was publicly vilified after their joint Tremendous Bowl efficiency, Timberlake’s preliminary response appeared to frame on gleeful: “We love supplying you with all one thing to speak about,” he advised “Entry Hollywood” the evening of the Tremendous Bowl efficiency. Three years later, in 2007, he acknowledged to MTV that he “may’ve dealt with it higher,” including that he thought of himself a member of a neighborhood of artists, and “if there was one thing I may have accomplished in her protection that was extra, that I may have realized, then I’d have.” He additionally mentioned: “Should you think about it 50-50, I in all probability acquired 10% of the blame, and that claims one thing about society…I feel that America’s harsher on ladies. And I feel that America’s unfairly harsh on ethnic individuals.”
“That claims one thing about society.” Right here is, in my studying, Timberlake’s unintentional reveal: He is aware of how society treats ladies, that society, to cite Jude Ellison S. Doyle, loves a feminine celeb “trainwreck.” He is aware of the compounding impact that the media has by means of the relentless detrimental portrayals, stereotyping, and shaming of ladies. And, but, regardless of this consciousness, the extent of any semblance of accountability solely goes so far as him recognizing that misogyny exists in society — intensified by means of the media — to systematically penalize and silence ladies.
Whereas not in the end liable for Spears’ destiny, Timberlake inspired and profited from a broader tradition that celebrates and derives pleasure and revenue from ladies’s struggling. And that is what the documentary makes astoundingly clear.
“There was an excessive amount of cash to be made off her struggling,” New York Occasions critic-at-large Wesley Morris observes within the documentary about how a complete business was constructed on this sort of exploitation. Or, as gossip blogger Perez Hilton quips, “Thanks, Britney Spears — being dangerous is sweet for my enterprise.”
Denying accountability is a quintessential technique to take care of dominance in society. “The oppressors keep their place and evade their accountability for their very own actions,” Audre Lorde wrote in an essay printed in “Sister Outsider.” Males hold their energy by means of this denial, which grants them limitless foreign money to proceed to do as they please.
This denial, arguably, is the bastion of American “freedom” — a deliberate bastardization of the idea to imply the correct of an individual to do something they need.
From Timberlake to former President Donald Trump and past, males’s capability to dismiss or impugn ladies for revenue is dependent upon their capability to learn from or weaponize misogyny after which deny it’s what they’re doing. The cultural conversations about misogyny have modified over the previous 20 years, largely because of the #MeToo motion. But, regardless of this paradigm shift, what stays unchanged is society’s failure to undertake the language and instruments of accountability.
If the societal change mandatory for dignity and justice is to happen, we should transfer from consciousness to accountability. To be clear, accountability shouldn’t be about being “canceled,” as these indignant that they’re lastly being held to account for his or her actions typically declare. Consciousness of how one’s actions have affected different individuals is step one of accountability.
As a result of accountability takes time and consists of penalties, it’s not as simply palatable because the easy, rhetorical “sorry if….” Understanding the implications of your actions and your energy in conditions can result in discussions about, to cite the author Sarah Schulman, your “obligation to restore” the actual harms created. Self-critical reflection means understanding your complicity in programs and discourses that perpetuate misogyny and dealing with others to alter them. And, if his 2018 e book “Hindsight” — wherein, with out mentioning Spears, he explains “Cry Me a River” by reiterating he was ” scorned” and “pissed off” when he wrote it — is any indication, it seems that Timberlake has accomplished little or no restore work by way of the hurt he is accomplished. With the documentary’s launch and requires his response and apology on social media, the chance has offered itself for Timberlake to totally take accountability for his actions.
With out accountability, there no finish in sight to the various types of misogyny that proceed to injure ladies. However, as evident within the documentary, Spears and ladies like her proceed to seek out methods to talk up in regards to the harms they expertise. To take heed to Spears communicate repeatedly about her need for freedom, to be, in her phrases, “liberated,” signifies her personal consciousness of her state of affairs: “After I inform them the way in which I really feel, it is like, they hear me, however they’re actually not listening. They’re listening to what they need to hear. They’re probably not listening to what I am telling them.”
It’s superb to assume that somebody who is ready to differentiate between “listening to” and “listening” is taken into account by some unfit to regulate her personal life. Much more, the query not just for Timberlake however for all of us who dwell on this society is: Will we now take heed to her? Will we pay attention — actually pay attention — to ladies?