Britney Spears and the Limits of Money

I have been ignoring #FreeBritney because I’m not a Britney Spears fan and there isn’t anything about her life I relate to. However, I forced myself to listen to her testimony. It is clear from her speaking style that she is in an intense state of trigger and trauma and is being ritually abused and gaslighted. I understand these signs in the voice that has so much to say that words can’t keep up, repeating phrases and thoughts because it doesn’t seem anyone is listening, speaking rapidly from the anxiety that all caring attention is illusory or time-limited: the sense that the time permitted to speak could end in the next second; and the tremor and shakiness of her articulation because words can’t hold or express the endless marathon of misery she continues to endure.

To be sure, there are things I don’t relate to, references to maids and ‘getting nails done.’ However, it is possible that her mentions of these speak to how abuse disorders personality to confuse non-essential things with essential ones such as the right to be heard, to work reasonable hours, to have privacy and to not be treated like an animal for medical experimentation.

It needs to be said that it’s highly unlikely that this would happen to a White cis-masculine celebrity. Spears is the more predictable victim of such manipulations because she’s an exemplar of cis-femininity in all of its emotional plain spoken nervousness; and because she speaks like a femmes teenager in the sense of neither taking nor imposing any authority with her words or tones.

Were it exposed that a cis-man musician/performer/entertainer was forced to work 70 hours per week, threatened, force-drugged and actively broken down, I believe the musician community would have expressed much more outrage. The expose would have carried with it the indignation of workers’ rights and exploitation rather than been dismissed (or engaged) as privileged ‘fluff.’

Also relevant is that wealth is only one axis in the formula towards avoiding precarity. It is crucial not to forget that for the not White, not cis-masculine, not able-bodied, not neurotypical (etc.), wealth and ownership might be far less potent for reducing exposure to risk. Note that these conditions cannot be classified as rare (or “minority”) given the prevalence of death threats and realized hate in circulation.

Moreover what Spears’s case shows is that the power of money has limits for many subjects. For the one who is denied autonomy with their own money weaponized against them is, during that period, not only not a capitalist and not powerful but without basic rights, even if they are housed and fed. As cases like this become exposed, they undermine a central myth of capitalism: that money guarantees freedom. Clearly it doesn’t if the social world around the wealthy person turns against and dehumanizes them.

This poses the question: If money is at least inefficient if not ‘dysfunctional’ on its own ideological terms, if ownership – the most sanctified and guaranteed of all Western rights – is this easily violable, then what kinds of sacred social promises would need to emerge in order to stabilize freedom in its stead?

(By Dora Bleu)

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