On and off over the past 13 years, pop icon Britney Spears and her conservatorship have been a subject of public discourse. Earlier this month her situation was thrust back into the spotlight after The New York Times released a documentary entitled, “Framing Britney Spears,” that gives new insight into her conservatorship and court battle with her father.
According to an article by Vox, Spears entered her court-appointed conservatorship in 2008 following a very public mental breakdown. Her father, Jamie Spears, was assigned as her conservator, giving him control over her finances, business and personal matters.
Media law and ethics professor at Cal Poly Michael Park described a conservatorship as a court-appointed legal guardian of another person’s well-being. He said typically conservatorships are used for the elderly, and that Spears’ age is what makes her conservatorship significant.
Currently, Vox reports that Spears is fighting for her father to be removed from his position, and for the corporate fiduciary Bessemer Trust to be appointed as her sole conservator. On Feb. 11, a judge sided with Spears’ legal team in giving Bessemer Trust equal power to her father in managing her estate, however both of them remain as her conservators.
Political science junior Markus Moreno, who has been a fan of Spears since he was in middle school, said the way Spears has handled herself over the past decade shows that she is competent and should be given what she is asking for.
“She’s not even asking for the conservatorship to be completely dissolved, she’s just asking for the hands to change,” Moreno said.
In response to the conservatorship, fans of Spears created the #freebritney hashtag to express concern for her and advocate for her personal freedoms.
Wine and viticulture junior Natalie Burnham became a fan of Spears when she was in high school and said she was drawn to her as a female role-model.
“She was this kind of enigma,” Burnham said. “There’s something about her that was always interesting. Her music was fun and good, but also important.”
Burnham said that regardless of the truth about the conservatorship, it’s a frustrating situation either way.
“Either she’s fully cognizant and is aware that she’s being completely taken advantage of by the media and her father, or she’s mentally not there, and that’s also sad in itself,” Burnham said.
Burnham said she supports Spears’ fight to remove her father and appoint a corporate fiduciary as her sole-conservator.
“There’s no reason that a father should be that involved in his adult child’s life,” Burnham said.
Philosophy professor Jacob Sparks said that any time someone becomes a “conservatee” it’s an ethically tenuous situation, and that Spears’ case likely gained extra attention because it deals with other social issues that people are interested in.
“Things like the role of women in society, or how women’s voices can sometimes be silenced or not heard,” Sparks said. “It also touches on on people with cognitive differences and how the law treats them.”
Sparks said it’s important to consider what this case says about celebrity culture, and how people tend to make judgements about people who they don’t know.
“One thing that’s sort of unique to modern times is that you can know so much about people who know absolutely nothing about you,” Sparks said. “It’s worth treading carefully when you make judgments about people and you don’t really have any access to them.”
In regards to the #FreeBritney movement, Sparks said that in today’s culture some people view activism as a way to be cool, or a trend, and he wishes that people would take on issues like Spears’ with a bit more of a heavy heart.
“It’s good in a way because it causes more people to be thinking about issues of justice,” Sparks said. “On the other hand, it kind of trivializes or sometimes leads people astray.”
Animal science sophomore Grace Downey said prior to watching the documentary, she assumed due to her conservatorship that Spears was relatively inactive in terms of her career.
“I realized while watching the film that she was still doing appearances and things like that. That was super surprising to me,” Downey said.
Insider reports that since 2019, Spears has released albums regularly, had a four-year residency in Las Vegas and performed her “Piece of Me” tour.
Downey said she felt it seemed like Spears’ father was using her conservatorship as a business, instead of acting as a father.
“I think [Spears] was frustrated with the fact that her dad was doing it because he seemed to be treating it like a business rather than caring for his child,” Downey said.
A New York Times report from 2016 said that Spears’ father makes around $130,000 per year as her conservator.
Software engineering sophomore Ryan Frank said he didn’t think the conservatorship should have been the response to Spears’ mental health issues.
“Even if somebody does have a breakdown, the response shouldn’t be to shut down any ability that they have to have autonomy over their life,” Frank said.
Frank and Downey both said that they didn’t think Spears would be in this situation if she was not a woman.
“We’ve seen rockstars go through drug addiction and personal issues but you’ve never seen something at this scale happen with a man,” Frank said.
Frank said that the amount of time that has passed since the start of Spears’ conservatorship has given her time to potentially work on the issues that caused the conservatorship in the first place.
“People tend to change a lot over the course of 13 years,” Frank said. “If this is something that [Jamie Spears] is not budging on then legal action needs to be taken because this is something that has her life in a vice grip.”