In 2007, when a California judge decided to strip Britney Spears of custody of her two sons, TMZ founder Harvey Levin told the New York Times that Spears needed “a wake-up call”.
“It’s not a frivolous story anymore,” he said. “She is a woman who loves her children and has no children. He has now taken on tragic elements.
Levin and the late television producer Jim Paratore co-founded TMZ in 2005. Like just about every gossip publication at the time, the rambling media site made big money covering Spears and meticulously tracked her every move. The custody incident, New York Times Journalist Mireya Navarro wrote at the time, demonstrating that the scrutiny surrounding Spears’ erratic behavior had “become a force in its own right – a force that sells magazines and music, boosts web traffic and gives to obscure characters their minutes of glory”.
Based on TMZ’s new “documentary” Britney Spears: The Price of Freedom, not much has changed. “Britney is Old Faithful” when it comes to traffic, as Levin told the Time in 2007, and even after all the learning and growth we’ve supposedly done since then, speculation about his life and well-being is still rife.
The hour-long special, which debuted Monday on Fox and is now streaming on Hulu, documents “growing signs of trouble” in Spears’ life after her conservatorship ended. TMZ reports that multiple sources claim that Spears has “got physical” with her husband, Sam Asghari, on several occasions. The program claims the couple’s marriage is in trouble and that “Spears’ mental health issues have worsened.”
Some news sites have already begun collecting revelations about Spears’ erratic sleep schedule, her alleged habit of “driving aimlessly” around her Los Angeles neighborhood, and more. Never mind that TMZ has already released many of these “topical” articles as promotional fodder for the special.
These details, all described by a supposed fear for Spears’ well-being, stem from a time when the singer couldn’t pull a cigarette out of a car without TMZ taking a picture and publishing a story calling her ” asshole”. .
TMZ The price of freedom also notes that people “looking after” Spears before her conservatorship ended provided a list of recommendations, including that the singer continue her therapy. While Spears conceded with a laugh during her June 2021 testimony that she needed “a little therapy,” she also noted that during the conservatorship she was forced to work with therapists she didn’t. had never chosen.
TMZ’s special claims that Spears then “mocked” the therapy, citing as evidence a video the singer posted to social media in December 2021. The original video included a caption in which Spears wrote that she had been “forced” to undergo “10 hour” therapy. one day, 7 days a week. “(I)n this beautiful nation, it would be right if I dedicated my life to skits at the wonderful therapist,” she added.
This context is totally absent from the special. Instead, viewers are hearing from sources like media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, who tells us, “Making fun of therapy is obviously not a good sign, but it’s a brain disorder and it’s highly biological and it really requires medication, not so much therapy.
It’s unclear what Pinsky means by “it” here – the supposed brain disorder, perhaps. Spears has not shared any diagnosis publicly, which may explain why Britney Spears: The Price of Freedom relies so heavily on the nebulous term “mental illness”.
Later, Pinsky cites Spears’ social media behavior as evidence of “rapidly cycling mental illness.”
“They’re not well,” he said. (Again, TMZ provides no context as to who “they” are in this case.) Pinsky continues, “Their brains don’t work properly. If it arouses anger in you, be careful, because it’s not about you.
A ghastly energy is palpable throughout the doc, from the dramatic music to the disturbingly scraped social media videos of Spears staring into the camera, shouting the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and dancing at her house.
Last winter, when the New York Post wrote an article about “former #FreeBritney fans” who are now supposedly “deeply concerned” for the singer, the tabloid seemed to confirm that in some people’s eyes Spears’ freedom is still tentative. As a single source for Job put it, “Freedom can be very dangerous for someone who has no idea how to navigate life without being controlled.”
Moments like these show how Spears’ predicament reflects the broader struggles of the disability community. As journalist Sara Luterman – who is autistic and blind – said in a 2021 interview with Slate about guardianship, “When people think you’re crazy, nothing you say is believable. Anything can be undermined.”
“In the age of social media, even fans of a pop star can participate in their monitoring; The TMZ special includes a viral TikTok video of a few fans who apparently filmed themselves calling the cops.”
Perhaps that’s why Spears remains so closely watched, even after her release from the conservatorship arrangement. For example: TMZ’s doc also makes sure to mention an incident this January, in which police showed up at Spears’ home for a wellness check. The reason? Fans had begun calling authorities saying she may be in danger due to her recent confusing behavior at a restaurant and her decision to change her Instagram display name before deleting her account. In the age of social media, even fans of a pop star can participate in their monitoring; The TMZ special includes a viral TikTok video of a few fans who apparently filmed themselves calling the cops.
A statement from Spears after the police visit read in part: ‘I love and adore my fans, but this time things have gone a bit too far and my privacy has been invaded. The police never entered my house and when they got to my door they quickly realized there was no problem and left immediately.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hardest part of The price of freedom challenges Spears’ ability as a mother. Just as the media has called her a “white trash” and unfit parent in the past, The price of freedom seems determined to do the same, going so far as to use four-year-old videos that Spears’ ex-husband Kevin Federline posted (then deleted) last summer in a pathetic attempt to shame moms. Federline’s attorney, Mark Vincent Kaplan, also appears on the TMZ special as an expert source.
Psychiatrist Charles Sophy, former medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Child and Family Services, whose website also describes him as a “frequent contributor to Dr Phil— goes so far as to say that Spears “doesn’t know how to parent, and so she does it in these desperate ways.”
Levin also offers his own analysis: “The thing is, she doesn’t have a real point of reference for how to parent,” he says. “Her dad was mostly away when she was growing up, and her mom was, well, a classic stage mom. Britney wasn’t so much a child as a commodity.
It is ironic, then, that the one optimistic note in The price of freedom comes towards the end, as pundits (and, for some reason, Paul Anka) discuss the possibility that Spears could one day return to the stage. Are we supposed to believe that the same industry that exploited Spears is its best path to redemption?
Despite all the talk in TMZ’s production about how painful Spears’ isolation could be, neither the doc nor his “experts” seem too keen to consider how their own commentary might contribute to it. Spears has spent years unable to tell her story, and while she’s apparently gearing up to publish a memoir this fall, it’s hard to escape the feeling that others have already defined her narrative (and made big bucks). while doing so).
As disappointing as it is to see the tabloids continue to scrutinize Spears’ every move, there have been encouraging signs that the public, at least, is less eager to tar and feather her the same way we have. made in 2007. In addition to Asghari speaking out against the doc, Spears fans rallied for a massive social media block against TMZ. (Funnier, they also started poking fun at some of the overrated “revelations,” like Spears’. reported caffeine habit.) Spears may be stronger than yesterday, but she shouldn’t have to be either; what she really deserves is a bit of dignity.