Queen of the gays, princess of pop, Instagram legend, and now… communist icon?
In an Instagram post from 23rd March, Britney Spears shared a message to her 23.7 million followers calling for “community collaboration”, asking people to “feed each other, re-distribute wealth, strike”. In the caption for the post, a quote from Mimi Zhu, she wrote “communion goes beyond walls”, accompanied by three red rose emojis.
Coming from a global superstar, this post caused quite a stir. Many mainstream news outlets have written about the already infamous post and the subsequent birth of the ‘Comrade Britney’ meme. And many commenters – on the original post and the articles – are asking why, if she’s so keen, would Britney not redistribute at least some of her reported $59 million (roughly £48m). Well, unfortunately for us and anti-capitalists everywhere, she has no access to her wealth. In fact, Britney Spears has no control over her life and empire.
To understand her current financial situation, or lack thereof, we need to go back to her series of all too public “breakdowns” of 2007-08. We all remember the ruthless paparazzi, the crazy tabloid rumours, and the famous head-shaving umbrella-hitting incident. Through the scandals and the torment, she lost all access to her kids Jayden and Sean Preston, then one- and two-years old. In order to regain custody – at any cost, as most parents would – she signed herself into a conservatorship, granting her father Jamie Spears and one lawyer (referred to as her ‘conservators’) full control over the personal life and the public image of Britney Spears. Despite many court appearances over the 13 years and counting, Britney – the ‘conservatee’ – maintains bound by these insanely strict legal restrictions.
It is difficult to know all the restrictions Britney is under due to the secrecy of the legal documents, but here are a few we are sure of: she is not allowed to drive, drink or smoke; her personal spending is regularly discussed and criticised in court; her conservators can stop anyone from seeing her at any time; and – crucially, as we discuss later in the article – she cannot refuse medication. Britney’s conservatorship is maintained in two halves: her finances (spending and control of assets) and her person (daily life and decisions).
The conservatorship is supposedly necessary for the mental health and protection of the star. And yet, until a few months ago, Britney has continued to work relentlessly. Since the conservatorship came into effect in 2008, she has: released 4 studio albums; toured the world 3 times; performed to a total of 900,000 people over hundreds of shows in Las Vegas; released 21 fragrances and maintained the best-selling celebrity perfume line of all time… the list goes on. Andrew Wallet, one of her ex-conservators, once described Britney’s conservatorship as a “hybrid business deal”.
All of this does make you wonder whether Britney’s mental health and protection are the only things benefitting.
Britney fans have frequently protested their anger at the extent of her conservator’s right to control her life and money. Early last year, the #FreeBritney movement mobilised online and outside LA courthouses after news broke that Britney was being held against her will at a psych facility since at least two months prior. She had tried to refuse medication, which, we remember, she is not legally allowed to do. Fans deduced her absence from public life through her much less frequent and uncharacteristic social media activity – the use of “:)” instead of “😊” was a telltale sign – all documented through ‘Britney’s Gram’, a weekly podcast discussing the star’s Instagram activity.
Though emoji-based research and apparently trivial podcasts might be perceived to be less than solid evidence, we aren’t left with many other options. My research into her conservatorship revealed a heavy media bias. Any magazines I could find reporting on it mainly relied on testimonies from either representatives of her father or members of her legal team: ie, people who financially benefit from the conservatorship. Indeed, the magazines themselves profited (and continue to profit) from sensationalising the very stories that were used in court to justify removing Britney’s autonomy. The current system works for the team behind the Britney Spears empire and the media alike, so why would they want it to change?
Let me make this very clear: a conservatorship is designed for people with mental disabilities such as dementia; people deemed incapable of making decisions. It is not designed to be something that ends because the conservatee is not supposed to recover. However, legal loopholes surrounding conservatorships are often abused – at the expense of people with a lot less fame and money than Britney Spears. One such victim, Roger George, was recently interviewed on the aforementioned podcast Britney’s Gram. Shady business-owner Jodi Montgomery is currently trying to sell Roger’s family home through an attempted conservatorship signed off by a distant relative, alleging that Roger has a (by all accounts non-existent) ‘mental disability’. At the time of recording, the family couldn’t afford a lawyer to get a restraining order against Jodi, who was trying to evict them.
Jamie Spears stepped down as Britney’s conservator last year, after it was alleged that he abused her son and his own grandson Sean Preston. He was asked by the court to recommend a replacement. The replacement he chose was Jodi Montgomery.
As I’m sure you’ve sussed out by now, Britney’s financial and legal situation is deliberately complex and convoluted, and she is surrounded by people – even her own father – who will do anything to make money off her.
A way out?
After suffering under these bizarre rules for 13 years, Britney has recently been able to start legal proceedings which might at least put into question whether she can control some parts of her own life. The conservatorship of her person was recently given an end-date for the first time: 30th April 2020. However, this date may still be perpetually extended, depending on the court’s decision. The outcome will be well-anticipated by Britney fans around the world as white men in ill-fitting suits decide whether a 38-year-old global pop star has to continue to ask permission before seeing her boyfriend.
Her financial assets remain as out of reach as ever. This will be so for the foreseeable future, no matter what the court decides on the 30th.
Hopefully this deep dive into Britney’s complicated legal and financial history has shown why the woman behind the Britney Spears empire might be especially keen to advocate for the redistribution of wealth: though still immensely privileged in her Calabasas mansion, she, more than most celebrities, knows what it’s like to be taken advantage of. She understands economic exploitation because, albeit in a comfortable position, she is living it.
Those seeing the Mimi Zhu quote we began with as an empty gesture can look back only three days before, to 20th March. After being nominated by her sister Jamie Lynn, Britney participated in the #DoYourPartChallenge and provided financial assistance to fans that DMed her on Instagram. This is not to mention her extensive charitable endeavours, both before and after 2008.
Sadly, we can’t confirm whether Britney Spears is a communist, even when we see the 3 red rose emojis she wrote in the caption (the rose, of course, being a well-known socialist symbol). We cannot know for sure what she would do with $59 million if it was, practically and legally, her money. But we can perhaps trust in her sentiment a little more than in that of patronising, key-jumping celebrity ‘singers’ Gal Gadot, Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrel (among others), for example. And in this era of impending doom, maybe we can believe her reassuring us that “communion moves beyond walls”. Maybe we can hope to come out of this crisis stronger than yesterday, and maybe that hope will be enough to get us through.
You can hear the full interview with Roger George, mentioned in the article, here (starting at 15.05). Be aware that the family are obviously distressed and it is not an easy listen. The episode was released in January, when Roger was crowdfunding for legal fees. The GoFundMe is no longer active and did not reach its target. Despite extensive searching, I have been unable to find out any information about their situation after the date of interview.
You can find out more about conservatorship abuse in the U.S. at https://stopguardianabuse.org/ .
Owen Atkinson, Features Editor