The Britney Show

Sarah Seltzer

Britney Spears' pop-tart image was created as a fantasy for the average man, but since her brush with the ugly side of fame, she's been subjected to the average female nightmare.

Britney Spears’ pop-tart
image was created as a fantasy for the average man, but since her brush
with the ugly side of fame, she’s been subjected to the average female
nightmare. The public, and press, have leveled at Spears a litany of
critiques that are familiar to everyday women: she’s lost her sex
appeal, she’s a bad mother, she’s "crazy," she’s fat, she’s
over the hill before the age of 30, she’s angry and out of control.
When Spears smashed her teen-queen façade by shaving her head, acting
out, and being less than impeccably groomed, the public reacted with
loathing and voyeurism; now, Spears’ "comeback" consists of losing her legal
independence
and
at 27 (her birthday was Tuesday), being micro-managed back into the
same role she had as a comely teenager–the role that may have caused
all the problems to begin with.  

On Sunday night two weeks ago, Mtv aired
a Britney-approved documentary in which she opened up about her life for
the first time in years. But the two hours of TV were more tragic than triumphant.
In between moments of happy rehearsals and studio antics, the film focused
in as Britney tearfully described
her current life as "sad,"

plagued by angsty boredom despite the rehearsals that are supposed to
give her joy. The documentary included a moment in which Spears said
that every day to her now feels like "Groundhog
Day
," as well
as some shocking footage of her car being mobbed by paparazzi and her
handlers shielding her with a sheet as she shopped. Spears said she
longed to take walks without being hounded, to "feel the crispy air…
be a part of the people." One of her entourage expounded: "The
only time she’s free is when she’s in a closed four by four space."  

In light of all that, it’s
been disturbing this week to watch Spears go
through the motions

of performances meant to highlight her toned physique and ability to
do some rudimentary dance moves. One wonder whether Spears is ready
for this "comeback," or whether the army of male managers, including
her dad, have foisted it on her because they don’t know what else to
do–and she’s their cash cow. A woman who
has been in the public eye since before
she could make decisions for herself

can’t break away from her abusive lifelong relationship with her audience,
as their sex-object, squeal inducer and punching bag.  

Writing about Britney in the
midst of this blatantly-engineered publicity blitz is problematic: by
paying attention to her, we are feeding the machine that keeps her in
a cycle of public humiliation and redemption. We are reinforcing the
presentation of a person–a woman–as merchandise.   

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But Britney’s story is hard
to ignore because it brings up so many disturbing reminders of society’s
treatment of women, particularly our bodies. In the Spears explained
that she shaved
her head
as "a
form of rebellion" and a way of  "feeling free… shedding
stuff that had happened." The reason that the world reacted so violently
to the shaved scalp was she was rejecting her beauty and turning herself
into something other than an object of desire. Similarly, her mid-routine kiss with Madonna remains a hot topic years
later because Madonna, who presents herself as an empowered, highly
sexualized, aggressive women, was symbolically seducing and converting
Britney from virginal teen queen into something far more threatening. 

With all these classically
sexist overtones to the Britney drama, it’s no wonder that women are
reacting so personally. On Jezebel, several (excellent) threads about Britney have drawn out commenters’ own experience
with eating disorders and mental illness. Britney is an object of fear,
obsession, pity disgust and love for women because her journey–at
least when it comes to scrutiny of her appearance and relationships–is
ours writ large. She has suffered through breakups, family problems,
pregnancies, body image issues, (rumored) postpartum depression and
defiant self-destruction in front of millions. Many women suffer through
at least some of these things. Sure, they do it with a smaller audience,
but they often feel the same humiliation when they get caught in sweatpants
or with unshaved legs, behave unthinkingly, make bad romantic choices,
grow out of their adolescent bodies, get dismissed as crazy, are frowned
upon as irresponsible parents or, after giving birth, are desexualized and
resented. 

The obsession with her thinness
is  perhaps the most blatant of these problems. As Rebecca Traister wrote last year after Spears’ infamous
VMA performance: 

    Wonder why your daughters
    have eating disorders and hate their bodies? Maybe because they’re reading
    reports that label the thin young woman dancing around in a bra and
    panties physically unappealing and obese. 

Indeed, after that performance,
the AP
wrote
, with its
tongue not far enough in its cheek, that Britney’s physique was the
"most unforgivable" aspect of her performance. And now that she
can bare her midriff without shame, she is considered healed. Her father,
cried during the documentary because his daughter was "beautiful"
again. Talk about unhealthy messaging. 

During that flabby midriff
era, Britney may have been the controlling her life and image the only way she
knew how: by flouting public requirements. The reality is we don’t
know what Spears really thinks or feels beyond the clues she offered
on TV. What we do know is that her handlers, parents, managers, paparazzi
and the public may have irreparably damaged her life for profit and
gratification, leaving her trapped between being a wind-up-toy and a
train wreck. Perhaps that’s why so many are rooting for this woman’s
comeback, even as it feeds a vicious cycle for her and all of us. 

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

News Politics

Debbie Wasserman Schultz Resigns as Chair of DNC, Will Not Gavel in Convention

Ally Boguhn

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) resigned her position as chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), effective after the convention, amid controversy over leaked internal party emails and months of criticism over her handling of the Democratic primary races.

Wasserman Schultz told the Sun Sentinel on Monday that she would not gavel in this week’s convention, according to Politico.

“I know that electing Hillary Clinton as our next president is critical for America’s future,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Sunday statement announcing her decision. “Going forward, the best way for me to accomplish those goals is to step down as Party Chair at the end of this convention.”

“We have planned a great and unified Convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz continued.

Just prior to news that Wasserman Schultz would step down, it was announced that Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) would chair the DNC convention.

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the DNC, will step in as interim replacement for Wasserman Schultz as committee chair.

Wasserman Schultz’s resignation comes after WikiLeaks released more than 19,000 internal emails from the DNC, breathing new life into arguments that the Democratic Party—and Wasserman Schultz in particular—had “rigged” the primary in favor of nominating Hillary Clinton. As Vox‘s Timothy B. Lee pointed out, there seems to be “no bombshells” in the released emails, though one email does show that Brad Marshall, chief financial officer of the DNC, emailed asking whether an unnamed person could be questioned about “his” religious beliefs. Many believe the email was referencing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT).

Another email from Wasserman Schultz revealed the DNC chair had referred to Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, as a “damn liar.”

As previously reported by Rewire before the emails’ release, “Wasserman Schultz has been at the center of a string of heated criticisms directed at her handling of the DNC as well as allegations that she initially limited the number of the party’s primary debates, steadfastly refusing to add more until she came under pressure.” She also sparked controversy in January after suggesting that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because there is “a complacency among the generation” who were born after Roe v. Wade was decided.

“Debbie Wasserman Schultz has made the right decision for the future of the Democratic Party,” said Sanders in a Sunday statement. “While she deserves thanks for her years of service, the party now needs new leadership that will open the doors of the party and welcome in working people and young people. The party leadership must also always remain impartial in the presidential nominating process, something which did not occur in the 2016 race.”

Sanders had previously demanded Wasserman Schultz’s resignation in light of the leaked emails during an appearance earlier that day on ABC’s This Week.

Clinton nevertheless stood by Wasserman Schultz in a Sunday statement responding to news of the resignation. “I am grateful to Debbie for getting the Democratic Party to this year’s historic convention in Philadelphia, and I know that this week’s events will be a success thanks to her hard work and leadership,” said Clinton. “There’s simply no one better at taking the fight to the Republicans than Debbie—which is why I am glad that she has agreed to serve as honorary chair of my campaign’s 50-state program to gain ground and elect Democrats in every part of the country, and will continue to serve as a surrogate for my campaign nationally, in Florida, and in other key states.”

Clinton added that she still looks “forward to campaigning with Debbie in Florida and helping her in her re-election bid.” Wasserman Schultz faces a primary challenger, Tim Canova, for her congressional seat in Florida’s 23rd district for the first time this year.