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Framing Britney Spears Full Documentary

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Aspects of the Material World
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« on: February 21, 2021, 05:37:44 pm »

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Aspects of the Material World
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« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2021, 05:38:34 pm »


Framing Britney and the Empathy of a Simple Timeline
By Kathryn VanArendonk
As much as anything else, Britney’s story is about never being the right age to take charge of your own life. Photo: James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

The documentary Framing Britney Spears, the newest installment of the New York Times Presents series for FX and Hulu, is an hour-long deep dive into the history of the pop icon’s rise to fame and fortune and her almost immediate media implosion. Its particular focus is on the “Free Britney” movement, an increasingly urgent call among Spears fans, and now her peers, for the court to release Britney from the legal conservatorship that gives her father, Jamie Spears, immense control over her career, her estate, her relationships, and her health. It is a thorough, considerate, and enraging hour, giving careful attention to Spears’s unusual legal status and also to the nightmarish storm of media obsession that drove so much of her public image.

Over the past several years there’ve been a few of these major reconsiderations of women who were once widely portrayed as irredeemable disasters — messes, trash, villains, laughingstocks — and who look quite different with even a few years of distance. Britney Spears joins a list that includes Monica Lewinsky, Anita Hill, Marcia Clark, Lorena Bobbitt, and Tonya Harding, an unbelievably tragic list of women whose entire lives were destroyed by media depictions that failed, first and foremost, to treat them as human beings.

There’s a simple decision in Framing Britney Spears, though, that seems like a neutral, painfully obvious storytelling choice. By and large, the hour runs through Spears’s life with a detailed, chronological timeline. There’s a little bit of foreshadowing here and there; it starts with the existence of the “Free Britney” movement and then jumps back to explain how we got to this place. But mostly, Framing Britney Spears makes the call to just walk through Britney’s life, step by step.
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For big buzzy documentaries in the past year, a clear, straightforward, and mostly chronological rehashing of the subject’s life goes weirdly against the grain. Tiger King, The Vow, The Last Dance, and the earlier docuseries Surviving R. Kelly each bounced through events with a willy-nilly frenzy. There’s appeal in **** with and distorting the timeline: Filmmakers can create surprise reveals, hold back interesting information in order to punch up cliffhangers, and generally soup up the overall drama of a story by leaping around through history. For the gain of an extra-exciting narrative, though, the cost is often coherence, legibility, and a basic relationship between cause and effect.

I figured I knew all that, watching Tiger King and The Vow. I knew that those series’ willingness to hop around in time was probably confusing some elements of the story, and knew that if it was illuminating some aspects of the culture they were trying to describe, the timeline confusion was likely also obscuring other truths about the lived experiences of the participants. But it wasn’t until Framing Britney Spears, directed and produced by the Times’ Samantha Stark, that I appreciated exactly how much a straightforward, chronological timeline can be not just an aid for audience coherence, but a tool of radical empathy for the people at the center of the story.

Without the linear outline of Britney’s time in the spotlight that Framing Britney Spears builds itself around, what now stands out to me as a central, fundamental event in Spears’s life might’ve remained a footnote. At the height of her career in the early 2000s, she got married to Kevin Federline, quickly got pregnant in her early 20s, had two children who were born only 12 months apart, and then divorced her husband very shortly after her second child was born. Everything in Spears’s “downfall” — the shaved head, the umbrella incident with a paparazzi’s car, the question of her fitness as a mother, the apparently sudden frustration with all her media attention, the newly troubling partying, the in-treatment care, everything — came right after she had two small children in the middle of a fracturing marriage.

If you cast those events as separate from Britney’s life experiences, if you cut them away from the plain chronology of her life, they look like something intrinsic and troubling about who Britney is as a person. She seems unstable, with no particular cause for being so except that she’s unhinged and uncontrollable. The subsequent conservatorship, where her father takes control of her body as well as her finances, looks like comfortable paternalism because she needs some paternalism. She’s out of control! Of course she needs someone to take a firm hand in her life.

But seen in the context of the events that had immediately preceded Britney’s public meltdowns, the “problem” of Britney Spears that needs to be solved looks instead like a deep, incredibly painful and unaddressed trauma, played out in public without her consent. I can’t say whether Spears was experiencing postpartum depression, of course, and the documentary doesn’t pursue that path very far. It does mention that Spears’s mother Lynne raised the possibility at the time, though, and it presents a clip of Spears in an interview while she’s pregnant with her second child, growing extremely emotional as she describes the pain of her private life being under such intense public scrutiny at that point in her life. “I feel like they’re taking cheap shots,” she tells interviewer Matt Lauer. (Ugh.) “What do you think it’ll take to get the paparazzi to leave you alone?” Lauer asks. “I don’t know,” she says, and starts to cry.

The talking-head narrators of Framing Britney Spears (who include, among others, New York Times senior editor Liz Day and critic-at-large Wesley Morris) do not put the question bluntly to the audience, but the timeline nevertheless offers an implicit criticism of the widespread public perception of Spears. How could we have mocked this one aspect of her life, while ignoring everything that came before? How could we question her fitness as a parent, while utterly failing to empathize with her circumstances as a parent? How could we be such enthralled consumers of her personal life, while cheerfully ignoring the blatant, incredible stresses of her personal life?

The as-it-happened treatment of Spears’s life presents a fuller, more empathetic picture of her, and it also emphasizes something distinct and distinctly awful about the arc of her public image. She begins her music career as a teenager who, like most teens, wants to be seen as an adult. But in Spears’s case, the issue of her age becomes a core tension in her career. At the height of “Oops, I Did It Again,” she is simultaneously too young and too old, which is the spark of her appeal and the engine of most Spears controversy. She’s seen as having too much agency: She’s too powerful for men to resist, and she lures young kids into behaving as she does. And yet by the time Spears is actually an adult, a parent with her own children, she’s seen as an uncontrollable child. Her father is justified in stepping in to infantilize her, to take away her agency at exactly the moment when she’s old enough to wield it responsibly.

As much as anything else, Britney’s story is about never being the right age to take charge of your own life. It’s an illogical and unwinnable trap, and while I think that element would be visible in any thoughtful analysis of Britney’s media portrayal, it’s just devastatingly palpable when presented against the unembellished timeline of her life. She gets older, but the media depiction of her somehow goes backward: She’s a teen too grown-up; an adult too childlike.

Framing Britney Spears made me long for a more considerate treatment of chronological time in most documentary frameworks, even those like The Vow or Tiger King that have to stretch their stories across many episodes and rely on timeline messiness to help amp up the tension. It’s not going to be the case for every documentary, but for so many of the high-drama public deep dives into salacious material, some meaningful consideration of the timeline might be surprisingly revelatory. People experience their lives as one event after another. Honest portraits of people should consider doing the same.

https://www.vulture.com/2021/02/review-framing-britney-spears-documentary.html
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2021, 05:38:56 pm »

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« Reply #3 on: February 21, 2021, 05:41:07 pm »

Failing Britney Spears It shouldn’t have taken ten years to realize the discourse about her had been a hurtful, unhealthy constant.
By Craig Jenkins
Music’s unluckiest star. Photo: MSTAR/YouTube




I think a lot about “Lucky.” Not just because the single from Britney Spears’s Oops!… I Did It Again is impossibly catchy; or because the singer’s vocal tics are absurdly fun to imitate; or because the production from Swedish pop maestros Max Martin and Rami Yacoub establishes a weird sort of robot simulacrum of the plucked strings from Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” in a textbook millennium-era computerization of culture. “Lucky” is striking as a ballad sung in the third person about a pop star feeling boxed in by the demands of fame, who, by outward appearances, seems to have the world at her fingertips but quietly aches for the one thing she can’t have: time to herself. Sure, Spears didn’t write the song — the majority of the songs from her first two albums were written by the Swedes, who helped to usher in the ’90s teen-pop revolution — but it feels a little on the nose for what would happen to her throughout the decade between her debut 1998 single, “…Baby One More Time,” and the breakdown and conservatorship that has left her father, Jamie Spears, in charge of her career and finances since 2008. Perceptions and misconceptions complicated Britney’s journey. Her art was dismissed as sentimental pap. Her pain was mined for content on television and in magazines. The belief that she could handle this, and that life was sweet on the other side of the cameras, was a horrible miscalculation that’s come into focus in the wake of The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears, a documentary examining how a harsh, mercurial entertainment industry mocked and inflamed the singer’s struggles. We thought we knew her; we were only projecting.
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The passion of Britney Spears is the story of a public too accustomed to sharp contrasts not knowing what to do with her noncommittal grays.

There was a disconnect almost from day one, when Spears exploded onto the scene with the 1998 video for “…Baby One More Time” dressed as a schoolgirl with a hint of attitude, singing of a teenage crush in the apocalyptic urgency with which such things make themselves known. This instantly scrambled people’s circuits as the song caught fire on charts, radio playlists, and video countdowns. Spears was wholesome and demure with a touch of coy distance, all hallmarks of a southern Christian upbringing. Her quest to please a growing constituency was a savvy balancing act; she understood what was expected of a teen star at the time: family-friendly entertainment that didn’t rock anyone’s boat. (Some of this knowledge was gleaned from a stint on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club in the mid-’90s, where she met friends and sometime rivals Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera and honed her showmanship to a fine point before the show was canceled in 1996.)

Spears handled this feat impressively well in those years. She became a vessel for our intense emotions, but in the process, she would also become a lodestone for criticism of an entire generation’s tastes and habits. Some thought “…Baby” was too sexual. Others dismissed it as shlock. The two-star Rolling Stone review of Baby One More Time called the singer a “jailbait dynamo” and commended the producers and writers for the hits but called the rest “pure spam.” Her 1999 RS cover, a suggestive shot by David LaChapelle, American photographer and videographer with a penchant for making the surreal seem serene, depicted the singer lying in bed in mildly revealing loungewear, hugging a Teletubby made to appear to be ogling her breasts. From the first paragraph, the cover story fixated with laser focus on her body, making note of her “honeyed thigh” and “ample chest.” Spears’s profilers accentuated a sexuality that had been carefully restrained, and she paid for it in backlash and questions about her appropriateness as a role model. The intense scrutiny of her image and the rush to categorize this almost deliberately uncategorizable persona yielded years of ridiculous conversations. In early interviews, she is often calmly explaining to a journalist that their instincts about her are wrong, or else avoiding attempts to get her to say something damaging.

Britney seemed baffled by these lines of reasoning, insisting that she’d only ever been having fun playing dress-up, that she never felt that she was giving off the sensual airs parents had accused her of exposing their children to. “I know I’m not ugly,” Spears told Entertainment Weekly in 2001, “but I don’t see myself as a sex symbol or this goddess-attractive-beautiful person at all. When I’m onstage, that’s my time to do my thing and go there and be that.” The complaints about her wardrobe and the lewd snark in her media coverage continued. The conversation stayed on sex. Was her image too risqué for her audience? Were her fans being led astray? Was she using sex to mask a lack of talent? Was she “all natural”? Was she a virgin? Was she regretting telling people she was a virgin? As Spears grew older and made calculated, necessary adjustments to her public-facing persona, seemingly in service to losing the demands of being the perpetually upbeat spokesperson for a demographic that no longer included her and speaking more directly to more adult interests, she drew more fire, more ridicule, and more creepy, unwarranted sexism, all of it rooted in a profound misreading of the changing youth culture Spears and her music represented.

In songs like “Lucky,” “Overprotected,” “What U See (Is What U Get),” “Stronger,” and “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” Britney Spears sang about the disorienting distance between who we are and who others think we are, and the experiences that drive us to be better versions of ourselves. As much as Spears’s music focused on dewy love and painful breakups, her grappling with identity and expectations resonated loudly. When the internet became more prevalent in the home lives of younger and younger audiences, it also became possible to create a brighter, shinier persona for yourself, to explore interests not dictated by where and when you grew up and what you were allowed to experience through television and the radio. Spears’s refusal to be easily categorized was both the function of a well-oiled star-making machine and a very modern act of sampling styles and ideas to find what suited her best. But the aughts were draconian times, still beholden to outmoded and restrictive ideas about sex, sexuality, gender, and language, worse than any noisy left- or right-wing “free speech” advocate, “cancel culture” opponent, or cranky, reactionary “PC police” critic could say of the new ’20s. When you didn’t fit a certain mold, peer pressure set about sanding down your rough edges. These were times where a simple wardrobe malfunction could damage a career permanently, and untoward public remarks drew not just letter-writing campaigns but even fines and censures. The passion of Britney Spears is the story of a public too accustomed to sharp contrasts not knowing what to do with her noncommittal grays, of a singer being criticized for bristling at the prefab notions of how she ought to carry herself, and of the concerted weaponization of dying cultural norms.
We reduced Britney, Whitney, Mariah, and so many others to punchlines in moments where they seemed to be genuinely unwell, and it should sting when we look back over the era. We failed them.

When Britney made mistakes, she met a delighted audience in the people who felt her genteel Louisiana charm was a carefully constructed front. When she pushed the envelope, the invisible hand of America in its “family values” years pushed back. As she grew into the sex-positive artist people seemed to want to make her out to be much too early on as a teen, she was accused of selling sex in lieu of substance. This animus was expressed in spectacularly unusual ways: The new wave of young women finding success as pop singer-songwriters in the middle aughts — like Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch, and Vanessa Carlton — was lumped together by publications like Spin as “anti-Britneys,” as though “Britney” were shorthand for something vapid and stilted that needed to be deposed. In 2002, CBS News commended this new class for “challenging the notion that you have to bare your navel and cavort in tight clothes to be sexy and successful in pop music,” at once attributing Britney’s success not to her personality or the electronic teen symphonies her best early songs presented but to “the three B’s: blondness, beauty, and bustiers,” framing singers who frankly had **** all to do with each other beyond their more reserved fashion senses and the prevalence of guitars and pianos in their music as a kind of resistance movement. It was an idea rooted in the old-fashioned belief that more organic-sounding music is more authentic and in the lofty notion that anything was ever wrong with how Britney dressed (her garish 2001 American Music Awards denim dress notwithstanding). This was unfair pressure on Carlton and Branch, too; both hit parades had fizzled out by 2004. Britney addressed the Avril phenomenon by simply having Let Go co-producers the Matrix work on a track for 2003’s In the Zone because, as her further dalliances with hip-hop/R&B and dance music would later bear out on the charts, there was never any single, static “Britney Spears sound” in the first place.

All the while Spears dealt with a chauvinistic press, a fickle public, snarky comics, prying TV personalities, opinionated peers, and puritanical news pundits (as well as exes like Justin Timberlake, who finally gave a statement last week expressing regret for manipulating public perceptions of women in music he did wrong by, to his benefit and their denigration — enabling him to maintain the kind of slippery solo career they’d attempted and been denied, such was the discrepancy in criticism for men and women then as now), paparazzi ramped up tensions to dangerous levels stalking the singer for scoops. Daniel Ramos, the celebrity videographer in Framing Britney Spears who is perhaps best known for the 2013 incident where Kanye West tackled him outside Los Angeles International Airport, feeling that he was looking out for Spears by asking how she felt between invasive camera flashes, speaks to the toxicity between tabloids and their famous targets at the time. Before social media restructured discourse, celebrities kept up a carefully constructed façade, and gossip mags poked holes in these narratives with tea and unflattering candids. This fed into a cycle of dehumanization. They were joke fodder for us. We reduced Britney, Whitney, Mariah, and so many others to punchlines in moments where they seemed to be genuinely unwell, and it should sting when we look back over the era. We failed them. Insatiable thirst for Britney drama only resulted in even more unnecessary scandals, like the chase that yielded a shot of her driving with her son in her lap or the night she lost her cool and went after paparazzi with an umbrella.

If the tale of the sheltered star told in “Lucky” was fiction, it was a prophetic one. Fame became a trap. Demands were deeply conflicting. When Britney wore tight clothing, it was too revealing, not wholesome enough. When she became a mother, her parenting skills were called into question. When she took pop music and culture by storm, she was dismissed as cookie-cutter factory product with a fast-approaching shelf life. When she took time off, paparazzi gave chase. When she was coy, she was called an airhead; when she spoke out, she drew criticism. It’s a wonder that she held it together as long as she did in this climate. There was no peace for her in it, no happy medium she could find to appease us. Spears herself is not free of blame for how this turned out. Some responsibility for bad plays like her widely-panned 2002 film Crossroads or the 2005 UPN series Britney and Kevin: Chaotic — where she and then-husband Kevin Federline put their messy private lives on display through home movies with endless bad camera angles, unintentionally priming the rapper and dancer for backlash that hit when they divorced a year later — rests on her. No one made her grab the umbrella, though the catalyst for the incident was a lack of boundaries and simple decency part and parcel of an entertainment industry that commodified and violated its subjects. It shouldn’t have taken ten years to realize that the discourse had been hurtful and unhealthy. (To be fair, the fandom was hip to this all along. Adult actor Chris Crocker, who made waves with his 2007 “Leave Britney Alone” clip, recently opened up about death threats he received for it. The dedicated members of the Free Britney movement continue to protest and picket outside hearings. Even Crossroads has gotten a softer reassessment in this climate. It was never as bad as it was made out to be, and more recently it’s being reclaimed as a free-spirited piece of the cinematic universe of director and writer Shonda Rhimes in a similar fashion to Mariah Carey’s lambs sending Glitter back up charts.)
As much as this might seem like a uniquely 2000s pickle in retrospect, the conditions that made this saga uniquely awful haven’t much changed.

It’s impossible to know what other mitigating factors were at work, and this makes the subject of Spears’s conservatorship a tricky one. We only know what we’ve seen, and in spite of prying, we’ve been at arm’s length since 1998. The question of who should run her estate is perhaps beyond our station, though it’s painful to see her denied her desired resolution, and to try to decode her feelings from chipper, detached Instagram video dispatches, though, arguably, this has always been the nature of our relationship to Britney Spears. As much as this might seem like a uniquely 2000s pickle in retrospect, an indictment of the hypocrisy of a culture that prioritized decency but lashed out indecently when it felt its standards had not been met, the conditions that made this saga uniquely awful haven’t much changed.

Our standards are still steep, and our vengeance for those that fail to meet them is still swift and uncompromising. Women still face criticism for being comfortable in their bodies and free in their expression. Complaints about the lyrical content in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “W.A.P.” from supporters of the notoriously crass Donald Trump show a double standard prevails. Jokes about Megan’s shooting over the last six months stand as disconcerting proof that women’s trauma is still taken lightly. Phoebe Bridgers sparked an entire week of arguments just by banging a guitar on a monitor during a Saturday Night Live performance. Did we learn anything at all? Chatter around Framing Britney Spears has reportedly inspired Netflix to follow Hulu’s lead and make its own documentary about the singer in a repeat of the streaming services’ warring Fyre Fest coverage in 2019. The market for dissecting Britney Spears remains lucrative as ever.

https://www.vulture.com/article/essay-britney-spears-discourse-pop-history.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2021, 05:41:40 pm »

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« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2021, 05:42:22 pm »

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All that we see is a dream within a dream.
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