19 Thoughts on the 2000s and Framing Britney Spears

19 Thoughts on the 2000s and Framing Britney Spears
  1. Everyone’s thinking about the 2000s lately! I (extremely superior voice) have been thinking about them for the better part of the last 12 months. I mentioned that 2004-era indie in general seemed to be in the air recently in one of the very first newsletters I sent out. I even promised a newsletter about the 2000s at some point, way back in July(?) of 2020. His mind…
  2. That’s not the only time recently that I’ve opined about the 2000s (and, to be fair, it was really not a “full opine”). Here’s what I said about when I wrote about Machine Gun Kelly back in (rifles through the calendar pages as you just read on anyway):
  3. “Here’s what I think is actually going to happen on a wider scale, though: we’re about to revert back to the Bush II-era celebrity culture, in which collectively despising celebrities for their low-grade trashiness, obnoxiousness, and/or all-around omnipresence replaces the Obama-era, Avengers-esque valorization of celebrities that we’ve been in the throes of from, let’s say, 2011 on. Again, you can look at the Kardashians’ cultural currency for proof that this is already taking place. If anything, their trajectory represents a full-circle moment back to the late 2000s, when they were often held as totems of fame-hungry excess, rather than the serious reconsideration they received in the mid-to-late-2010s. For a certain (and growing) subset of people, it feels good to hate the Kardashians again, if only to place the anger somewhere else that’s inconsequential for a moment or two.”
  4. I was very off the mark here! Instead, we’re witnessing a revisitation of the 2000s that is more complex and purposeful, and we have Britney Spears to thank for it. The documentary Framing Britney Spears has undoubtedly sparked fresh interest in the decade’s poisonous and misogynistic celebrity culture, on nearly every level. This isn’t just stans screaming for justice on behalf of Lindsay Lohan—it’s actors like Mara Wilson and Jennifer Love Hewitt revealing their true feelings and experiences about how the media and Hollywood treated them and, to a larger extent, their bodies. It’s not as large of a mass cultural reckoning as, say, the initial impact of #MeToo, but it’s definitely happening.
  5. I said this on Twitter after first seeing Framing Britney Spears, but the most important takeaway from the useful parts of the documentary, for me, was that misogyny as a virtue was pumped into my brain through multiple levels of popular culture in the 2000s. I’m 33 now, which made me 13 in 2000. So from 13 to 23—a span of adolescence when your brain is especially porous and impressionable—the Bush II era and its subsequent hangover (given that a true and meaningful cultural shift towards at least acknowledging feminism on a mainstream level didn’t really take hold until the early 2010s) did its absolute best to convince me and scores of other young men that anyone who wasn’t a man deserved to be disrespected and degraded.
  6. For all the shit that people give circa-right-now young people and the internet, those young people have used the internet to educate themselves and each other about how to be as people in a manner that people my age and older simply didn’t have such immediate access to. Sure, there are tons of problems with the total absorption of information that we are all capable of now: Misinformation, disinformation, context collapse, other stuff that you hear other people say when they talk about Adam Curtis documentaries.
  7. Otherwise, the up-and-coming generations possess levels of empathy and understanding that were barely available to us when we were their age, which is why I find it relatively easy to pretend I do not see it when something utterly fucking bizarre happens like David Hogg beefing with the MyPillow guy.
  8. There’s a desire to think about how young people embracing progressive values that will act as a self-correcting agent on all of the cultural stains we’re currently lousy with. This is, obviously, a very unfair expectation to have, especially when you consider how my (our, most likely) generation is still bearing the brunt of the previous generation’s embrace of Reagan-era-and-beyond conservatism. We directly affect the future that others end up owning, and to simply peace out because “people know so much more now than back then, so you guys will fix it eventually” is at best callous and at worst completely ignorant of our overall historical trajectory.
  9. Ah shit, what was I even talking about…oh yeah. I remember Billy Eichner getting dragged on Twitter for saying something assertive about how “we were all responsible” (not a direct quote even though it’s in quotes) for the misogyny and invasiveness that Britney Spears faced in the 2000s. On a level, he deserved it (who doesn’t?), partially because the WWG1WGA linguistics applied to literally anything these days is suffocating, irritating, and leaves close to no room for nuance.
  10. But maybe he was a little right, too. The culture of celebrity worship has myriad intersections with misogyny, even when the worshippers don’t resemble who you’d typically associate with misogynistic behavior. It’s poisoned us, it’s rotted our brains thoroughly, and pre-pandemic it encouraged an anti-critical perspective towards popular culture in general that is dangerous in its application.
  11. Weirdly, the pandemic seemed to turn things around on that latter front. In the face of unimaginable loss and the most boldly highlighted reminder of structural inequality that society’s had to reckon with in decades, celebrities more or less were put back in the crosshairs again, which—and this is mostly because they have more money than people who are seriously suffering—seems fine to me. The downfall of Ellen DeGeneres, whose show is hemorrhaging viewers now after years of existing as a fraudulent paragon of “nice,” is proof enough that the scales have shifted again — even if “cancel culture” is increasingly being weaponized to shield people from criticism.
  12. But, like, Christ, don’t I sound insane saying all of that? What have we come to that this is how we talk now, and it’s totally acceptable? When does the dam break?
  13. From my point of view, if there’s any progress that can be made when it comes to applying the lessons learned from the 2000s towards a better future, the “media” itself needs to be dismantled and reimagined and celebrity culture needs to be completely obliterated. Are either possible? I’d at least say the first objective has a slight edge over the second, if only because celebrity culture is so thoroughly entrenched in who we are now and how we interact with each other.
  14. But, like, also, let’s look at the news for a second—specifically, the prospective content that emerged post-Framing Britney Spears. We’re getting another Britney docuseries, for starters, this time on Netflix. We’re also getting a Brittany Murphy docuseries from HBO Max. We will doubtlessly hear about more similar projects in the months to come—projects that deepen the myth of celebrity itself, continuing to strengthen our own obsessions instead of allowing us to break free of them entirely.
  15. You might notice that I referred to “the first half” of Framing Britney Spears a few times earlier, and that’s because the second half of the doc is, if you haven’t seen it yet, pretty different in terms of what it focuses on and what can be possibly learned from it. We go from looking at the public cacophony that so clearly harmed Spears to zooming in on the fringe-ish, coastal-but-also-online “Free Britney” movement, which is made up of people advocating for something regarding the conservatorship that Spears has been under for quite some time.
  16. I say “something” because it’s not quite clear how much knowledge is actually possessed by those doing the advocating. Or, to put it in a more eloquent-ish manner: It seems like the situation surrounding Spears’ conservatorship is pretty complicated on a number of levels, and I’m not quite sure we can put our faith in a few podcasters and an army of stans to crack the legal code and get to the bottom of what should actually transpire here.
  17. I myself am being evasive about the specifics because, despite watching the documentary, I don’t think I have a good handle on the specifics! Maybe they do, they’re certainly doing more for the cause(?) than I am. But I’m just not sure.
  18. Here’s a quote from what counts as the first reaction from Spears’ Instagram regarding the doc, this stood out to me: “I didn't watch the documentary but from what I did see of it I was embarrassed by the light they put me in ... I cried for two weeks and well .... I still cry sometimes !!!!” Elsewhere in the caption, she claims that she’s “always been so judged... insulted... and embarrassed by the media... and I still am till this day.”
  19. It’s hard to attempt to parse those quotes, because trying to do so might be on some equivalency with the Zodiac-letter-esque analysis the Free Britney movement treats her every move with. But, and this is real surface-level analysis here, I see someone reacting to a cultural focal point that has been interpreted as a show of support for that person—only, it doesn’t seem like they’re entirely flattered by the show of support itself.
  20. In fact, it seems like it quite possibly makes Spears as upset as the other ways in which she’s been obsessed over has—intense and blinding scorn replaced with intense and blinding adulation. How is this better? How is this different? If everyone continues to focus so solely on the harm done to individuals, and not in actively undoing the systems in place that cause harm—even when it comes to something so supposedly trivial (but nonetheless massively influential on our day-to-day lives) as celebrity culture—is anyone actually accomplishing anything?

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Jamie Larson