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The Near-Slavery of Britney Spears – What it Shows about the USA Legal System


People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. When the United States President and Secretary of State throw stones at Belarus and China about their lack of respect for the human rights of a journalist and of a Hong Kong newspaper editor, respectively, it makes what happens inside America’s glass house in respect of human rights all the more evident. Glass, as well as being fragile, is also often transparent.

The truly shocking legal limbo in which adult musician Britney Spears lives and has for 13 long years lived, is simply unbelievable. She had a breakdown after losing custody of her two children, having long been prone to anxiety and having problems with alcohol dependence, and was then put under a kind of paternal “guardianship” by law, as someone unable supposedly to look after herself. Since then, she has been deprived of all basic rights and freedoms. A patriarchal State machinery, combined with a ferocious control by the institution of “the family” over family fortunes under US capitalism, has well-nigh enslaved this singer and performer, renowned as she is. And this, despite the fact that the fortune being thus controlled was made by Britney Spears’ own work, and is not the usual inherited fortune being “protected” by the legal system.

She finally spoke out, suddenly and unexpectedly, in a routine Court procedure renewing her regime of a total lack of human rights, last month in Los Angeles. She has denounced her father and the whole team that “runs” her. 

She managed to bring the shocking treatment she has suffered to the attention of the media. This way she has put this aspect of “patriarchy” and legal framework that maintains it on trial. Her 23-minute statement was illegally transmitted to outside of the Court, and was soon available on the net. Otherwise, her statement was supposed to have been suppressed from public knowledge.

For 13 years, her father, and more recently, some “Trust” in charge of “conserving” the millions she makes through her art, have had control, it seems, over not just her income but also what work she does and does not do. She was forced, and still is forced, to work when she does not want to, she says. And she feeds not just herself, but a whole army of people, including her father, who live off the conservatorship. Further still, she has been prevented from marrying her boyfriend who she has been with for five years. She said in Court that she was even prevented from having an IUD removed so that she could fall pregnant. She does not have the right to choose her own lawyer, while having to foot the bill, as well as paying for her father’s lawyer. She wants the conservatorship terminated, and she demands it is done without “evaluation”, which she sees as persistent, invasive, imposed “therapy”.

So, she has spoken out.

However, since she has been reduced, by the US legal system, to a non-person, what she says in Court does not seem to “count”. When “legal experts” are invited by the Press to explain to the public what on earth is going on, they express “concern” and show little hope that there is any way that poor Britney Spears can get out of this legal labyrinth in which she has been trapped. Her only hope is in the public knowing about her plight and this somehow bringing change to the kind of legal limbo she has been put in. 

The judge in the case announced last week that he has decided to leave her under the same “Conservatorship”, as this legal limbo is called, that she complained to the Court about. So, Britney Spears has lost Round One, on the legal front.

It is, indeed, hard to see how she can get out of it. She has been deemed permanently unable to speak for herself. So, then what? What kind of legal system is this?

But, she has won Round One on the front of popular support.

She is someone who has literally millions of fans supporting her. She has famous celebrities who have come out to support her. She has her sister supporting her publicly. She has now had newspapers and television stations, radios and magazines, reporting on the hideous limbo in which she finds herself. Even the Vatican in 2007 closed down its “limbo”, in which some of the dead were held to linger forever. 

And still Britney Spears’ limbo-for–the-living remains. 

Everything about this form of modern slavery is kept super-secret, hidden away behind in camera Court proceedings. It is not public exactly why she has been deprived of all her rights like this. To read the serious press, the repression follows “a public breakdown” at which she was filmed “barefoot at a gas station” one evening, and then went into a hairdressers’ and shaved her head. It sounds more like a bad temper tantrum than a reason for loss of one’s rights. In any case, she has continued to work. She supports herself. Not only that, her work supports a whole team of her oppressors. Her ability to work is surely one way to judge that she is capable of looking after herself. She works. And she’s got enough money to stop working for a while, if she wants. 

Even someone as famous as Britney Spears has taken 13 years to make people see what she is going through and to get her voice heard. Even with her access to the media and beautiful voice. And she is nowhere near breaking out of the vice-grip that the legal system has her tied up in.

So, the US “glass” house is not so see-through, after all. A glass house exposes what is inside. But inside the USA “conservatorship laws”, everything is masked by opacity. 

So, we do not know what this young woman has gone through. Nor does it seem likely the people of the USA will ever know. One thing for sure is she seems to have had no human rights for 13 years.

The horrors of this system of “conservatorship” in American law were the subject of the entire, hilarious but disturbing 1965 Kurt Vonnegut novel, God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater.  It is about the capital Mr. Rosewater inherits, and how lawyers and Court “lunacy hearings” go about declaring someone like him – super-rich but unconventional – unable to look after the family foundation due to insanity. All the vested interests of lawyers and other relatives in the fortune, get exposed. Vonnegut refers to the foundation’s aims as “the baroque masterpiece of legal folderol”, but which aims cause capital to be inherited in the same manner as the British Crown. The dangers of this kind of conservatorship being misused are spelled out, in this novel, and it was first published more than 50 years ago.

How many other people are suffering this kind of inappropriate patriarchal control over their lives? 

It is likely that Britney Spears has been able to speak up only because celebrities in the sporting world have recently been taking their stands against the business interests that “run” them on issues that affect them. For example, tennis world number 2 Naomi Osaka refused press briefings and pulled out mid-championship from this year’s Roland Garros, citing needing to “look after her mental health”. She did not want to be forced to speak at press briefings. Many sports stars, as well as models, actors and singers, get contracts that prevent them talking on political subjects. They do not have free expression rights. And then, they are forced, by contract, to speak.    

Someone like Britney Spears has been able to speak up only because of the #MeToo movement making this kind of public confession of humiliation possible. The brave women of Hollywood came out in public against the patriarchal domination they suffer, including rape and sexual abuse of all kinds. They also informed us of “Non-Disclosure Agreements” by which even criminal offenses can be kept secret via contracts. Unbelievable, but true. This is another example of how American human rights abuses are hidden by the legal system itself.

Britney Spears, 39 years old, had to come out in public and admit having been kept in a state of near-slavery for 13 years. She said she had been too ashamed, too embarrassed to go public. It is the way victims of domestic violence speak. It is the way victims of sexual abuse speak. And she, like they, are learning that speaking up, if you can, is what you have to do.

So, as famous sportswomen and sportsmen break the absolute rule that they were not allowed to have political opinions but had to just knuckle down and work for the big business that high-level sport is, and have begun to stand up to their own employers in a kind of rebellion of the gladiators of the modern world; as women actor-celebrities have denounced their powerful employers in Hollywood and the Press, and have begun to stand up to patriarchy; so now, a famous singer is doing the same. And at the same time she is exposing anew what Vonnegut exposed 50 years ago, a hideous aspect of the judicial system in the USA. Police violence is one aspect. Plea-bargaining and its terrible effect on those without power, are other aspects of this same system. Non-Disclosure Agreements that can cover up criminal offenses are yet another. 

The only institutional change that seems to have occurred, so far, as a result of Britney Spears speaking out so bravely, is that the judge in the Los Angeles Court has swiftly closed down the whole “Remote Audio Attendance Program” to prevent any further such leaks to the public. So the secrecy has been ramped up – the very opposite of a change for the better. 

But, the word is out. People are shocked by her suffering over 13 years, just as people are outraged at the hounding out of a Belarusian journalist – by bringing a commercial airliner down and arresting him and his girlfriend – and are following carefully the arrest of the Hong Kong newspaper editor by the Chinese Authorities.  

So, as the new Cold War that the USA is building against China and Russia ramps up, the USA will be throwing lots of stones at China and Russia and any of their allies on human rights issues. But the USA lives in a glass house, from the point of view of fragility relative to human rights, not just in its bombing whole civilizations like those of Iraq and Libya and Afghanistan, but also in treatment of an individual woman like Britney Spears. She lives with no human rights. And though glass is fragile, it is not, in the case of the US legal system, transparent. But that, too, this lack of transparency, Britney Spears is exposing. And people are wondering how many other people are living in the same limbo she is existing in. And to think that Kurt Vonnegut warned of this over 50 years ago in his novel.


Lindsey Collen