It is human nature for people to gossip. To peer behind the veil of secrecy that separates the famous and the common man from the curious and the ordinary, it is a natural instinct. This age-old instinct reached a dangerous zenith in the early 2000s. In the corners of the internet, which still felt new and lawless at the time, a new breed was born. They redefined celebrity gossip and created a media machine that ate up any celebrity with a high profile.
Scrolling through sites like Perez Hilton, Lainey Gossip, and TMZ is like looking back at the worst years of a digital adolescence. However, the constant churning of upskirts and humiliating headlines meant that no young starlet was immune to their reign. It was scalding and harsh, and the thirsty fans drank it all as faithfully as a midmorning latte.
Many things have changed since the early aughts. Or at least it’s pleasant to believe so. Social media and a more socially aware public have helped to reduce the paparazzi frenzy and cut down on the worst headlines. Stars once considered to be mere blog chums have now found space to reflect publicly on their past experiences. Perez Hilton and the other gossip giants have since apologized for their ruthless reputations.
For all intents and purposes, the era of cruel gossip blogs is over.
Spears, now 39 years old, has been fighting for a conservatorship that was put in place after a series of personal setbacks which began in 2007. Celebrity gossip writers were at their peak of influence and documented every misstep. Britney shaved her head. Britney attacked a paparazzo’s vehicle with an umbrella. Britney during custody hearings for her sons. Britney returns to an awkward awards show performance. Britney at her lowest point, for all to see.
What was initially intended to be a temporary arrangement to get Spears on her feet again in 2008 became a permanent set of legal restrictions which has had a profound impact on Spears’ professional and personal lives ever since. Spears’ career has changed over the years, as has pop culture. Her legal troubles are a lasting reminder of an era in which no personal struggle was out of reach for the powerful arbiters on the internet.
Britney Spears is a legend. Britney Spears was just 16 years old when her schoolgirl skirt and fluffy Baby One More Time” hairstyles revolutionized pop culture in 1998. They helped to establish the icon’s image as much as Michael Jackson’s white glove and blue suede shoes.
She captured the world’s attention from that moment onwards, and it has not let up, despite her many troubles.
It just so happened that the worst of her troubles occurred during a particularly fruitful period for new gossip machines. Around 2007 and 2008, she went through a divorce, custody battle, mental issues, and an episode of involuntary hospitalization during which paparazzi tried to get a photo of Spears on a gurney. Lindsay Lohan was another gossip target and was in a flurry of legal problems as well as court appearances. Other It-girls such as Tara Reid, Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie were also involved.
What shared these women? They were all beautiful, wealthy, young and successful. They all had a long and successful career, with many of them making the difficult transition from child star to independent young adult.
They deserved to be taken down in the new snark cathedrals that the internet gossip world has created.
“We love watching people rise and fall and then come back and fall again,” Erin Meyers, associate professor at Oakland University’s Department of Communication and Journalism, said.
“Especially Britney Spears, who was a Disney-squeaky-clean kid and became a teen superstar.”
Social media allowed celebrities to manage their own stories, which helped end the influence of gossip blogs and tabloids. A star can defuse any incendiary blog rants or undermine the value of paparazzi photos with a well-placed Instagram or tweet. All the while creating a brand that is more accessible than even the most popular gossip rag.
Meyers says that “Before this, the best way celebrities could speak back about themselves was through their professional work.” This was also done by Britney Spears. Songs like ‘Piece of Me’ and ‘I’m Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman’ were clearly written by her to respond to criticisms and take control of her story.
“But social media has made it possible for celebrities to communicate exactly what they want to people when they want.”
The #MeToo movement and new social norms helped to end cruel celebrity gossip. Blogs praised Spears’s comeback performance at 2007 MTV Video Music Awards and then rushed to tear down Jessica Simpson’s high waisted jeans at a 2009 chili cook-off. Today’s stars are quick to retaliate against body shame. It is impossible to imagine someone writing derogatory names and crude doodles on a photo of a female celebrity (as Perez Hilton was famous for doing) and publishing it on any platform.
This new environment has seen Paris Hilton, Mischa barton, Megan Fox, and many other stars of the aughts openly discuss their feelings of being abused and diminished in this toxic celebrity culture.
Now the question is: When will it be Spears’ turn to sing?
Spears is not able to access social media like many of her contemporaries. This is due to the restrictions in her conservatorship. She doesn’t have control over her professional or financial choices. She cannot take the same measures that other women took to regain their identities after going through the gossip wringer.
Spears is not known for speaking openly about her circumstances, so her remarks during a recent court hearing were so shocking. Spears requested to be freed from her conservatorship during the hearing. She called it “abusive”.
She said, “I just want to have my life back.”
She shared many details about her life, including a summary of what it was like to live on two sides of public opinion. To be idolized and yet torn apart.
Spears stated that she feared people would laugh at her, which is why she hesitated to talk about the past. Or laugh at me and tell me she’s lying. She has everything. Britney Spears is her.
A week later, a judge denied Spears’ request to remove her father Jamie Spears as conservator of her $60M estate.
Many of Spears’ contemporaries have expressed their support. It’s worth noting that many of them have experienced their own traumas in public.
“Free Britney!” Miley Cyrus performed at a Fourth of July Performance.
Madonna posted the following message on Instagram: “Give this woman back her life.”
Paris Hilton stated on social media that “She deserves her freedom.” “I have been saying Free Britney for a long time and will continue to do so until she is free.”
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Britney Spears finally has a voice. After being haunted for years by cruel gossip headlines, and inexplicable images of her lowest moments.