The new Britney Spears documentary offers a surprising angle for exploring disability rights

I love pop culture. But I don't pay that much attention to true pop culture, the things that are legitimately, hugely popular. Maybe that's just the ingrained brainwashing that gets leftover when your friend's older brother introduces you to punk rock in sixth grade. Yet I suspect that such a tendency isn't particularly rare among BoingBoing readership.

Put another way: y'all probably don't give a shit about Britney Spears. But, as the latest episode of The New York Times Presents explains, you probably should: even the ACLU agrees that Spears' father took advantage of her mental abilities and cognitive condition to profit from her stardom, robbing his daughter from her right to autonomy in the process.

Plenty of people will feel that initial impulse to think, "Okay, so why should I care? She's a friggin' world famous pop star." But the frustrating truth is that the situation that Britney Spears is facing is sadly quite common among people with physical and mental disabilities. People with disabilities don't even have access to the same marriage equality rights that LGBTQ+ people fought for. As the ACLU explained:

Britney Spears is subject to a court-imposed conservatorship (in most other states this structure is referred to as a guardianship). This means that a court has determined she is unable to provide properly for her food, clothing, or shelter. The court has then granted other people — her conservators — the legal right to make decisions for her. News reports indicate that this has been the case for Britney since 2008. While we do not know the details of Spears' conservatorship, in general, conservators like those in her case have the ability to make decisions about all aspects of her life — where she lives, where and how she spends her money, what medications she takes, who she spends time with, and other decisions.

Conservatorship means the court is taking away the civil liberties from one person and giving them to someone else. Sometimes it's ALL of that person's civil rights and civil liberties, and sometimes it's partial. But it is the court weighing into the person's life and saying you, as a person with a disability, are no longer able to make decisions about yourself and livelihood — such as where you live, and how you support and feed yourself — and we are putting someone else in charge of making those decisions. Because it's such an extreme step to take, it's really supposed to be a last resort. And once a court has put a person under a conservatorship, only a court can lift that conservatorship. 

I thought "Free Britney!" was just a weird, silly fan culture meme. I was wrong. So I recommend watching the new episode of The New York Times Presents—available above, or on FX or Hulu—to learn more about the cruelties of conservatorship as it relates to disability rights. Dare I say: I now know that it's toxic.

How Conservatorship Threatens Britney Spears' Civil Rights [Eva Lopez / ACLU]

ACLU Uses Britney Spears' Conservatorship Case as a Way to Discuss a Disability Legal Issues [Princess Weekes / The Mary Sue]

The Long Fight to Free Britney [The New York Times]

The Handling of Britney Spears [Liz Day / The New York Times]

Full Disclosure: I am employed by Wirecutter, which is owned by the New York Times Company, which owns The New York Times Presents.