It’s a bizarre ritual: she comes – or is connected by video as she did recently – she cries, she fights, she drives away. Again and again this happens in a court in Los Angeles. For years, US superstar Britney Spears has been struggling in hearings for the right to be the mistress of her own life again. First against her inner demons, then privately against her father, now publicly in court – in an existential dispute that bears the characteristics of a psychodrama. Now, finally, it seems as if the multi-billionaire, who has been incapacitated for 13 years, is gradually returning to life. The bars on the golden cage of the pop icon begin to wobble.
In mid-July, a judge allowed her for the first time to be represented by her own lawyer. In the absurd reality of Britney Spears, this is a great success. Until now, her father and changing guardians have determined who legally represents Spears. This meant that the 39-year-old herself had been paying very expensive lawyers out of her own pocket for years to prevent her from regaining full possession of her rights. The second partial success: She was allowed to drive herself again – a privilege that had apparently been denied her for years. That, too: a milestone.
America’s Most Prominent Problem Child
The drama about the fallen pop angel, who first went from Disney child star to poplolita and from poplolita to America’s most prominent problem child, mobilizes thousands of fans who take on the cause of their heroine with quasi-religious fervor under the hashtag #FreeBritney, not only to the pure joy of the protagonist, who saw herself misrepresented in the Netflix documentary “Framing Britney Spears”. Her father Jamie Spears(69) was appointed as a guardian after his daughter’s mental breakdowns and her disturbing skull shear in 2008 and is also watching over her $60 million fortune – temporarily, as it was called at the time. That was 13 years ago.
The accusations spears made against her family weigh heavily: she was not allowed to leave the house without permission, she was not allowed to have her contraceptive spiral removed, she was given medication against her will, she was not allowed to marry or even drink coffee, she was forced to work. Her father exercises a power that amounts to “abuse” – and she has never been informed that she has the right to request the end of guardianship. The family denied the allegations. Spears’ father again announced that he would not voluntarily end the guardianship. Prominent friends such as Madonna, Cher or Mariah Carey showed solidarity (“Give this woman her life back – slavery was abolished a long time ago!”).
“I helped a corrupt family take control”
Who exactly plays which role in this complex drama lies in the fog. It seems certain that Spears’ father is not only likely to be driven by louder motives as a worried-caring guardian angel. The reputable magazine “The New Yorker” reports that Jamie Spears has repeatedly shouted: “I’m Britney Spears!” to assert his ownership of his daughter’s career (and assets). A friend of the family had spoken out in 2008 in favor of guardianship – assuming that it lasted only a few months. Today she regrets the act. “I helped a corrupt family take control,” she told the New Yorker.
The case also stirs up many fans because Britney Spears, as a radiantly provocative Rehlein sex icon of the noughties and symbolic figure of a casual American can-do spirit, was the pop-cultural beacon of an entire generation. Her dazzling career provided the blueprint for various innocent lamb-gone-wild successors from Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift, from Ariana Grande to Selena Gomez. The Disney universe reliably spits out teenage stars who start their careers as grinning messengers of happiness in petticoats and then discover the “bitch” in themselves after adolescence if they do not stagger unfouting through adult life. Some catch themselves again, some – like Lindsay Lohan – are still fighting.
US politicians are working on a “Lex Britney”
Recently, there have been increasing signs that that movement is coming into the Britney case. Not only that Spears’ longtime manager Larry Rudolph (after two years of radio silence) threw in the towel. Not only that one day later her lawyer Sam Ingham, hired by her father, resigned after 13 years. The case of the singer’s individual suffering has long since been resolved: it is no longer just about the freedom struggle of an unstable pop icon who threw the classic trauma of early fame out of the curve. It is about nothing less than the civil liberties of currently up to 1.3 million incapacitated Americans.
On July 20, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to correct the “broken guardianship system.” In essence, it states that persons under guardianship should be given the right to have one court-appointed guardian replaced by another without first having to prove “abuse” – it would be a “Lex Britney”. “Abusive guardianship can be a never-ending nightmare,” said Democrat Charlie Crist. The new law should help not only “free Britney, but countless other people who are abused by the broken system and exploited.”
“I want to return to the normal world”
Spears’ new lawyer Mathew Rosengart, who has represented stars such as Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves and Ben Affleck, announced last week that he would start work “quickly and aggressively”. His goal: to pressure Jamie Spears to resign as guardian – or to settle the matter in court. “I blame my father for taking advantage of his position as a guardian,” the mother of two sons tearfully testified in court. “I want him out of my life.” She is “not perfect, but also not crazy” and she wants to “return to the normal world”. Because: “I’m so angry – I’m going to pull it off.” She recently wrote on Instagram that she no longer wanted to perform “as long as my father determines what I wear, say, do or think”.
In Germany, the care of adults who are not mature is regulated differently. “We couldn’t have a Britney Spears case,” said Dagmar Zorn, a lecturer in the administration of justice at the Hochschule für Wirtschaft und Recht (HWR) in Berlin. Such strong interventions in private life are unthinkable.
In Germany, there is no longer any guardianship for adults
Since 1992, there has been no guardianship for adults. Instead, legal care can be ordered if an adult is no longer able to take care of his or her own affairs. However, this care must be strongly oriented towards the interests of the person being cared for. “Currently, this part of the law is being reformed,” Zorn said. “The reform will come into force in 2023, and from then on, any decisions that can somehow be made by the person being cared for must also be made by him. This means that the caregiver must support people in their independence and in their own decision-making even more than before.”
In addition, every single case of such care is “put to the test again after seven years at the latest” and the whole procedure starts all over again. A 13-year guardianship without verification as in the case of Britney Spears is therefore inconceivable in this country.