Does the World Owe Britney Spears (and Marilyn) an Apology?

In the wake of a recent New York Times documentary, Framing Britney Spears, two points of debate have come to light: firstly, how the singer has been controlled and manipulated throughout her career; and secondly, how the world’s media has stalked her and revelled in her suffering. This has opened a wider discussion on how female celebrities are exploited and abused in plain sight. In an article for BBC News, Alex Taylor asks, ‘Will Framing Britney Spears be a moment of reckoning for the celebrity media?’

“‘We are all to blame for what happened to Britney Spears,’ read an apology from Glamour magazine to the pop star on Instagram on Tuesday.

Amid this reckoning, Spears’ treatment at the hands of the entertainment media machine feels outdated in today’s climate – but has the celebrity experience really changed?

It’s hardly unusual for celebrities to face intrusion and a loss of privacy at the height of their fame.

‘We can see Britney within a long line of women artists – from Marilyn Monroe to Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse – who have been judged, not so much for the work that they produce but for the way in which they have been represented by the press,’ says Lucy Robinson, culture historian at the University of Sussex.”

Of course, there is little point in ‘apologising’ to Marilyn so many years after her death. While she certainly was treated unfairly at times by the press – being written off as a ‘dumb blonde,’ or in later years, a relentless focus on her affairs and divorces, health problems and professional struggles – she hated being perceived as a victim, a point that even more sympathetic commentators continue to overlook.

Since the #MeToo movement took off in 2017, Marilyn has often been mentioned in relation to the ‘casting couch,’ but as she explained on numerous occasions, the truth is far more complex (see here.) My advice to Monroe fans today is to avoid sensationalist publications and documentaries; to research her life more thoroughly via reliable sources; and as Lucy Robinson suggests above, to focus more fully on her work, which as Marilyn herself once said, is “the only ground I’ve ever had to stand on.”