Lonely Then, Like an Alien: Britney Spears and the Public View of Mental Illness
film / tv / lists / guides / news / love / celeb / video / think pieces / staff / podcasts / web culture / politics / dc / snl / netflix / marvel / cbr

Lonely Then, Like an Alien: Britney Spears and the Public View of Mental Illness

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrities Are Better than You | July 10, 2014 | Comments ()


Last week, an unedited version of “Alien,” the opening track of Britney Spears’s latest album Britney Jean leaked onto the internet, courtesy of an oh-so thoughtful source. Since then, it’s gone viral and websites from TMZ to Time have been laughing at the easiest target on the planet.

Well done, internet. Thank god we’ve finally taken Britney Spears down a peg, am I right?

William Orbit, the track’s producer, released a statement on Facebook:

Dearest Music Lovers, I have heard that Britney vocal link that everybody’s been discussing. It has been impossible not to as there have been many comments directing my attention to it. [I won’t re-posting it here]. I’d like to affirm that ANY singer when first at the mic at the start of a long session can make a multitude of vocalisations in order to get warmed up.

Warming up is essential if you’re a pro, as it is with a runner doing stretches, and it takes a while to do properly. I’ve heard all manner of sounds emitted during warmups. The point is that it is not supposed to be shared with millions of listeners.

A generous singer will put something down the mic to help the engineer get their systems warmed up and at the right level, maybe whilst having a cup of herb tea and checking through lyrics before the session really kicks off. It’s not expected to be a ‘take’.

I think that 99% of you reading this will totally understand.

Whomever put this on the internet must have done so in a spirit of unkindness, but it can in no way detract from the fact that Britney is and always will be beyond Stellar! She is magnificent! And that’s that.

Since her 2004 24-hour marriage, her 2006 brushes with vehicular law and her infamous 2007 series of mental health cries for help, what should have been off limits years ago has been cemented as a constant joke for the scourge of the internet. Everything she does is subject to the laughter and ridicule of the click-and-drag-her-through-the-mud public. Spears wears jean shorts. Spears drinks Starbucks. Spears likes Cheetohs. Spears goes to dance class. Spears goes to her kids’ soccer games. It’s all a joke. But it’s not a funny one.

Because they’re not just laughing at Britney Spears. They’re laughing at mental illness.

It’s been common knowledge since 2007-2008 that Spears has a serious personality disorder, one that clearly requires heavy medication, which has led to her significantly subdued performance ability. The fact that she is even still able to get on stage and move at all is frankly impressive, albeit tragic and obviously not of her own choice.

This is not a pop superstar at the top of her game who is being taken down by jealous h8erz. This is someone life has knocked around enough—why are we adding to that load? Why are we continuing to add to that load?

Every instance of a school or public shooting leads to the same conversation: what is this country going to do about mental illness? Well, it starts here. It starts with Britney Spears. It starts with Amanda Bynes. It starts with Shia LaBeouf. If we as a society find it’s totally OK to ridicule them, what hope is there for the ticking time bombs? What hope is there for any of us who are suffering because our brains are broken and fucked up sometimes?

If you look at the lyrics of the songs Spears is credited as writing or co-writing, she’s been begging for years. Like in this video where she commits suicide (a happy ending where she lives was requested by the powers that be). Begging for people to please, please, just stop. And no one listens. It just gets louder.

I hope the day comes where Spears is allowed to be open about her struggles, allowed to do what she wants with her life, allowed to live life without being a joke. Because the joke stopped being funny years ago.

For My Next Trick, Watch Me Disappear: Do Women Really Need a Size 000? | Whoopi Goldberg Insists 'The View' Panelists Are 'Grown-Ass Women,' Even As They Act Like Childish Brats

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Majicou

    It's too bad her father controls her through conservatorship.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Fuck it, I'll bite. Well, we've waded into the waters of where I've been for the last...whenever October was. I've got BP-1, once in a long while it grabs at me hard and somewhat recently I lost contact with myself when it took hold. It wasn't the first time, so while my family and doctor weren't happy, it was was containable. I'm lucky enough to have a mother with whom I'm temporarily living and...details aren't required. Do I feel like a complete failure freak? I do. Should I? No, but that's part of the illness. I'll have my own apartment again in a not hugely significant amount of time, so that's life. And really, what happened the last time someone told you to feel or not feel a certain way? Anyway, I want this comment to communicate to anyone who can be bothered to read it that in some areas of this I can empathise. I can in the sense that you find that you have lived in a world that saw you one way and then illness interferes and has that world see you in a completely different way. She's done some stranger stuff, (I never shaved my head nor have I taken any kind of drugs) and I've done more serious stuff (no comment).

    Speaking for myself, compassion is always good but a big chunk of the time, outward displays of 'great concern' are useless and make you feel like a lab specimen. You don't need people reminding you all of the time that you're sick and need understanding--which means you're broken and not like 'the rest of us', you know it. You knew it. I'm not saying that it's necessarily a good idea to go on a world tour but kid gloves aren't always a better idea. You have be an alive adult in the world or there's no point. Even when you need help in that world everyone around the ill person has to get to a point where they aren't treating the ill person like porcelain child. It gets frustrating as hell to wear fetters and be second-guessed and have your right to any autonomy negated. If a person requires help, that person isn't solely the help that he or she requires. If you feel like people around you, whatever their intentions or how well they know you are better at 'life' than you and so are better at gauging what is appropriate about every aspect of your life and everyone is discussing and planning and charting and protecting, even if you have gratitude, you won't really be interested in living anymore. People have to live in the world and it's not fun if everyone is always thinking, 'OHMYGAWDDON'TMOVEIT'SGOINGTOBETHEBIGONEHAPPYTHOUGHTS'

    I'm not trying to dog out anyone but 'careful, careful, careful' becomes degrading after a while because that's ALL you are to people--a compromised mess and not really a person anymore, just a condition. It wasn't nice that this tape was leaked and I guess it seems worse because we know about her difficulties, but on the other hand it's (in in it's horribly mean way) it's kind of refreshing because maybe we're all getting back to the days when she was just a crappy singer, remember those times? I'm a musician, not a big star or anything but way back when I experienced my first hallucination and was unspeakable harm to myself in every sense I could still carry a damn tune, you know? I know what medications do and if you're not on ones that are completely copacetic with your lifestyle it's a drag, holy shit, I get it and it cost almost five thousand dollars to undo the damage that lithium did to my teeth (seven dental surgeries, y'all!!!!!), so you find what works and it's hard. That said, is she really any worse of a singer now that she was fifteen years ago?

    I just can't say with any certainty that whoever thought this was a good idea (it wasn't, really, but...) did so thinking, 'That'll show her for having a nervous breakdown, those headcases fall for it every time! It's fun to pick on the ill!' while rubbing his or her hands together. I've known a few people do to do that, but you know, fuck it, they're in the minority and they're shit. Maybe this person who leaked it is a garden variety dick who really wasn't thinking about her state of mind and was laughing at her negligible singing talent, which remains unmolested by time. I honestly didn't think of illness immediately, but maybe I was shielding myself from arriving at that conclusion for personal reasons...or maybe in light of my own experiences I was keyed in to a reason for this that didn't make the leap to pathology, I genuinely don't know the answer to that.

    Again, I do truly believe that intentions are mostly good and it is appreciated that people don't want to shake the box, but at least from the perspective of person who has been sick, it frequently comes off a grand scheme for people who aren't ill to praise themselves for their own compassion as a performance to impress or shame other people who aren't ill. I don't think it's always of even usually meant to be so, but it does come off as egotistical some of the time. I think the culture of pop psychology has made us believe that we know what we're talking about, when we just don't. We refer casually to mental illness, so now no one blinks when we talk about how we're 'kind of OCD' about things, and we tell people to 'take their pills', and all of us are diagnosing strangers with our degrees in nothing with borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. I don't think that 'Sick, Asshole, or Draw' is a game meant to be played from the margins. We've never seen half of these disorders, but we know all about them, somehow. I'm content to own my ignorance and I'm no more well-versed in these things than are the doctors who were confused by me.

    'But, it's, um, truly, truly tragic!' Half the time, I think people bust out the old DSM keywords so they can be retroactively smug should any 'announcements' be made. But that's pretty cynical, I'll admit that.

    Truly unpopular opinion alert: that's why I never warmed to the Craig Ferguson speech, it just stuck in my craw that it wasn't enough to just not do the jokes--because it would've become evident to his regular viewers that that kind of material wasn't going to fly on his show for the sheer reason that he wasn't telling the jokes and that would've been impressive. Instead, he had to tell the world how he is a much, much, much better human being because of this, that and the other. And aren't you ASHAMED that you're not compassionate (and profiting off of this in 'good guy points') like me, me, ME!!!??' I'm perfectly sure that he's a great guy, I know he's dealt with addictions and low, low times and gives of himself freely. But it still felt slightly mercenary. I would've been happy with a, 'I'm not doing Britney Spears jokes', but I've found that I am the only single, solitary person who thinks this, so I know I'm sour.

    As big as all of those hearts may be, I think a lot of the public fretting is less for the ill and more for the person doing the fretting to remind him or herself that he or she is a good person and can still be that person when someone's behaviour is definitely 'off' and we're confused or even repelled by it. We want to understand and we don't want to be the agent that worsens. But all of the appeals to comfort, they won't all be answered. I can't help anyone feel better about mental illness, chide you for being freaked out by it, become enraged when you're not giving me exactly what I mean or shut down when you ask. I just want people to consider that sometimes screaming and yelling about the person is actually a person steals focus from the person, and while it's understandable, it's not terribly useful. And you know, no illness is a big deal until you have personal experience with it and people do sometimes laugh at the big bad scary unknown. I remember in grade three when our teacher read Bridge To Terebithia to us and how half the class exploded into giggles when what'sherface died. The teacher was predictably huffy and I remember thinking, 'Well, what did you expect? Mary laughed at Chuckles' funeral.'

    We don't know Britney as well as we think we do because that illness hasn't revealed a poor, vulnerable soul that is crying to us specifically to 'free me from this', we don't know her family and professional life, any of it. I think the 'make fun of her because she's acting strangely' days are largely behind us and if she's anything like most people she might not want to be thought of solely as 'the thing that happened to her'. And illness doesn't make a person above criticism.

    People generally have moral compasses and if at some point they have found that they are pointing the wrong way they correct it, or they don't. But just be compassionate because when it's turned into some grand premiere it doesn't feel like the focus is on the right person. It's normal to comfort yourself, but you know, know that you're comforting yourself.

    And I apologise for the length.

  • kirbyjay

    I feel sad that you have to suffer with this. I know some of your pain, believe me. Just keep in mind that the people who love you suffer with you, but they don't know how to deal with it other than trying ( sometimes miserably) to be supportive.
    As for Craig Ferguson, if he got one person to think about Spear's mental illness as more than just a joke, then he did a good thing.

  • Jo 'Mama' Besser

    Suppose you're right about Ferguson, I readily admit that I'm not always as charitable as I should be when considering people's motives. Anyway, I am definitely improving and it isn't as if it was The Snake Pit here, Chez Besser's Mum, so don't feel sad. But everybody feels better after that hellscape that was last winter, no? I'm not being flippant about that, I'm Canadian and I HATE WINTER! You brought up another big part of what makes things difficult of it is that (at least I) sometimes feel consumed by guilt for taking attention away from the family that they should be using on themselves. It's interesting the way that ill and non-ill family members relate to each other, each side takes on the burden of withholding certain things because it feels like we could be adding to the burden. I do think it's genuinely funny, there are these strings of phone calls between family members who say, 'I would tell her this, but I don't want to upset her'. Not funny in the 'Machadaynu', or 'Oh, Hyacinth Bucket, you'll be the death of us' way, but...um...hm. At any rate, I'm rambling, but I do want to end with this: Thank-you for being so warm, it feels really nice, even in July. :)

  • Emily Chambers

    "And illness doesn't make a person above criticism."

    I'm been trying and failing miserably to articulate that idea. Thank you.

  • --

    Britney was never a great singer but she was a great performer in her prime. I feel sorry for her because I think she would just like to go away and raise her boys but too many people use her as a cash machine. She's a sweet person who's been taken advantage of.

  • missbisque

    It's interesting that many of the people mentioned in the post and comments are child stars. I wouldn't begin to presume a direction of causality but fame certainly seems to attract and/or breed psychological instability, especially for people who are still developing physically and emotionally. And, in a culture in which young people are increasingly captivated by fame and the famous, a number of the stars most visible and relevant to them are publicly suffering from mental illness. Which then puts the stars' issues in the spotlight when they likely need privacy, as well as makes the associated behaviors seem more commonplace and trivial to the young people watching them so closely. Which could, in turn, make them more susceptible to ignoring or evolving psychological problems of their own.

    Without proffering any real thesis or solution, this is all to say that there's a dangerous cycle developing. Unless mental illness is taken more seriously, on a societal and political level, it will continue to be a major issue for individuals and communities.

    Thank you for encouraging this conversation, Courtney!

  • Sean

    "I wouldn't begin to presume a direction". I think you can presume in most cases with child stars. After Michael Jackson, the entire cast of Different Strokes,the Coreys, Macually Culkin, Lindsay Lohan, Britney, Brad Renfro,
    Edward Furlong,
    Nick Stahl,Amanda Byrnes,all of the Disney kids with drug problems(Demi,Zack,Selena) clearly there are issues with becoming famous as a child.

  • kirbyjay

    I think most of these kids problems stem from weak family life and parents that use them as breadwinners. There are a few in there with diagnosed illnesses ( Spears, Bynes ) but most of them didn't have a strong family to steer them in the right direction, give them a moral backbone, and make sure they were educated. Most of these child stars are addicts, which is the curse of having too much money and no one to say no to bad behavior. They no longer live in the real world, can have anything they want, and when anything is no longer enough, and being a trained monkey is all you know....drugs aren't far behind.

  • missbisque

    Agreed, there are definitely issues associated with being famous as a child. I just don't know if people predisposed to mental illness are more likely to become child stars or if being a child star makes a person more likely to develop mental illness. Probably a bit of both.

  • In a lot of the cases Sean mentioned those kids all become the family breadwinner at a young age. There's the possibility of the double whammy of being pressured to keep in showbiz when they might not like it any more, which opens the door to the possibility of drug and alcohol abuse when the parents trade their parental influence to become part of the "hired help"

  • John G.

    It’s been common knowledge since 2007-2008 that Spears has a serious personality disorder

    I do not follow Brittney Spears at all. Has this really been confirmed? Or just like..you know...TMZ confirmed?

  • It's confirmed that one exists, that's why her court records are sealed because her disorder would threaten her career. It's just not known which. But they did say it is a personality disorder.

  • I think the conservatorship granted by a judge pretty much confirmed her issues.

  • Andrew J

    I think your article is in the right place but I think one of the problems is this article. It comes from you saying "what about the bynes, what about the lebeaoufs" and then in the comments having debates about whether lohan or lebaeouf have mental illness with you declaring you see something in lohan's eyes you don't see in others.

    I think that's a big problem. Making fun of mental illness should be stopped but we also can't be diagnosing others especially famous people we don't know. I mean we are on the outside looking in on these people. So to say "he has mental illness, but she doesn't" sounds like some fucked up get out of jail free card. Even if we see as some of you say "evidence to mental illness" is that enough to declare a public head ill? Are we judge and jury now? It's that the very thing you are talking against in this article?

    Maybe I am just sensitive because when I was diagnosed with anxiety everyone came up to me like "oh I get scared sometimes too, I have panic attacks as well" at a time when those comparisons just minimized my very real problem.

  • emmalita

    I try to explain to people the difference between "the blues," being depressed, and Clinical Depression. One of those things is a life threatening illness. I think most people are trying to connect and show they understand when they don't at all. Most people can't understand it until they experience it. I take it as an opportunity to educate, unless they suggest I drink more Red Bull, and then I take it as an opportunity to call them an asshole.

  • mzblackwidow

    I gave up on the trying to educate. No one really cares or wants to understand it except my grown children and they understand as much as is possible for kids who have 2 clinically depressed parents but don't seem to suffer the same, yet.
    If anyone told me to drink red bull I would pour it over their head!

  • kirbyjay

    Severe depression/anxiety sufferer here. I was diagnosed 15 years ago and put on meds that I take to this day. Mr. Kirbyjay, while sympathetic and supportive, didn't understand the severity of my illness, kept telling me to "try to relax, go outside and do something, shake it off" and he lived with me. It wasn't until about 5 days into taking the meds, he saw the cloud lifted and I was back to normal that he realized that this was a physical disease and not "all in my head".
    There are so many people suffering with some kind of mental disorder that I get a little ranty that people don't educate themselves about it. Depression is not "having a bad day". Anxiety is not " feeling stressed" These are life threatening conditions. I was headed to suicide before I was diagnosed and I had two young children. Tell me that's " having a bad day and feeling stressed".
    Depression for Kirbyjay - A heavy weight on your head, feeling listless, no energy, headachy, upset stomach, no hope, no plans, no joy, wanting to curl up in bed all day, praying for sleep to get some relief, dwelling on every negative, either some slight from a family member or comment from a stranger, aversion to noise, no appetite, exhaustion from trying to feel otherwise and live a normal life. This is everyday,
    Anxiety for Kirbyjay- Brought on by noise. A blasting radio or tv, barking dogs, the thump, thump of a passing car stereo, my neighbor's bagpipes, a nitrogen tank being filled ( don't ask). 18 wheelers parked outside your house running all night. Screaming neighborhood kids. These and other disturbances would send my heart racing, unable to breathe, choking, shaking, lying in bed with 3 fans on and earplugs in my ears and being able to hear the pounding of my heartbeat, which made it worse. Depression and anxiety also leads to OCD and Agoraphobia, which I was developing. I could not tune anything out and I could hear, see, smell, feel, EVERYTHING! I was a mentally unstable Superman.
    I'm sorry that this post is so long but to just say you're depressed or anxious means very little to most people. This is what it is like, and this is probably the more milder of the mental illnesses. I can't imagine what bi-polar, schizophrenia, ADHD and other severe illness are like. Interestingly, I used to be able to write with a rare talent and had a desire to write a book. After I was cured, I lost all creativity. A reasonable tradeoff to me. When they say creative geniuses are nuts, I believe them.
    When I hear Tom Cruise and his Cult of Idiots say there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance, I get stabby.

  • Andrew J

    I tried to educate them until it felt like the only way they cared is if it affected them and they were looking for validation from me. It was also at a time when I wasn't in the right mind as I was still trying to understand and deal with my own illness

  • Sean

    I am not sure that anyone is actually laughing at Britney's mental health. Just the fact that she cannot sing, and never could. That before her drug and mental problems, she still was an artifcial creation.

    Do I feel compassion for Britney as a person? Of course. She was pimped out(almost certainly literally)to Disney as a young girl. Then ended up with no sense of reality, as she became incredibly rich. She could do anything she wanted, and never developed any ability to deal with the real world. She didn't have to. Her parents were too happy with the money to teach her to be a real person. She wasn't mentally on intellectually(go back to those pre-meltdown interviews. Britney is not the sharpest knife in the drawer) able to deal with fame. Hell, she married and reproduced with her drug dealer. Then after her epic meltdown, instead of letting the poor rich girl just fade away into retirement, the parents and managers made her keep doing the same old shit. There were too many people that were making money off of her. Someone mentioned Elvis elsewhere in the comments. That is somewhat true. Elvis was also stupid and ignorant and easily controlled by people who let him destroy himself.

  • HelloLongBeach

    That's blasphemy! ELVIS IS GOD!

  • Col. Parker took 50 percent of everything Elvis made, kept him in prescription drugs and trotted Elvis out for shows when the reserves got low. It sounds very familiar.

  • Sean

    Perhaps, but he was a simple one. With no brains,common sense, and taste.

  • alboalt

    Britney has become a pretty little pony who lives in a gilded stable with nice handlers who praise her to the skies and give her all the grain she can eat.

    Then, once in a while, she's taken out of her happy little place and is cleaned up and has ribbons put in her beautiful hair and is paraded around for everyone to pay their money and proclaim, "what a beautiful pony, we love her so much."

    And she's happy and her handlers are happy and she goes back to her stall and is brushed and fed with delicious hay, to stay there and dream happy pretty pony dreams until once again the stable bill comes due.

    So sad.

  • mzbitca

    She's not an animal. She's a human being. I get you're trying to make a statement here but she's not a Pony, she's a person and maybe she does like performing and maybe she doesn't but let's not compare her to an animal

  • CaliCheeseSucks

    This was a nice piece, thanks. I've never been a fan of her music but it's impossible not to think she'd be happier and healthier if she could just live in obscurity, raise her kids, and put herself first.

  • She's becoming this century's Elvis for all the bad reasons.

  • Kertburger

    I was just thinking about this with Donald Sterling. The man is obviously suffering through dementia and/or Alzheimers. But hey, he said racist shit so everyone gets to laugh at him with no shame. The man is sick.

  • Sean

    He was always a piece of shit. That said, his conwoman bimbo played him perfectly. As awful as it was, things said behind closed doors should remain so.

  • Emily Chambers

    He might be ill now, but his housing discrimination suit was filed in 2003. Which means they were investigating, and he was discriminating long before then. He's been a racist longer than he's been demented.

  • Kertburger

    Right. And right now he is at a diminished mental capacity and every thing he says is laughed at and mocked. It's not right.

    You mention his housing and discrimination lawsuit that was 11 years ago. Where was everyones morality then? Nowhere because the money was flowing and the NBA didn't give a shit. Where were the protests in 2003 that a known discriminating racist owned an NBA franchise? Why didn't the NBA do something then? They knew about it. It wasn't some secret.

    They have long known what a racist pig he was and they did NOTHING. "They were investigating"? Are you kidding me? He was buddies with David Stern, the NBA commissioner himself for decades. He dined with him, went to temple with him, went on vacations with him. Stern did NOTHING but ignore it because nobody wanted the boat rocked and Stern was getting a cut of the money.

    Again, this is about right now. Right now he has dementia and his crazy courtroom behavior is reported by the minute and mocked. Making fun of the mentally ill. Glad you are cool with that.

    By the way, the NAACP was 2 weeks away from giving Sterling a "Lifetime Achievement" award when that tape was leaked. Go ahead and tell me again about how he was being "investigated". Ha!

  • Emily Chambers

    I understand where you're coming from, but there are a few things I think need to be clarified.

    1.) The Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles investigated Sterling for discrimination and filed a suit against him. I wasn't referring to the NBA.

    2.) There's been no public claims the Sterling has Alzheimer's or dementia. There's no reason to assume he does.

    3.) His racist tendencies preceded any assumed illness. There's no reason not to shame and mock racists. Even if they're doddering old men who say stupid things.

  • Kertburger

    You are wrong and you obviously haven't been following what's going on.

    The entire point of this trial is that he has been determind to be "mentally unfit" to conduct business in the best interest of the family trust. That is what this whole court case is about.

    Again. Doctors have determined him to be "Mentally Unfit".

    This trial isn't about his racism and the damage that it will do to the NBA. That will be the next trial.

    Also, in reference to your point #1...

    So The Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles investigating Sterling for discrimination(and finding him guilty) shouldn't have any impact on his ownership of an NBA franchise? Laughable. He should have had the team stripped from him then. Why didn't he? $$$$$

  • Emily Chambers

    Fair enough. There have been public claims that Sterling is demented. Would you like to answer my other two points?

  • Kertburger

    Your point #1
    The Housing Rights Center of Los Angeles investigating Sterling for discrimination(and finding him guilty) shouldn't have any impact on his ownership of an NBA franchise? Laughable. He should have had the team stripped from him in 2003. Why didn't they do it? $$$$$

    Why was the NAACP willing to give a KNOWN RACIST a "Lifetime Achievement" award? $$$$$

    Point #3

    "His racist tendencies preceded any assumed illness. There's no reason not to shame and mock racists. Even if they're doddering old men who say stupid things."

    Where was the "mocking and shaming" in 2003?

    As I said, he has been medically determined to be "Mentally unfit" i.e. his brain is not working correctly. That makes him not just a "doddering old man", but a mentally ill old man.

    Let me give you a personal example...

    My mother was an abusive alcoholic. Beat the shit out of me my entire childhood. Later in life she developed Dementia. Her brain started to go away. She was no longer the woman who hurt me. She was a person who couldn't think about things correctly.

    Should I have said "Fuck you for beating me you bitch" and let her die on her own because of what she had done to me or was it better for me to talk to her and realize that this was no longer the same person who hurt me. This was someone whose brain was regressing to have more in common with a child than a thinking adult.

    If she hadn't had Dementia and was still an abusive person, I probably never would have had anything to do with her ever again. Similarly, Sterling was obviously a racist piece of shit and I have no problem with the NBA stripping him of his team because of it, but he is mentally ill now and doesn't need to be mocked any longer.(similar in point to the article we're commenting on)

    Physically my mother was the woman who hurt me. Mentally she no longer was. I was intelligent enough to see the difference and was by her side until the end.

    Obviously, I'm not saying stand by Sterlings remarks but holding up the fact that he can't tell lawyers apart and is acting schizophrenic towards his wife in the courtroom is nothing that needs to be laughed at and justifying it by saying "Well, he was racist before!" is frankly rather primitive.

  • Emily Chambers

    Listen, man. I know where you're coming from. And I mean that literally. Both my dad and step- dad were such abusive, mentally ill addicts that they didn't make it to 40 or 50 respectively. I understand that they were mentally ill, that their fucked up brains caused both the addiction and abominable behavior. But they were also both assholes. Yes, mostly due to their illnesses, but that didn't make their behavior any more bearable. Bad behavior doesn't become good behavior just because someone's mentally ill. It's still shitty behavior. I think we should be honest about the fact that having a mental illness is predicated on undesirable behavior.

    And in Sterling's case, because the racist behavior was present before any mental deficiencies, you can't even claim that the it's a result of his mental illness. He was a racist then, he is a racist now. The fact that he's gotten worse at hiding it doesn't elicit a lot of sympathy from me.

    Again, I really do see your point. If people were mocking Sterling because his dementia had made him walk outside in his underpants, I could get behind you. But I can't agree with allowing a current mental illness to absolve someone of their past mistakes.

  • Kertburger

    You missed my point.

    I'm not even saying my mothers alcoholism had anything to do with mental illness. No. That's a cop-out. I'm saying that when she became mentally ill, how was I going to hold her past against her?

    My point is that his current mental illness of course does not absolve him from his racist comments and behavior in the past but it sure as shit should absolve him from being mocked and made fun of in his current state. Him getting confused in court has nothing to do with his past racial remarks. It has to do with him getting confused in court because of his mental illness.

    Somehow it's OK to mock and make fun of his current mental illness because of his behavior in the past? No, it's really not.

  • Emily Chambers

    Can you give me an example of people making fun of him for his mental illness? Because I haven't been following his case, but when he was being covered on the late night shows/ Daily Show/ Colbert Report it wasn't about him saying stupid things. It was about him saying racist things.

  • Kertburger

    Perhaps you are not hearing what I am then.

    I am an LA Local and they broadcast transcripts of the current trial on local news and radio.

    Example 1: Today about halfway through his testimony he started to get combative with his own lawyer. Why? He started to think it was the other sides lawyer. This is played for laughs.

    Example 2: He was on the stand talking about how much he loves his wife and what a wonderful person she is. Minutes later when court was in recess, she came up to him to give him a hug and he yelled "Get away from me you pig". This is also played for laughs as "Look how looney this guy is!"

    Now couple that behavior with doctors who have already declared him as being mentally unfit. Is there really a doubt here?

  • Emily Chambers

    Ah, this would be the root of our misunderstanding. They're barely covering the trial out here in Chicago. So, yes, it sounds like the LA media are being dicks, and I can understand your position.

  • foolsage

    That's all I've seen as well, though admittedly I have not followed the matter closely. I just did a quick search on the topic, and it appears that two neurologists, hired by the family trust that owns/owned the Clippers, determined Sterling to be mentally unfit for ownership. That's not exactly the same as a diagnosis of e.g. dementia, to be clear, but ok, there's something to what Kertburger is saying, surely. Cynically, I'll point out that those two hired experts were paid by the people who sought that diagnosis, and not by objective third parties. I won't discount the claim that he's mentally unfit, anyhow.

    Still, though, I've yet to see anyone mock his mental state per se; I've only seen mockery of his racist comments. Granted, the latter can follow the former, but I don't think it was common knowledge that he had mental problems other than racism. In any case, not that I've been talking about him, but I'll cut him slack as there's evidence of genuine problems there.

    I do not knowingly mock people with disorders. Always punch up.

  • Emily Chambers

    Kertburger has pointed out that the media in LA is playing Sterling's mental deterioration for laughs. Which is clearly a dick move.

    I agree with your last statement, but would only add "I don't knowingly mock people with disorders for their disorders." People with mental illness cam still do mock worthy things that aren't a result of their mental illness. I feel ok making fun of them for those things.

  • foolsage

    Kertburger posted the additional information after I made that post. I wasn't aware of e.g. Sterling being confused about which lawyer was his. It definitely sounds as if Sterling is suffering from some form of dementia. That's terrible and should not be mocked.

    And you raise a valid point; I was thinking in terms of dementia, which is kind of all-encompassing, but many other disorders are not. It's not necessarily wrong to mock someone for something unrelated to their disorder or disability. On the other hand, people suffering from mental illness already have enough pain in their lives and don't need more, by and large.

  • I very like the way you think about this matter.
    I too, believe that things have become pretty ruthless with the mocking and overmentioning of celebrities' lives. Even (especially) mentally unstable ones'.

  • meh

    Let me start off by saying that I totally agree that what the music industry has done to this poor girl is reprehensible. Every time I see a story about her, the Southern Mama in me just wants to tuck her into bed and spoon feed her homemade mac and cheese.

    THAT SAID (code words for "now I transition into an asshole"), that William Orbit statement is bullshit. What you hear in that recording is a legitimate vocal take, not a warm up. As a trained singer who has worked in the business just a little bit, I'm telling you that the warm-ups the pros use sound nothing like that. In fact jumping in to actually singing the song is pretty much the worst thing you can do to yourself.

    I just wonder if the public is that deluded when it comes to the music industry. I mean, if we found out that someone like Adele had been millivanillied to the point of listenability, then I can see the shock. but Britney? Do people really assume she's a singer? She's an entertainer, but I guess I always assumed that the singing came secondary.

    Man....I am bitchy today.

  • PDamian

    I know nothing about the music industry. Just wanted to say: I love the word "millivanillied." Now I'm going to have to find uses for it in everyday conversation.

  • kirbyjay

    I thought that too. Millivanillied. I think most of the entertainment industry now is millivanillied.

  • Well that's the thing. She's NEVER been known for her vocal prowess. She's a performer. I've heard Madonna and Katy Perry sound no better in live performances though and no one says anything.

  • kirbyjay

    Good Lord, I was just about to type Madonna and I caught your post. Madonna....... Marketing? Yes. Shock value? Yes. Business acumen? Yes. Publicity? Yes. Costuming? Yes. Dancing? Possibly. Singing? NOT!

  • Kate

    But that's the thing, Madonna and Katy do sing live or at least partially live pretty often. And people do talk about how poorly they sing, but it's not a scoop when a new video is put on Youtube because there's hundreds of their crappy live performances out there.

    There's very few real live performances/un-autotuned tracks out there by Britney, so when does one come out it gets attention because we very, very rarely hear anything resembling her actual voice.

  • Pajiba_Pragmatist

    Actually, Britney WAS known for her vocal prowess back when she had just started to break in at age 10. I don't like her style (and I hate, hate, hate the way she enters every note with that weird rasp-growl thing), but if you go back to her star-search days, she had some pipes (albeit with a full dump truck full of bad habits).

    I mention this because I hate it when people assume that 'they could sing as well as [popstar xxxx]'. It denigrates the hard work other people have put in, Britney included, because it suggests its all a puppet show. Someone has to perform, and if you go you-tubing around for britney's real voice, it's clear she used to have some level of skill.

  • meh

    Exactly. And yet when something like this gets revealed, people think it's hilarious. I just don't get it.

  • emmalita

    People are like sheep. Someone pointed and laughed so a bunch of other people pointed and laughed. I was probably just really disrespectful to sheep. I'm sorry sheep.

  • Some sheep are real assholes though.

  • chandler02

    Even though she might have mental illness, I don't think that is what this is about at all. I think the spread of this track is based on the fact that people are amazed that someone who can't sing very well at all gets paid to be a professional singer. Even before her mental issues surfaced, people knew she couldn't sing well, but it was very hard to find any examples of her voice by itself because it was always hidden with autotune and back-up singers.

  • Zuffle

    That's a mighty fine line you walk there, Courtney.

  • oh, courtney...i can't tell you how much i agree with you sometimes.

    i also am constitutionally unable to read anything about britney spears without remembering craig ferguson's thoughts on the issue, and immediately posting this video in response:


    some people just need to back the fuck off.

  • Tinkerville

    Mental illness weighs pretty heavily on my life, unfortunately, and it's gotten to the point where I try to avoid internet conversations about it altogether due to people's lack of understanding, but luckily I can always trust Courtney to talk about it respectfully. Just speaking about it with family, close friends, and employers, is hellish for those of us who suffer from one mental illness or another -- I can't even begin to imagine what these people go through when their "antics" are laughed at by millions of people.

    On thing I'd like to add, though, is that under no circumstances should we be making armchair diagnosis about celebrities if we don't know the full truth. I saw it on Pajiba with Donald Glover, and that can be as harmful as the ridicule and the jeering.

  • Salieri2

    Hey Tinkerville, have you read Andrew Solomon's book on Depression, The Noonday Demon? I don't know what you're struggling with and it ain't none of my bidness, but I like to recommend it to people worn out by judginess and cheap shots, because: it is deeply, deeply humane and respectful and intelligent and even-handed without fake equivalence, and reading it is like breathing clean air. It intersects with broader discussion of mental illness and also has some overlap with his other goddamn masterpiece, Far From The Tree, eg: schizophrenia.

    To me, despite the seriousness of the topic, it is an antidote, it lifts the weight of call that garbage we absorb on the internet or from people. There is plenty of dry humor, which is probably my favorite kind.


  • nosio

    I have a hard time reading about people clearly struggling with mental illness for entertainment, so I mostly avoid stuff related to Britney, Amanda Bynes, and even LiLo (I know everyone thinks she's an asshole, but I feel like somewhere along her descent the lines between "asshole" and "acting out because of her insane family" got blurred, and I can't help but pity her).

    But my curiosity got the better of me this time, because I just listened to the unedited track. And honestly - it's not that bad! I mean, her voice is quavers a bit and she doesn't stay on pitch the whole time, but 1) based on everyone's reaction, I was expecting something way worse, and 2) those issues can both be related to a lack of proper breath support, which is pretty fixable. And, I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't put on a Britney album for her melodious vocals, you put it on because it's got DEM BEATZ.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I know they're immature, but I still think the South Park Britney episode was one of the best summaries of how we treat fragile celebrities ever produced.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    Is that the one where Britney literally blew most of her head off? Ye gods that thing gave me nightmares for weeks. But yes - one of the best takes on it. It made me cry.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    That scene where she thinks Stan is her son, before realizing he's just another idiot trying to get a picture, was so deeply profoundly sad. It's stayed with me after all these years.

  • Laura

    Agreed. I was thinking about that episode the entire time I was reading this very thoughtful piece.

  • Salasalu

    Britney Spears usually does not get my click. Her track last week did...so did this.
    Thank you.

  • Maguita NYC

    Whether I agree with you or not, I have to tell you that your writing gave my conscience a much-needed rebooting.

    If my humanity, or lack thereof, has lately been left in a dumpster somewhere between Twitter Rage and Facebook Shame avenues, your article Courtney is a great reminder of the empathy we are supposed to have for one another.

    No matter how big, or small, one's bank account is. It shouldn't make a difference.

  • jim kizer

    I think Craig said it best.

  • TQB

    It's sad to realize how old that clip is and how little we've learned or changed.

  • Jormis

    My thoughts exactly...

  • Berry

    He's good people. Anyone who can talk about such difficult things in a way that's both honest, hear-felt and funny is in my book.

  • Bad Superman

    I wanted him to get the Letterman gig.

  • Ryan Ambrose

    I had never seen this before, thank you.

  • PDamian

    Came here to post this. Leaving satisfied.

  • crap, i guess i should have read further down the thread.

    cosign, obvs.

  • emmalita

    I have this clip on my "Feel better" playlist. I have watched it many many times over the years.

  • general rhubarb

    Me too. It's a lovely reminder that we all share the human experience and we are only as good as the way we treat each other.

  • NateMan

    He usually does.

  • JoeK

    Leave Britney alone, indeed.

  • Krissy

    Britney Spears is certainly not a topic I expected to read about on this site but I am pleasantly surprised at how compassionate and heartfelt this article is. Thank you so much for addressing this sad state of affairs.

  • Mrs. Julien

    The fact that she is even still able to get on stage and move at all is frankly impressive, albeit tragic and obviously not of her own choice.

    My only question about this spot on article is why do we assume that she doesn't want to perform and is being coerced in some way?

  • aroorda

    Pretty well known fact that her dad has a conservatorship over her forcing her to work, and she's most likely been threatened with being declared an unfit parent if she decided to just quit. "She can't handle a job so she obviously can't handle her kids."

  • I've read several interviews where she's stated she wants to be a retire and full-time mom and not be photographed anymore. I believe LaineyGossip has said every tour and album is like a carrot they dangle in front if her like if you do this you can have a break.


  • Kate

    She hasn't given a real sit down interview in a long time, her responses to interviewers these days are written and emailed by someone other than her, so I wouldn't put too much stock in them.

    She goes off the rails when she's not working, even if she just has a few months off. I think some part of her would like to retire and just be a mom, but realistically she's not actually capable of caring for her children by herself even when she's doing ok, she only has partial custody because she's under conservatorship and is never left alone with her boys for an extended period. The fantasy wouldn't match up to the reality.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Okay. Then that just makes it worse.

    Jeezy chreezy, how much money do people need?

  • foolsage

    More. Always more. Greed is insidious.

  • Dulce et Banana

    They're like ticks - they'll drain her dry, leave her husk at the side of the road and move on to the next "meal."

  • Sean

    They already tried that with her little sister. And that didn't turn out good for anyone.

  • emmalita

    Thank you for consistently writing about mental illness and addiction with such compassion.

  • Jormis

    This is worth watching again and again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • Jiffylush

    I was going to post this, thank you so much.

  • exactly.

  • Mythra Sun

    I give you Britney and Amanda (both who at least received some semblance of help from their parents). However, there is not enough evidence of Shia having a mental disorder beyond spoiled, entitled asshole. If I am wrong, then I am wrong, but using mental illness as an excuse for douchey behavior doesn't help.

  • nolarkinsley

    my Aunty
    Allison recently got a nice 6 month old Jaguar by working from a macbook.this website C­a­s­h­f­i­g­.­C­O­M­

  • I have felt that way for a very long time and stopped writing about him because I didn't want to give him attention, but he's taken a decidedly Bynesy turn. I can't verbalize it, but there's something about him that reads more sick, less Lohan. Her I see asshole. LaBeouf I'm not sure.

  • The Replicant Brooke

    I just read that as "I see her asshole" and was immediately sorry my brain did that to me.

  • Mythra Sun

    I completely agree with the Lohan assessment. Chance after chance that people continuously give her (really "Speed the Plow" producers?) just enables her lack of accountability and further her delusions of grandeur.

    The only reason I am not on the Shia Lebouf mental illness train is because of his behavior after he was arrested (spitting at cops, hurling derogatory words, using his celebrity) He could be more Spears or Bynes than Bieber or Lohan, but we will see. I thought thought it was convenient timing since it was Transformers opening weekend and according to a podcast i heard with Lorenzo di Bonaventura it was Paramount's decision to drop him from the franchise. It just seemed he wanted some attention and he got it.

  • NateMan

    But... That's just it. You see Lohan as an asshole (I incidentally agree). But she's clearly someone with substance abuse issues, which stem from somewhere. So where do you draw the line?

    I have no idea, by the way. And being mentally disturbed and an asshole are not mutually exclusive states. But if Spears, Bynes, LeDouche are off limits, shouldn't Lohan be also? And what about Mel Gibson? He sure seems disturbed to me.

    I don't know. We spend too much time on people's private lives anyway.

  • It is admittedly not scientific. I may be and probably am completely wrong about Lohan, and I've eased up on her quite a bit thinking that. But to me there's a strategy behind her, an awareness I just don't see in the others. I don't know.

  • NateMan

    The 'strategy' line makes me laugh. :) If that woman's antics qualify as strategy I just thank all the gods she didn't go into the military. North Korea's leaders look like early Napoleon by comparison.

  • "One of the greatest singers of all time, and an angel if there ever was one on this earth." https://www.youtube.com/watch?...

blog comments powered by Disqus