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Britney Spears Getty 2.jpg

Why the Conspiracy Theorists Will Never Leave Britney Spears (Or Any Celebrity) Alone

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 30, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 30, 2023 |

Britney Spears Getty 2.jpg

The public protests to the conservatorship that singer Britney Spears found herself dominated by for well over a decade might be one of the most impactful events in celebrity culture of the century so far. One of the most famous women on the planet, a mother of two in her mid-30s, was unable to make decisions about her career, her finances, and her reproductive autonomy because of deeply questionable legal rulings that gave her father control over every aspect of her life. The #FreeBritney movement inspired support from all levels of the political spectrum and eventually led to Spears regaining power over her wealth, labour, and personal life. A sizeable portion of her most vocal defenders had spent years trying to uncover the truth about Spears’ situation. It was that rarest of phenomena: the internet conspiracy theorists were right about something.

One would think they’d take solace in their rightness on this controversial topic and the positive results of Spears’ conservatorship ending. Alas, as a Vulture piece noted, the theories did not end with that court case. The conspiracies have only gotten more plentiful, more complex in their web of shady control and industry intrigue. According to them, Spears isn’t truly free and she’s still sending secret, highly cryptic calls for help to her loyal true fans. Every video she shares or Instagram post she writes is another cry for salvation. Some even believe she was never freed from her conservatorship to begin with. More zealous tinhatters claim she’s been replaced with a double or AI. Some went so far as to call 911 and request the police do a wellness check on her.

This entire case has driven home a harsh truth about not simply celebrity conspiracies but the entire concept as a whole: there is no out to the madness. No proof will sate those who are head-deep in uncovering the truth because they don’t even know how to define that.

Celebrity conspiracies don’t tend to attract the same level of serious analysis as, for example, myriad political theories that have utterly polluted the contemporary discourse. They tend to be viewed as almost quaint, akin to the UFO nerds or Bigfoot obsessives that made up the comic relief in many a ’90s sitcom. Yet the crossover between these various realms is undeniable. The rhetoric is nearly identical across the board. There are always shady power players pulling the strings behind the scenes. Abuse of all kind is rife in plain sight. Near-indecipherable codes to the truth are in plain sight but only for a handful of perennially online folks who circle images in MS Paint like they’re Perez Hilton. There’s usually a woman, a queer person, or person of colour to blame for it all.

One of the lesser discussed aspects of modern online-driven conspiracies is how much of it is coming from demographics we typically don’t consider to be the target demographic for such lunacy. TikTok conspiracies are plentiful and widely shared by young women who proudly put their names and faces to these outlandish beliefs. Indeed, it’s only further emphasized how frequently these conspiracies, particularly things like QAnon, are heavily driven by women. This is interesting because one of the most prevalent conspiracies of the decade so far, those pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, are more likely to be perpetrated by men according to a study by the National Library of Medicine. There is something, dare I say, more accessible about a celebrity theory that is intriguing to women young and old, especially if you’re already knee-deep in fandom.

The most potent delusions are driven by a sliver of truth. For every tinhatter who believes that, for example, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are in a secret relationship, there will be someone providing ‘evidence’ rooted in very real truths about how queer people in the entertainment world have long been forced into the closet by their managers and industry-wide pressures. We all know that Rock Hudson was pushed into marrying a woman to conceal his sexuality from the prying press. That’s enough to justify many theorists’ ideas, regardless of how outlandish they are or how times have changed in regard to gender and sexual identity. Spears’ fans were right: she was being smothered by a shoddy legal ruling that had no place in the life of a grown woman working as publicly and frequently as she did. So, of course, they must be right about everything else, surely?

A conspiracy is not meant to be resolved. It isn’t designed to conclude and allow everyone involved to move on with their lives. The mistake is to think of such things as tasks, as something with an inevitable and sought-after ending. That requires logic and a desire for reason, two things conspiracists avoid with zeal. The rabbit hole can and should always go deeper for the most ardent tinhatters. The goalposts are always moving. So, yes, Britney might be free of her conservatorship now, but in the eyes of those who dedicated years of their lives to uncovering this injustice, there will always be darker truths to reveal. And it’s their job to uncover it because they’re the ones who stand apart from the sheeple who can’t see the truth they see amidst the codes and eye twitches and poorly angled photographs.

It’s disturbing for obvious reasons, but it’s also a disheartening missed opportunity. Surely it would have been more impactful and beneficial for Spears and her fans to move on from her case and lobby for changes to conservatorship laws as well as greater support for those dealing with mental health issues? These laws are too easily abused, and the most vulnerable people in society suffer as a result, but are their lives not showy enough for conspiracists to care? I think it’s more rooted in a hunt for something thrilling, and the sad truth is that most abuses aren’t part of a shady cabal of dastardly men in suits controlling the world from their secret lair. Spears’ conservatorship happened in plain sight.

QAnon cultists don’t campaign to change child labour laws in the entertainment world to better suit the current climate of online work and internet fame, even though that would be an extremely effective way to support exploited children. They prefer to spin increasingly complex lore that fuels their pre-existing paranoia (which is typically super racist, sexist, and antisemitic, of course.) Crazed shippers don’t push back against controlling managers and record labels who worked the likes of Spears and One Direction well past the legal limit and isolated them from their loved ones. They double down on a fetishized version of forbidden love that encourages their self-aggrandizing attitudes towards gender and sexuality. And the current brand of Spears theorists aren’t willing to accept that a mentally ill woman is going to lead a messy public life. Her actions can’t be the collateral damage of years of abuse and exploitation; it must be something far juicier because, frankly, that’s more fun to talk about. That’s why they won’t leave her alone. For all the talk of freeing her from a cruel machine that treated her as a commodity, these ‘fans’ still want her to dance for them on demand.