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Britney, Caroline Flack and now Meghan: Welcome to the media equivalent of “she was asking for it”


by Amanda Cassidy
21st Feb 2021

Relentless media coverage was a contributor to Britney Spear's downfall according to the controversial new documentary examining her rise to fame. But in a time when we criticise Meghan Markle for simply announcing her pregnancy, it seems as a society we've learned nothing at all.

Daniel Ramos is the photographer who took the now infamous shot of Britney Spears hitting his car with an umbrella during a time when she was very obviously experiencing mental health problems.

“There were times when she was like, ‘Can you leave me alone for the day?’ But it wasn’t like, ‘Leave me alone forever,’ you know what I mean?” he is quoted as saying as part of the latest Spears documentary charting her rise and subsequent fall during some of her most vulnerable years.

Privacy

It smacks of little remorse and even less understanding when it comes to the issue of consent. This type of victim-blaming isn’t consigned to the past. This week we’ve seen old footage emerge of an excruciating segment with David Letterman interviewing Lyndsay Lohan where he pushes her uncomfortably to speak about her rehab experience. Are we only realising now that such an invasion into the lives of these people isn’t ok?

This type of mentlity risks equating an assumed lack of objection to consenting for a free-for-all on their lives. Just because someone is famous or “put themselves out there” doesn’t mean you can take them – all of them. That was never the agreement.

In the Framing Britney documentary, we see an eleven-year-old Britney Spears complimented on her looks and then asked if she has a boyfriend by a middle-aged male interviewer.

Aged just 17, she battles questions about her chest development from more male interviews. After that everything focuses on her virginity, literally everything.

It makes for difficult viewing, especially when you understand the fallout from all of it – her very public breakdown and conservatorship. And yet they kept snapping, even with Spear’s assistant begging them not to film.

“You seem to get furious when a talk show host comes up with this subject,” remarks one interviewer, as if fury wasn’t a pretty reasonable response when it comes to that topic.

Introspection

But although it seems like a lifetime ago since we bopped to Hit Me Baby One More Time, the reality is that we’ve learned nothing at all. Meghan Markle is testament to that. The outrage over her “audacity” to announce her second pregnancy (after miscarriage) was frighteningly vitriolic.

Those in the spotlight have the right to pick and choose what they deem “sellable.” It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. And “putting themselves out there” doesn’t mean they will allow themselves automatically to be torn apart by media sharks.

The headlines had a field day of course, especially after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s announcement last year that they would have zero engagement policy with certain tabloids. “Publicity-shy woman tells 7 billion people: I’m pregnant,” screamed one.

But this isn’t an attempt to control the media – an impossible task. This is about controlling their own narrative within the media – the right to their privacy when they choose it, the right to release what they want released, when they want it released.

Do we seriously have a problem with that?

Consent

These people aren’t simply “asking for it” just because they are perceived as celebrities. It is reasonable to expect them to have a private life that they don’t want others to know about. That’s not cheating in some way, by the way, that’s just humans trying to…human, with their messy lives, miscarriages, family arguements, mental health breakdowns.

Why do we feel as if we have the right to know everything about them just because they make music or married into royalty or presented a TV show?

Introspection is needed when it comes to what we consume from our celebrities. And not only from the men in the room.