March 10, 2008

Britney Spears: the perils of instant judgement

Columns like this one in today's Guardian worry me. For all I know the author may be right- but her argument seems to me to be unrelated to any fact. Basically she asserts that Britney Spears and her decline and fall can be accounted by the society that she lives in. The fact that Britney has problems is a result of our expectations in attempting to control her and our attempts to describe those problems in terms which we would only use for a woman and for a mother. She suggests that Britney does not have problems, its we who have problems, not seeing a rebellion against the celebrity system as a natural phenomenon, but as the psychotic aspect of a woman who has betrayed motherhood. I'm not saying that Lisa Appignanesi is wrong- she might be right. But I would say that I know nothing about Britney's psychology and I don't think that Lisa Appignanesi does either. I don't know why Britney has done the things she has done. I don't know what has prompted her father to take control of her affairs, I don't know the content of her relationships with her husbands or her children. I can only hope that the best things are being done for and by her and her family- but without closer knowledge who am I to say anything.

Lisa Appignanesi seems to me here to be making a real mistake- she has a set of assumptions about the way that psychiatry works, as a tool here for sexual oppression. She then finds an instance and shows that it can be seen as fitting with her thesis- and then she proclaims that her thesis is true. Anecdotal evidence is always hard to assess- but its harder still if there are ways of conceiving of the evidence in a different light- Britney may be a victim of mental illness, we don't know. We don't know why her doctors have made the judgement they have made. Caution is always a good principle when thinking about other people's lives especially when you don't have the fullest information set- scepticism is needed from the writer as well as the readers. I don't think that Appignanesi has demonstrated either scepticism or caution here- and it makes it very difficult to take what she says in the future seriously.


stacy said...


yay britney!

Gracchi said...

Blogpost on Britney box ticked!