Britney Spears's conservatorship nightmare

The idea that Spears needs this conservatorship to function is, to some degree, self-reinforcing. In that respect, experts said, her case is common. Martinis, the disability-rights lawyer, said that many guardianships can prove inescapable, which is why they are vulnerable to abuse. In the extreme cases, he said, “the strategy is isolate, medicate, liquidate. You isolate them, medicate them to keep them quiet, liquidate the assets.” If a conservatee functions well under conservatorship, it can be framed as proof of the arrangement’s necessity; if a conservatee struggles under conservatorship, the same conclusion can be drawn. And if a conservatee gets out, and stumbles into crisis or manipulation—a likelihood increased by time spent formally disempowered—this, too, might reinforce the argument for their prior legal restraints. “Our mistakes make us who we are, and teach us who we can be,” Martinis said. “Without bad choices, we can’t be wholly human. And with the best of intentions, we say to people with disabilities: we’ll keep you from ever making a mistake.” He added, “Should Britney get out, just watch. The first mistake she makes, fingers will wag, and people will say this would never have happened if she were under guardianship.”...

The question of control has surrounded Britney Spears from the start of her career. How much was she being manipulated by the powerful men who stood to profit from her image? To what extent was her existence manufactured by the demands of the system around her? A strong sense of self-ownership always emerged from Spears in performance, specifically in dance: when she moved, she was sharp, knowing, seemingly absorbing everything thrown at her and surmounting it through sheer will and charisma. And, all along, as her fans have noticed, she has been singing songs that she didn’t write but which nonetheless seem to speak directly to her situation: my loneliness is killing me; I’m a slave for you; I’m not a girl, not yet a woman; you want a piece of me. As famous and wealthy as Spears has been since she was a teen-ager, she has never been in full control of her life. Many of the most harrowing revelations in her testimony had been visible to anyone who cared to look closely. She told the court that she’d wanted to express them for a long time but had been afraid to do so in public. “I thought people would make fun of me,” she said. “Or laugh at me and say, ‘She’s lying. She’s got everything. She’s Britney Spears.’ ”