Britney Spears’ conservatorship case shook the world. The pop star whose music amassed millions of followers and a fortune revealed that for the past 13 years, she’s been through hell. She claims she has been exploited by her family, especially her father, appointed by the court to oversee the singer’s finances. Her family didn’t allow her to make decisions about anything from spending her money to work schedule, choosing a therapist, seeing friends, medication, the color of kitchen cabinets, and even her own body. The star went on and on during a recent court hearing, painting a terrifying picture of the prison she’s lived in.
“The people who did that to me should not be able to walk away so easily,” she said, adding that she would like to sue them. While she was referring to her family, the blame for the singer’s mental breakdown and subsequent events isn’t solely on them. It’s not so long ago when it was acceptable to bully, stalk, sexualize, harass and dehumanize famous people – especially young women – and then judge them when they can’t handle it. The toxic obsession with gossip and cancel culture is where it all started.
The history resurfacing
The 90s it-girls that we felt entitled to ridicule come back to haunt us today. Britney Spears. Paris Hilton. Lindsay Lohan. Amanda Bynes. Torn apart by the media and the public for being drunk, shaving their head, being sexual, or crying in public. And while being a celebrity still comes with a high risk of public scrutiny, it seems that the public has started to reflect.
Case in point: following the shocking Framing Britney Spears documentary, people started admitting that we treated young female celebrities appallingly. The Twittersphere dug up old talk show interviews, and netizens were in collective shock. If an interviewer is so blatantly disrespectful today, consequences are inevitable. After all, that’s what just happened to Ellen DeGeneres, who is retiring from her show following controversies related to her personality and hostile work environment.
But back then, you could slut-shame Britney Spears to her face and mock Lindsay Lohan for being an alcoholic in one of the world’s most popular late-night shows.
Chrissy Teigen and the permission to bully
Chrissy Teigen has been a Twitter darling and people’s favorite supermodel for ages. She’s borderline impossible not to like unless you’re Donald Trump, who is one of many people the model used to target. Like-minded people loved her witty remarks, while the furious former president even blocked her.
As a deep dive from Vox explains, Teigen built her brand on being “good at Twitter”. The targets of her jokes have always been people who seemed to have deserved it, and so we enjoyed her insults. Did Trump deserve it? Quite possibly. But did a 16-year old child abused in a marriage with a 50-year old man? Courtney Stodden, today 26, only recently disclosed how much Teigen had hurt them with her brutal trolling (Stodden identifies as non-binary).
Supermodel’s tweets included terrible statements such as “you. dirt nap. mmm baby”. She also tweeted how much she hates Stodden and DMd them to kill themself. No one batted an eye back then, not even when she joked about Lindsay Lohan cutting herself and claiming Sarah Palin should kill herself. Those actions aged exceptionally poorly. The tweets were public: yet it took ten years for it to become a scandal. And as Vox notes, it’s an accurate illustration of how much has Twitter (and our culture by extent) changed since then.
The future of (celebrity) cancel culture
Instead of being canceled herself, Teigen’s seemingly genuine apology seems to have done the trick. Yes, she immediately lost several business partnerships, and she may never fully regain her Twitter queen status. Still, she is already slowly returning to social media and the spotlight without significant hate. Not everyone was so lucky, and yes, not everyone should. Still, it might be about time to cancel the vicious circle of cancel culture.
Teigen’s case seems to illustrate how. We should use social media to call out unacceptable behavior in a respectful manner and demand accountability. It’s a tool to ignite a meaningful conversation where anyone has a shot to instigate real change. But when someone acknowledges their faults and takes responsibility, perhaps they don’t need to spend years in shame and hiding. Just like some of those young celebrities did when we drove past the breaking point and let cancel culture ruin their lives.
Cover photo credit Sam Lavy on Flickr