The haunting of Britney’s soul

britney-spears-circusThe Divine MZ and I have decided to go shallow, for a day, in a blatant attempt to appeal to search engines.

All jesting aside, I have always been interested — in a trying not to stare at a train wreck fashion — with the role of faith and moral issues in the career of Britney Spears. I mean, she starts out as a Southern Baptist kid with stars in her eyes, veers into sexy teen-ager mode (very early on, if her mother is to be believed), tries to maintain some sense of Middle-American shine into her early MTV stardom, veers into bi-Madonna Kabbalah land and then blasts off into her current reign as a tabloid goddess. She even made a quick, tearful walk down the born-again aisle with her mother — in front of cameras, naturally — in a Bible church in Inglewood, Calif.

All of which only adds to the sad tone of that recent Los Angeles Times coverage of her father’s attempts to keep her somewhere near the straight and narrow. I kept wondering if the reporter was going to make any references to faith and morality in this soap opera, but it never happened.

But there are ghosts in the story, for sure. Check out the top of Harriet Ryan’s report:

Entering his second hour on the witness stand, Britney Spears’ father was the picture of resigned misery. His shoulders sagged like he was carrying buckets of cement. His suit jacket flapped open and his tie lay crookedly across his barrel chest. His eyes were puffy and cast down and his mouth drooped in the pronounced frown of a bulldog.

James Spears, a Louisiana native known everywhere but the courthouse as Jamie, earned his living as a cook until 13 months ago when his famous daughter was confined to a hospital psychiatric ward for the second time. A judge set up a conservatorship that gave him control of virtually every aspect of the singer’s personal life as well as shared oversight of her business interests, an empire of music and marketing worth tens of millions.

And you know what is coming:

The well of revelations about Spears is never dry. No gossip blog cycle is complete without the purported inside scoop about Britney. The performer herself gave an extensive interview about her troubles to MTV late last year, and her mother, Lynne, who is divorced from Jamie, published a tell-all memoir a few months before that. But in a windowless courtroom, a realm of harsh lights, unavoidable questions and real consequences, Jamie Spears’ halting testimony conjured a picture of his daughter that lacked the polish of a book and the tawdriness of a supermarket tabloid.

Although his demeanor on the witness stand conveyed a desire to be anywhere else, the proceeding underway in Judge Aviva Bobb’s courtroom … comes at the insistence of Jamie Spears and a team of attorneys representing him and his daughter’s estate. He is seeking restraining orders against three men who he says are trying to undermine significant improvements to his daughter’s mental and physical health. But in his testimony, he suggested he was also battling the performer herself.

small-tmzvideochurchOn one level, this is the story of the devils in Britney’s mobile phone — in the persons of her former aide Osama Lutfi and her ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib. It’s a quick leap from a secret text message to a hook-up with her world of clubs, booze and drugs, all in front of the usual army of paparazzi.

Can you say “restraining orders”? I knew that you could.

At the same time, it’s hard to talk about defamation of character when there is some question who, precisely, in this tale has any character left.

Sad, sad, sad. You have to ask, at some point, if Britney’s talent is some kind of curse. Some might ask if she is mentally ill. Others might turn that question in a spiritual direction.

But, hey! What about the new album? She’ll need to tour, right?

Lutfi has suggested that Britney Spears’ parents do not have her best interests at heart, and his attorney appeared to echo those charges by asking her father several questions about whether his daughter was mentally fit enough to go on a planned tour to promote her new record. Jamie Spears acknowledged that his daughter was confused “sometimes,” but said she is ready to perform onstage.

Millions will watch, of course. Lord, have mercy.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Sexy pictures on GetReligion. What’s next? :-)

  • Stoo

    Can we have Beyonce next? She’s much prettier than these two.

  • FrGregACCA

    Glad y’all are dealin’ with some serious, substantive issues. Just in time for Lent and all… ;-)

  • Sarah Webber

    Call me a softie, but I feel sorry for the girl. Two kids in a year, a broken marriage . . . the list goes on and on. It doesn’t matter how much money she has, if she’s still drinking and doing drugs, her life is miserable. I wish it wasn’t. I wish she could find some peace in her life.

  • Dale

    Just thought I’d add a little meat to the story. . .

    The press keeps referring to Jamie Spears as the “conservator” without describing what that means. In my state, a conservator is appointed by the Probate Court to manage another person’s finances when that person is incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage his or her financial estate. A “guardian” is appointed to make decisions about the personal life of a person whom the court has determined legally incompetent. So, at least in my state, a conservator can’t do what Jamie Spears apparently does. Under California law, however, a “conservator” can be appointed over a person’s finances, or over the person, or both. A “guardian” is only appointed for minors. Before a reporter throws a legal term into a story, it may pay to remember that the same word can have different meanings in multiple jurisdictions.

    Another thing that the press skips over in this story is court supervision. A casual reader may draw the conclusion that Jamie Spears has complete control over his daughter and her estate, but that’s not the case. The court appointed him conservator, which means that he is responsible to the court for his financial management and his other decisions on behalf of his daughter. In my state, that means he must produce quarterly financial statements to the court, and that Ms. Spears can request a hearing before the judge if she disagrees with her father’s directions or if she wants him replaced as conservator. If she wants to work, he can’t stop her unless he can prove to the court that work will harm her. If she doesn’t work, she loses considerable income, so the burden of proof is going to fall on her father to show that the money isn’t worth it.

    None of the probate proceedings in Ms. Spears case will get tabloid coverage because neither Ms. Spears nor her father want that part of their personal business in the press, and with both parties’ consent, they can keep hearings private. A motion for a temporary restraining order can’t be kept private.

    Ultimately, it’s the Los Angeles County Probate Court in charge, not Jamie Spears. He’s got a court ordered salary of $2,500 a week to do what he does for his daughter. I’ll bet that’s considerably less than her parasites– er, friends– were making. He can’t take a percentage of her earnings like a manager would–the court would forbid that as a conflict of interest.

    What’s this got to do with religion? Uh. . .

    Jamie Spears is a “fiduciary” a legal term derived from the Latin, fide meaning faith or trust. ;-)

  • David

    What do you mean, her “talent” is a curse? If that were true, she’d be fine. She has none!

  • Nan

    As far as the lack of references to faith and morality, I would ask what religion, if any, does the former aide and ex-boyfriend practice, and if Britney’s father is concerned about them trying to convince/coerce Britney to go in yet another religious direction…