Oops…they did it again

Jennifer is working for mindyourmind as a Research Associate, she is here on a student placement from Western University in London, ON. As a future librarian she is passionate about connecting people to information and developing resources that help in times of need. Outside of work she loves reading, rugby, and watching terrible movies with her friends.

As someone who grew up in the 2000’s, the music of Britney Spears may not be my tune of choice but it has been a constant presence in my life. In high school I used to listen to these tracks on the radio on the school commute, in university her songs were often remixed in clubs on a Saturday night and these days whenever I hear one of her tracks I often find myself singing along under my breath without realizing it. When I heard that there was going to be a movie of her life this past weekend I knew that a) it was unlikely to be Oscar worthy and b) I had to watch it with my friends.

If you have been at all aware of Ms. Spears in the past 10 years you may know that while career wise she has done pretty well for herself, she has had some struggles with mental health which has played out in the public eye on several occasions. Going into this movie I was worried about how they were going to handle this period of her life; while I hoped that they would present the issues with care and respect, I predicted that we would see something overly dramatic and stereotypical. Unfortunately as the film unfolded it quickly became clear that they were going to go down the dramatic and stereotypical route, what had started out as a funny and bizarre little film quickly became a very uncomfortable experience. The filmmakers choose to show the dramatic negative impacts of mental illness from an outside perspective while not offering no context about what mental illness does to a person.

In the midst of this I was very glad the live twitter response showed that I was not the only one who felt this way. I saw people on social media who were upset and frustrated over this representation of this individual and what she went through, in fact I have yet to hear a positive review of what we witnessed this past weekend. We all have mental health and many of us struggle with mental illness during our lives, it is something that needs to be talked about however it should be done in such a way that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes and stigmas. No matter how public a figure you are, you are entitled to your privacy especially when it concerns medical issues. I wish that paparazzi would show some discretion and give people the space to heal when they are unwell instead of making someone’s personal issues cannon fodder for our entertainment.

I would like to think that the negative feedback that the film received will be enough to make the producers and network owners think twice before making something like that again however I know that is unlikely. I just wanted to say that if you watched that film on Saturday evening and you were upset by how mental illness was portrayed then you are not the only one, not by a long shot. If that film did one good thing it inspired some very positive and constructive conversations online as people refused to buy into what they saw. If Ms. Spears ever decides to talk about this time in her life then good for her but until that time we should show some respect and give her space. The way that you and I may feel uncomfortable talking about our mental health she possibly does too, we have to show respect towards everyone and continue the productive conversations if we are going to change the way that mental illness is shown in the media. For now I think I am going to have to listen to some classic Britney Spears to make myself feel better.