By David Osland
There’s no way of knowing what Karl Marx would have made of twenty-first century bubblegum pop. I suspect he wouldn’t have liked it any more than I do.
But next time you reread the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, stop to consider the uncanny application of his critique of alienated labour to poor old Britney Spears.
I have not, I confess, listened to any of her music by way of research for this article. Life is short and there is too much Ornette Coleman, Howlin’ Wolf and Patti Smith back catalogue to even think about doing that.
But it is the job of socialists to speak up against exploitation and oppression wherever they find it, and the enormous torment that Spears must be suffering right now is a case in point of both.
The American singer hit the big time in 1998, with a video that bordered on paedophile pornography, heavily focussed on the bare midriffs of gyrating schoolgirls chanting lyrics laden with the innuendo that women are grateful for domestic violence.
Mass circulation magazines speculated on when and in what circumstances she lost her virginity.
After becoming one of the biggest stars on the planet, Spears struggled with her mental health. No-one disputes she needed appropriate help and – unlike many in the world’s richest country – was able to afford it.
But instead, her life was in 2008 handed over to her father, through the US legal institution of conservatorship. That is something akin to lasting power of attorney in Britain, except far more sweeping.
Some 13 years later, the assumption remains that she lacks the capacity to direct her own affairs, and this week she has challenged that determination in court.
What isn’t in doubt is that conservators – who now include a gentleman with the unimprovably Dickensian name of Andrew Wallet – have held on to her $60m fortune, and have deemed her well enough to tour the world and play lucrative residencies in Las Vegas.
As her conservator, her father exercises control over her body and her reproductive rights. Grotesquely, she is even forced to use an interuterine device against her will.
Yes, there are thousands of causes more important to socialists than Britney Spears, from the Rohingya genocide to Labour’s seemingly dwindling chances in Batley and Spen.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that Momentum should constitute itself the British wing of the Free Britney Movement.
But Spears’ labour is being exploited, and she is deeply alienated as a result, while other people are making money as a result. A lot of money. And despite the wealth ostensibly being in her name, she is powerless to do anything about it.
If anybody has her postal address, I’d love to send her a copy of Marx’s early writings. I suspect she’d be able to relate.
David Osland is a member of Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP and a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland
Image: Britney Spears performing at her Piece of Me residency in Las Vegas, January 2014. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rhysadams/12415982314/in/album-72157640738664433/. Author: Rhys Adams, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
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