Chris Crocker Never Wanted To Be Right, And Doesn’t Feel Vindicated Now

by Sa'iyda Shabazz

Back in 2007, a teenager made a vlog emphatically begging anyone who was listening to “leave Britney alone!” And that video went viral for all the wrong reasons. Chris Crocker, who was 19 at the time, was the one imploring people to leave popstar Britney Spears alone as she was going through some of the toughest times in her life. But instead of listening to Crocker and reexamining our collective treatment of Spears, we turned them into a joke. Late night hosts mocked them, and they’re still a meme due to their seemingly extreme reaction to Spears’ misfortune.

Fast forward to 2021. Britney Spears has been imprisoned in a conservatorship since 2008, which places every facet of her life and money under the power of her father, Jamie Spears. Britney, who has largely been forced to remain silent on the subject, recently addressed the court to end the conservatorship, revealing the devastating reality of her life. And now that those realities are public, people are re-examining the way we treated Chris Crocker back then. Many people are now realizing that Crocker was right, and are now giving them credit for what they said back then. But as they explained to NPR, they don’t want to be “right” about this. They just want justice for Spears.

“Overall, it’s still not about me. And I think people like to retroactively clap for me or say they should have listened, but I’m more interested in people self-reflecting on why they didn’t,” Crocker said.

That’s the whole thing right there. Yes, it’s important that we as the general public think about why we were so reluctant to listen to Chris in the first place. All they were doing was trying to get us to see Britney Spears as a person who was really struggling. We all could see it happening right in front of us, so why were we so willing to turn a blind eye to it? You can argue that culture was different back then, which it was. Even though we knew that what was happening was bad, there was a lack of collective empathy. So it was easy to make both Britney and Chris Crocker the butt of our jokes. It was easy to look at Britney and point a finger of shame, because we were being conditioned to think she was the villain in her story.

Britney Spears was literally going through a mental health breakdown in front of our eyes. We were watching her life implode in real time — her relationship was ending, she was trying to be a present and good mother, and all at the same time, trying to assert her autonomy. And instead of stepping back and allowing her the space to process her major life changes, we shoved cameras in her face (and up her skirt) and called it entertainment. I remember hearing that newspapers were drafting obituaries in case she somehow ended up dead. And we just accepted that. Like, that is beyond fucked up. She was, and still is, someone who deserves privacy. It’s good that the public is finally realizing that, but we do need to examine what changed.

For a lot of people, the documentary “Framing Britney Spears” opened their eyes to everything she’s going through. It’s a cohesive piece that takes us through her childhood and entire career, which offers a lot of insight. Of course, it’s not surprising that after watching something that so clearly spells out everything, people began to have a newfound understanding and empathy for her. And that’s great! But like Chris Crocker said, where was that empathy when she really needed it?

Crocker explained in the interview that while much of their concern was genuinely for Britney Spears, it was also coming from a more deeply personal place. Their mother was going through a similar struggle to Spears, including dealing with severe PTSD and homelessness. So as much as they were pleading with the general public to help Britney Spears, they were also pleading with their family to protect their mother as well.

“I was trying to fight for my other family members to still believe in [my mom],” they explained. “I was begging them to give my mom a chance, and so there was a parallel in my life, that sort of tension of why I was defensive over a misunderstood woman, because my mom had me at 14 years old, you know, and she was very misunderstood. And I, in some ways, felt like I had to protect my mom and fight for her.”

And as for Chris Crocker, it was the cultural norm to look at an emotional teenager in eyeliner and choose to mock instead of actually listening to what they had to say. Back in 2007, vlogging wasn’t mainstream, and there was a lack of understanding for the format. Crocker being gender non-conforming wasn’t something people understood either. So again, it was easier to turn Crocker into the joke rather than actually listen to what they had to say. Honestly, the way people reacted to Crocker and their video is an indication about how we as a society feel about women and those who present in more feminine ways. It doesn’t matter that the emotion comes from a genuine place of hurt. If you choose to be that emotional publicly, you’re nothing more than an over emotional drama queen, and no one cares about what you have to say.

“I always felt that if people just read the transcript and didn’t pay attention to how I looked or that I was screaming and just read what I said, there’s nothing comical about it,” Crocker said to NPR.

And that’s the crux of the whole issue. Chris Crocker wasn’t saying anything controversial or problematic. All they were doing was pointing out everything Britney Spears was enduring at the time. We may not remember everything, but it was a lot. Going through a very messy public divorce would be enough. But on top of that, Britney was enduring a custody battle as well. And because of how invasive the media is, she was genuinely fearful that they would harm her babies. Because her children were literal toddlers during this time. They chased her car, which led to her driving with her baby in her lap because she was terrified they’d run her off the road. Another time, they got so close, she almost dropped the baby in her arms because she was unbalanced. But instead of calling out the paparazzi for aggressively pursuing her, we called her a bad mother.

Chris Crocker was making an impassioned plea for the public to do what we should have already been doing. They were demanding that we stop seeing Britney Spears as a celebrity. We needed to treat her like a person, and we refused to. In 2007, Britney Spears was 25/26 years old. Anyone over the age of 30 knows how fucking young that actually is. So you have a young woman whose life is literally falling apart and all we did was to heap more and more vitriol on her. Because we thought that’s what she as a celebrity deserved.

If you think about it, Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” video was revolutionary. Because they were demanding respect and empathy for a celebrity at a time when no one else was. We’re still having conversations right now where we’re debating the humanity of celebrities, as if their money and fame makes them immune from dealing with the same problems “regular” people deal with. As we’ve seen with Britney Spears, money and fame can’t always save you. But it also shows us that celebrities aren’t less deserving of empathy because they have status and money.

Yes, Chris Crocker was right back in 2007. And they’re still right in 2021. But this isn’t something anyone should ever have to be “right” about.