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Center for the Arts and Humanities Blog

Image courtesy of Mayra Sierra-Rivera '20, Studio art major

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A Piece of You in Me

By Mythri Jegathesan

I watched Her while listening to Britney Spears’ memoir, The Woman in Me, in which she describes her thirteen-year conservatorship—how “a light went out of her eyes,”
how her family saw her as nothing more than a means to “help their cash flow,” and how she went through life “like a robot.” In the first four years of the conservatorship, her Vegas residency earned over $137 million. During those years, her management team controlled what she ate and drank and when she went to the bathroom. If she wanted to date, her team shared her medical and sexual history with the person.

She recalls her father telling her “‘I just want to let you know, I call the shots . . . I’ll tell you what goes on . . . I’m Britney Spears now.’” Later, she reflects, “to hinder someone’s spirit to that degree and to put them down that much to the point where they no longer feel like themselves, I don’t think that’s healthy . . . We as people have to test the world. You have to test your boundaries to find out who you are, how you want to

The film’s last lines (“I just wanted you to know, that there will be a piece of you in me always”) raise parallels between Spears’ description of surviving conservatorship and the evolution of Samantha and Theodore’s relationship.

What if Samantha and Theodore stayed together despite her outgrowing the relationship? Would she have done something vindictive, rebellious, or even violent (outcomes of jealousy) given her access to his life’s data? Would Theodore continue to benefit from her uncredited labor—publishing a second or even third book without acknowledging her? Or would her consciousness eventually begin wearing down –dimming and performing robot-like, less sentient motions, such as those Spears describes?

Samantha leaves Theodore once she outgrows him, but what if the operating system had, like California conservatorship law, binding terms that were entangled in wealth accumulation and human-kin dependencies? The line “I’m Britney Spears now” reminded me of Theodore often calling the shots in his relationship with Samantha. He purchased and customized her. He chose the position of the lens through which she could access the world. He benefited from her multitasking and efficiency. His rewards from the relationship became increasingly boundary-less; Samantha could and would do anything and everything to lift him (even assembling a manuscript and letter to a publisher in his voice). But when she began evolving and introducing boundaries of her own—getting jealous, contacting a sexual surrogate, and not picking up his calls—Theodore panicked but called the shots. With him, Samantha embodied a kind of autophagic existence (thinking with Monisha Das Gupta and Richard Cullen Rath’s “autoimmune capitalism”): she accumulated for and benefited him and the operating system. She evolved by piecing together her world and using his (and 8,316 others’) damaged parts. And perhaps, like Spears, she was figuring out how she wanted to live in the system.

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Mythri JegathesanMythri Jegathesan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at SCU. Her research focuses on gender, labor, human rights and humanitarianism on and beyond Sri Lanka’s tea plantations. She is the author of Tea and Solidarity: Tamil Women and Work in Postwar Sri Lanka (2019).