Thursday, February 08, 2007

RIP Vicki Lynn Hogan

There are all kinds of theories on celebrity worship. Some people feel that it's because Western Europe and America are no longer dominated by monarchies. Without royalty, we must focus our rapt attention on randomly selected alpha-specimens, based on looks or charisma or a host of other inscrutible attributes. This is a compelling theory.

But I think certain individuals capture the public's attention because they uncannily remind us of ourselves in ways we're not normally allowed to consider. Now, I don't mean people who are famous for a good reason, like talented or beautiful actors or musicians or news anchors or whatever. I mean, it's not hard to discern why Scarlett Johansson's famous. We've all seen Ghost World.

I'm talking about your Paris Hiltons, your Cisco Adlers, your K-Feds. The person who epitomized this phenomenon to me as a child was Zsa Zsa Gabor. I was too young to know that she and her sister had at one time actually performed in real, authentic vehicles of entertainment. I only knew there was this horrible old woman with a horror-movie accent that seemed to make a living being famous (and, on occasion, assaulting police officers).

But the phenomenon of famous-for-fame's-sake celebrities has really exploded now, what with YouTube and "American Idol" and MTV's entire line-up and the whole concept of celebrity meta-devouring itself. And I think that certain people become elevated to iconic status, sometimes overnight, because there is something familiar about them. They're social synechdoches - their accidentally exposed private parts stand for our whole.

Lindsay Lohan's totally like this. In fact, she plays the part of the perpetual adolescent so well, pivoting constantly between genuine grief over her vices and outrageous bouts of Dionysian indulgence, I occasionally feel like it must be an act. Surely, Lindsay's just the Andy Kaufman of our time, always inhabiting her rebellious junkie "persona" and never letting us know that she's in on the joke. How could anyone be this out of control for so long? It would be funny if it weren't so...Okay, it's funny.

Which brings me to Anna Nicole Smith, whose death from heart explosion today is not at all funny. So just forget I made that "heart explosion" crack.
If La Lohan reflects Americans' twisted nostalgia for the Girls (and, yes, Guys) Gone Wild they once were and Paris Hilton provides a safe outlet for our disgust at our own excesses, what service did Anna Nicole Smith's legend provide?

A high school dropout who worked at a fried chicken restaurant, a 26 year old stripper who seduced and married an 89 year old billionaire, an alcoholic whose negligence almost assuredly led at least in part to the death of her 20 year old son only months ago, Anna Nicole Smith has kept America captivated since my early teens.

Now, I'm not trying to bash the woman on the day of her passing. She had a tough time of it, particularly in the last year, and I felt badly for her more often than not.
I've followed her career largely via appearances on "The Howard Stern Show," on which she often seemed drugged, imbalanced and frequently incomprehensible. (Full disclosure: I have also seen many episodes of her ludicrous reality show, which mainly consisted of her waddling around, apparently doped up, while an extremely feminine interior decorator arranged cushions and set the cause of gay rights back a few decades.)

Clearly, Vicki Lynn aka Anna Nicole was the embodiment of the Gold Digger archetype. In essence, her life could be seen as a morality tale: It seems like getting money from that old man will make you happy, but it will only cause you grief. This only works if you're exceptionally small-minded, but we're not talking about conscious, rational connections here. We're talking about why several million Americans would give a shit about a wholly unremarkable and unappealing Texan. (They had already elected one President, after all, and that hadn't worked out too well.)

Speaking of Anna Nicole's gold, it's kind of odd, isn't it, that both she and her son have died within the span of a few months, leaving the future of J. Howard Marshall's billions uncertain? Could her shadowy lawyer and possible baby-daddy Howard K. Stern (not to be confused with the King of All Media) have done her and her heir in hoping to get his hands on the money? (This would explain the recently paternity kerfuffle as well...If he can establish that he and Anna were married and had started a family, he'd have a more compelling case for being cut in on the eventual deal.)
Or have the billionaire's children, who have long sought to gain access to the family fortune via the judicial system, given up on ever winning the day legally? Did they hire someone to get the obstacles out of the way and "make it look like an accident?" Two mysterious, sudden deaths with all this money at stake...Something must be up, right?

Now, I'm not saying that Anna Nicole Smith was definitely murdered and that I have the secret surveillance tapes to prove it, but I am saying that if you happen to represent a sleazy and disreputable tabloid newspaper, you should Paypal me $500,000 to find out. No! I mean, I'm saying that...well, I don't know what I'm saying. I just know that this is a sad and peculiar situation that somehow speaks to the tragedy that is modern American life.

She briefly represented glamour, then decadence, then physical and mental collapse. Like Kate Moss, only with curves and a more appealing, if somewhat regrettably dead, husband.


Sharkbait said...

Wow. Part Fark, part eulogy, and you even worked in a brilliant use of the word synechdoche, as a part of a clever little metaphor. You are my hero.

Peter L. Winkler said...

I think she's a good example of "be careful what you wish for, you may get it."

Celebrity didn't make her happy, riches didn't make her happy, but she kept pursuing them and holding on to them.