“Are you an addict?” Oprah Winfrey asked a disheveled Lindsay Lohan on her reality TV show recently, and the first thought that went through my head was, “Oprah, are you?”
Lindsay seems to like pulling herself up by her fingernails…only to crash and burn at the last minute in another spectacular failure. She’s been doing it for at least ten years. (But who’s counting?)
LiLo herself admits she’s “addicted to chaos.” It’s one of the few things she’s said that I believe. Otherwise, she seems to be a chronic, compulsive liar.
More relevant, though, I have to wonder why we care.
I haven’t watched Oprah’s OWN Network Lindsay Lohan exploitation show. And I wouldn’t. But I’ve seen some clips and read a little about it. I know that Ms. Winfrey offered Lohan some much-needed cash for the opportunity to do a “reality intervention.” In return, Oprah gets attention and ratings for her sagging network, which has been struggling since it launched three years ago. (Really? Has it been that long?)
Oprah loves trash in the guise of tearful hand-holding, protesting she really “wants to help” when she knows she’s going to get a big, juicy train wreck captured on 1080p video, moist eyes glistening under the hi-def cameras. Years ago, after she built a giant mote around herself with salacious shows of cheating spouses, drug-abusing teens and other high-concept drama, Oprah called on all her competitors to take the high road and stop doing their own shows about these sort of things, because she’d suddenly gotten religion and wanted to be “uplifting” and “spiritual” instead. She went from sleaze merchant to lifestyle guru.
Now the former daytime queen says she wants to help Lins. Yeah, sure. In one segment, during a Lohan diva fit, Winfrey said, “This is exactly what everybody said was going to happen, and I believed differently.” No one with half a brain would believe differently, given Lohan’s track record. A mellow, no-drama Lindsay sipping Pellegrino and calling around for auditions? Do you honestly think Oprah wanted that?
What strikes me is how many other people are struggling with their demons—ordinary people: the kid at the fast food joint, the welfare mother with four kids and $200 a month to spend on them. Where is Oprah’s intervention for them? If anything, Lindsay has all kinds of resources average abusers don’t. But Oprah—that big earth mother—isn’t interested, even though there she actually has a decent shot of making a difference. If Oprah cared at all for Lohan she would turn off the cameras and intervene privately. Could you imagine a Jenny Jones chasing after Lindsay the way Oprah has? She’d be pilloried.
But there’s more money in exploiting Lohan for our own private, masturbatory amusement. It’s sick, really. We love to see stars rise, and cheer them on. Till they get up high. Then we watch them fall down, and cheer again.
Some writers, observing this whole train-wreck through the gender glass, have opined that we treat our females differently. Look at Charlie Sheen, they say. He’s as messed-up as Lindsay but he’s still seen as cool.
I don’t completely agree; the comparison is between apples and oranges. Sheen’s had a long track record; not that I’m saying that excuses him, but he had a career reputation—and a different position in our collective headspace—before he went off the rails. A more apt comparison would be Justin Bieber, another young punk who got lots of money and fame early and quickly and has trashed his life. And from what I’ve observed, we want blood from Bieber in much the same way as they want it from Lohan. But the way we react is different, and here the women may have an advantage. We want to hold them in our arms and try to make their lives right again. We want to protect them like mommies and daddies. No one wants to offer a soft couch and teary hug to a tattooed, baseball-capped Biebs. Could you imagine Oprah sitting there all moist-eyed with him?
But we really don’t want Lohan to “win,” and neither does the woman who owns the network staging the “intervention.” We want to see LiLo fail. It would be nifty if she ODed or committed suicide, preferably at age 27, which seems to be the year so many other troubled celebs have signed off on their lives (Curt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and the appropriately-named Amy Winehouse). That way we can get our fixes, which are just as much a drug as hers, and then move on to catch our next falling star. Sadly, one will always be there.