The rise of the hot mess
The Lindsay Lohan story is not a cautionary tale about sexuality: to present the media coverage which has surrounded Lohan’s sentencing to 90 days behind bars as an example of flagrant misogyny is a misreading of the cultural mores underlying this particularly sad episode.
This story is really about the economy of fame, the paparazzi and media consumption; not about a male/female double standard that harks back to first year Gender Studies.
The reporting of Lohan’s legal travails cannot be read as simply being the crucifixion of a young woman who dares flout conventional female norms of propriety and hem lines. The entertainment industry has been built, since movies were black and white and daring swimsuits went to the knee, on young creatures who transgress fairly standard bounds of decency and behaviour.
Hollywood and the music industry are built on young women who strut and preen their way onto magazine covers and into our cultural subconscious, perhaps throwing a sex tape or ill-advised sequined pair of hotpants into the mix.
The LiLo saga is really the story of the rise of the Hot Mess. That is, the nascence of the young, female star who’s spectacular and very public fall from grace and, seemingly, the base standards of hygiene is lasciviously covered by the press.
From Mischa Barton, to Britney Spears to Amy Winehouse to even Kate Moss, we have witnessed their descent. They have taken successful careers as teen stars, relatively clean-cut young things seemingly brimming with natural talent and youthful verve, and we have watched them struggle to make the transition to adulthood, in the process witnessing them come spectacularly unstuck.
What makes these sad tales so compelling is that we have watched them squander their public capital, succumbing to addiction, stacking on weight, making poor career choices, marrying their back-up dancers, dating Pete Doherty and finding themselves going through the legal wringer.
But, boy do they sell.
The reason we are routinely presented with shots of some young woman, falling into a cactus (as Lindsay recently did while the press snapped away) or attacking a car with an umbrella (Britney in her less than balanced days) or simply lurching towards a waiting car suffering from the obvious effects of a bottle of tequila, is that they are worth a hell of a lot money.
They are stunning example of addiction and mental health issues and fake tan colliding.
The bear market of celebrity photography means that images of say Colin Farrell or someone of his ilk belligerently stumbling out of a club, no doubt wearing several days of stubble, a stained t-shirt and an Eastern European supermodel on one arm, will not fetch anywhere near as high a price. Thus, these men face less of an onslaught in the press because, there just isn’t the same demand.
Paparazzi isn’t about condemnation, it is about sales. Celebrities offer us a soap opera which we daily consume, from a quick glance at a gossip website at work, to a flick through a magazine at the supermarket checkout. We consume the downfall of these young women and it is our appetite for this that fuels the onslaught of press coverage they face.
But this is not about offering a resounding moral condemnation of our seemingly insatiable hunger for celebrity journalism, because these women have courted publicity voraciously and greedily.
If they really wanted a quiet life where they could swill whiskey unimpeded, and screw around, they would be living in Conneticut or Canada and spending their residual cheques on Cutty Sark and condoms.
There is no underlying insidious, patriarchal, machine hell-bent on wrangling these supposedly out- of- control girls back into demurely appropriate Armani frocks and photogenic,stage-managed marriages made for the pages of Hello.
Madonna, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and Pink are all (or were in the case of the Material Girl who is now on the other side of 50) women who have worn their sexuality proudly on their sleeve, getting about the place in little more than fishnets, a smear of lipstick and a self-confident grin for the better part of their careers. Yet no one has tried to tame their unlady-like ways or wrangle them back into pants which actually cover their arses.
To Kristen Stewart, Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Momsen and the teen class of 2010, you have been warned.
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