Debate around celebrity and fame is not only more important than celebrities themselves, but far more serious even if not as popular, as Kim Kardashian's big round shiny rump. For to be famous is to be inhumanely stamped and stereotyped, to be much talked about and by many, and in most cases to be inevitably misunderstood. At best, one can hope to be incorrectly perceived as being able and entertaining, and hope that no one finds out you have just plodded along in designer clothes picked out by fashion experts, with faces so plastic they'd make a floppy disc jealous. Simply you say what you are told to, in order to survive the battlefields that are the modern talk show, churn out some pre-conceived or even made-up anecdotes, and try score as many points as possible by pretending you really are down to earth.
One of Fame's great secrets is that many of its cast are the most drippy, desperate, and dull people around. I say this not out of spite, but out of experience of having to suffer the company of some of these spoilt pretenders. The most interesting people, are those with ideas, the conversationalists, the real artists, the innovators and leaders, the radicals. It is, I swear to thee, with hand placed upon my ever cold heart, that one of the greatest gaffes of our time, is mistaken categorization. To categorize things simply because they appear too difficult to understand, at first leads to confusion, because the categories cannot confine complexity, and then denial, because of a fear of being out of control. Society is like a chef who cooks a dud meal in a boarding school and then tries to pass it off as cuisine. But when a smart boarder cops on, they are told to get back in line, that the food is fine but the boarder just has bad taste, and to put up with what they're given. The heroes of history reject the food and come up with their own recipe.
We now bizarrely, in our age, follow the narratives of famous strangers, feeling as though we know them in some weird way by following their trial and errors. We follow them to gain some understanding of who and where we ourselves are. Modern man in search of a soul, said Jung.
There have always been stars both of intrigue and skill who so desperately fight the conventions of fame, the demands of a misguided public who for the most part, possess an ignorance toward History. One of these stars in our own time, happens to be an unlikely heroine, Lindsay Lohan. Lohan has been living in London for the past nine months doing a West End production of playwright David Mamet's "Speed-The-Plow". Much to the sorrow of the Hollywood Hyena's and their poisonous gossip columns, Lohan has revealed that she plans to stay in London. Lohan is deeply contradictory, and interesting for at least this reason. A sex symbol and charming actress who can bring a whole street in LA to a halt, simply because she's in a mood for a vanilla latte. Criticized for wasting her skill and staying famous for being famous.
Part of her myth is whether she is calculating some of this pandemonium, or she is victim of a relentless media whirlwind. A conflict between a public self and a private identity. Lohan is tough and shone through as a morally decent person, and is now fighting to redeem her stature as an artist. Unlike those who become famous, realize its vacuity, and try to re-brand themselves as an artist not because they are one, but because it is less embarrassing than simply being famous for nothing. To associate Lohan with Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian is a mistake, she is far more fascinating than either of those two sponge-heads.
Ms. Lohan has been part of America's national soap opera for over a decade and she has been through all that fame can do to traumatise, batter, delude, and enable those with intense and consistent exposure. Lohan has, in many ways, been one of the primary reality stars of her generation. Reality Television is essentially a narrative form that employs all the techniques of fictional art but is nevertheless immaculately factual. We are now in a sort of post-reality generation, where people who are famous become characters in a narrative constructed for the publics consumption and garner profits for those in the publishing business. But it is their actual everyday lives behind the cameras that entrance.
A great record of Fame and Celebrity in the last century, though trivial and lengthy to an extent, is The Andy Warhol Diaries. Warhol knew everybody who was anybody, and went everyplace that was anyplace. Warhol recorded everything, copiously. Of the Diaries, Martin Amis noted, "The diaries show very clearly how the transcendentalism of the counterculture eventually turned in on the self, on the human body." What Amis was talking about, of course, was the rise of AIDS, referred at times to as both 'The Gay Cancer' and 'The Magic Disease'. On Tuesday, July 31, 1984, Andy Warhol recorded this for his diary:
"A couple of people called about Bill Pitt - he died. I think maybe he committed suicide. His best friend called and we talked. He thought maybe Bill had gone to a doctor to get a test for AIDS and that maybe he found out he had it and decided to take an overdose."
In December 2001, at age 50, Lance Loud, who was the first really famous reality television star, died of liver failure caused by a hepatitis C and HIV co-infection. Lance Loud is not much remembered now, but he was quite famous back in his day. For a time he experienced and enjoyed the benefits of fame. When he was a teenager, he died his hair silver, just like his hero, Andy Warhol. When Lance was thirteen years old, he even wrote a letter to Warhol. Shockingly, Warhol wrote back. Their correspondence, and occasional late-night phone calls, for which well-known Andy was, continued, until Andy Warhol was shot in 1968 and became much more reclusive.
In 1973, "An American Family" broadcast to an audience of 10 million viewers who watched the unfolding real-life drama of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California. Bill and Pat Loud and their five children were not actors, nor were they public figures, they were real people being filmed for the publics entertainment. We actually live in a world where famous people play out their lives for our amusement, our desires, our selfish voyeurism, and for the financial profits of others. Producers packaged seven months of conflict and boredom which included Bill and Pat's divorce, their son's gay lifestyle (Lance Loud), and the changing values of middle-class American families. In the end, Loud reportedly found that celebrity was not answer to life's complexity. Several months before his death, Loud asked the original filmmakers of the "An American Family" series, to film a final episode, capturing his death. He wanted to set the record straight.
Nothing could ever match that original exposure and notoriety and Loud spent years trying to repossess himself again, struggling through substance abuse, and other dark episodes. Lohan also seems to have lost her sense of direction and became famous for being famous, while her families life is exposed 24/7, much more exceptionally than any of the Loud's were. Lohan was twice imprisoned for driving under the influence, indicted for fights in nightclubs, accused of assaulting a psychic, and for lying to the police, and has been in and out of rehab for drug and alcohol addictions, and on almost permanent probation for the last seven years. Lohan's excessive partying has made her uninsurable, her role offers became scarce, and she was no longer referred to as a promising actress.
Last year, after her sixth stint in rehab, Lohan starred in a reality TV series made by Oprah Winfrey for Winfrey's television channel. Winfrey was supposed to keep Lohan on track and Lohan would make a comeback. Winfrey knew Lohan's reputation and celebrity would be great for television, and she came across as condescending and invasive. Lohan was exposed and a certain narrative seemed to be playing out. I wanted Lohan to shine through, and prove Oprah wrong. It's product was somewhat both.
Of course one must pay a price for fame. The price includes privacy. You play the game, you lie to the press, and battle the class system that operates within celebrity culture. Lindsay knows how to play the game, talk the talk, fight the fight. But she has suffered for it more than most, and its there for the whole world to see. Sometimes you pay with your sanity. Lohan is now in London getting her life back, working on her craft, and trying to repossess herself. This is a woman who has been exposed, challenged, under-rated, ridiculed, dismissed, and through the mill. Before you shake your head, remember, everyone loves a come-back. This is her chance to prove everyone wrong and set an example for her generation. This is a woman who is so famous she has to fight for her career in public, and I believe she is going to triumph. Lohan has a major opportunity in this Mamet play in London. She is an actress of sincerely remarkable skill. She said in an interview last week, "I like the idea of being able to fight for what I lost." This is one woman's fight against a media enterprise that has made her life almost impossible. Lindsay Lohan just might be one of the biggest come-backs in the entertainment industry of her generation.