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Friday
Feb222008

Fame Kills, Anna Nicole Smith

She was pretty. Very pretty. An almost unearthly marriage -- cast beyond time, more buoyant than gravity -- of Marilyn Monroe's wide-eyed bombshell and Bridgett Bardot's succulent come hither. It was as if she was from outer space, so almost unnatural her beauty, and yet she hailed from a world far more exotic, far more removed: Mexia, Texas.

Anna Nicole Smith was mostly a crucible, a cypher… and a projection. She was a giant canvas onto which we cast flickering tongues of fleshly want, human vulnerability, equivocation, innocence, lust, need and enough nervous trainwreck energy to sustain our gaze in that way that paralyzes. You couldn't look away, and in many ways you didn't want to.

High school drop-out. High fashion model. Topless dancer. Headline grabber. Supreme Court appealer. Reality show doyenne. Alleged gold-digging widow and absolute April/December bride. Playboy Playmate of the Year. Diet plugger. Icon of fame.

The tags go on and on, yet what does one truly know of her? “The Anna Nicole Show” was as much the horror of someone so unaware, so indulged, so out of touch, it was superiority calisthenics for the ones who flexed the hipeoisie factor of there-but-for-the-grace-of-Mr. Blackwell-go-I.

Sickly fascinating, the reality of “The Anna Nicole Show” was hard to envision, harder still to believe. People tuned in week after week as she struggled to lose weight, to bear up, to figure out her place in the world -- a world of freakish indulgers, moderate-to-mondosycophants and the reflected aura clingers that surround the famous.

For we have become a culture of fame being enough. “I saw you on tv” is a refrain of validity, of wowier than thou. It's about “Haven't I seen you…” being more important than actual talent, achievement, core values. It's a state where beauty is more than plenty to elevate you to a place you can't negotiate…

And in that rarified air, there isn't enough oxygen. The terre is hardly firme. The beauty becomes doubly dizzying. Dizzy she was -- or seemed. Caged in the spontaneous combustion her looks inspired. Certainly the excess, the clamoring, the demand set her up to be exploited.

In the '80s, Rosanne Cash had a t-shirt emblazoned, “Fame Kills. ” It seemed overly dramatic, diva-ish, perhaps too farflung. That was then, this… is now. A now where the scrutiny was excruciating -- and the ridicule and judgment from those who don't know where your shoes are, let alone have worn them can undermine every last atom of resolve.

Beauty, the thing that took a chicken shack worker and made her an object of desire, created frenzy… frenzy spun into a faster and faster whirl that defied common sense and the human eye. After all, how does one go from hard scrabble to supernova and not have issues with re-entering the atmosphere?

The media, of course, goes for the simple sell, the han-fisted hook. “The New Marilyn. ” It's obvious -- the exploitation, victimization, tabloid sensationalization, yet it's just too easy.

Fame kills. It's cross-hairs and a bull's eye. It's catch me now, hunt me down, scrape me raw, take what you want, say what you will. We build up our icons to devour them… create flashpoints of celebrity to break them down. It's an endless tumble, a free-for-all chase, head over heels over elbows down chutes, then racing up blind allies breathless from urgency. To understand the notion that there's a chasm between public perception and private essence is to thwart the surrender to carefully cultivated image, fantasy realized in the gap between how it is and how we wish to believe it can be.

They -- these exalted creatures who are so much more than the rest of us -- embody some mythos beyond our mortal being. They are shiny, gilded, blessed, somehow magical. In that disconnect between believability and fancy, the dogs of “oh, yeah” howl and chase after what is, what denies our idealization, what shatters the illusion we cling to.

It's a brutal trade, the shooters, the brokers, the red carpets and events. The famous used as bait, the bored gaping and gauging, gouging when they can get away it. What are they wearing? Eating? Thinking? More valid than the rest of us, because… well, fame. USA Today published a recent Life cover piece on the aspirations of today's youth. Whereas young people once wanted to grow up to make a difference, to be doctors or authors or any number of professions, today's Gen Whatever's top two “what I wanna be when I grow up…” aims are vague, yet specific. They want to be famous, and they want to be rich.

Not for anything, mind you, but just because. It's not even an arrogant entitlement, but more the way our kaleidoscopic media foments it. Paris Hilton? The girl who falls down on red carpets, panties optional. Britney Spears, the Lolita Mouskateer who lacks restraint and, well, panties… and so it goes.

Until it's gone. Until it's limp and lifeless in a hotel room in -- ironically enough -- a much cheaper variation on the theme. Not Hollywood, that backlit city of movies and superstars, California, but Hollywood, Florida, the on-the-cheap alternative to the “A” communities of Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

Not just Hollywood, Florida, either. No beach, no ocean, no sand… but an inland Indian casino, one more outlet of the forced rockabilia franchise gambling outpost that is the Hard Rock Café. Sad, empty, having recently given birth and lost her 20 year old son to a questionable death while he dozed in a chair in her hospital room.

To watch her, ditzy at times and too giddy for her own good, there appeared not a malicious bone in her body. Perhaps a little too ripe for manipulation, it's not a crime… certainly not a fault to end up emotionally shipwrecked so far from the sea. Yet, that is the way the fate of the used usually goes - resented for their privilege, consumed for our titillation -- or at least to ease of our ennui.

Anna Nicole Smith is gone. To be deified by the media as the shock'n'horror story of the week. A girl famous for being famous. For being pretty. For being a little dumb, but willing to live her life of privilege grasping out in the open. Whatever else isn't so very important… except that it's everything.

Somewhere a little girl will never know her mother, and quite possible her actual biological father. A confused 39-year old woman dizzy from the vertigo of flash bulbs and fame stumbled, tumbled and fell.

It's kinda like losing your spot on the horizon when you come strutting down the catwalk -- only difference is it's not men brandishing dollars for your G string, but the very breath that keeps you alive. It's black and white, removed from the sound of your laugh, the things that make you weep with joy, the subtle emotional residue that comes from the inside out.

These are the photographs that shellac a headful of wind-tossed blond tresses, copious cleavage, a beauty mark and bee stung lips as frozen youth, the denial of time and the dartboard of the promises fame holds out without ever letting you see behind the glossy still. There's really nothing back there… at least nothing that can be served to the voracious horde.

As Willie Nelson wrote in his seminal “Nightlife”: “It ain't no good life, but it's my life. ” Only difference is it's community property, and that life is only good for the person living it until its gone.

For the rest of us, though, the myth and the images, the conjecture and rumors, the squabbling over who was closest or knew more lives goes on and on. Innuendo and glory and a billion-watt smile sparking above tiny little dresses is all that remains. Tragically, in the world of the bold-faced obsessed culture that is modern living, that's more than plenty -- a statement of fact and sadly the state of our being.

Fame -- with its pockets full of cheap plastic toys, Sweet Tarts, shining pennies and bits of strings -- isn't nearly as valuable as it seems. But like the Indians selling land for baubles and trinkets, it's dazzling enough to blind us to its real worth, and that's how it all goes wrong.

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