Celebrity culture in the United States has gone wild. When the story of Lindsay Lohan's latest arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence and cocaine possession came over the AP wire, I thought it was a mistake since I had just watched her parade around wearing an alcohol monitor on her ankle. Reports stated that she had emerged from the lofty Promises rehab facility a new woman and was committed to maintaining and proving her sobriety by sporting this alcohol monitor. Entertainment Tonight reported that since the paparazzi insisted on following Lohan, she wanted to make sure that her reputation was intact by offering visual proof of her sobriety, although she went straight from rehab to the hottest, liquor-serving clubs in Hollywood. But Lohan is not alone.
The segment on ET also featured rapper Eve, actress Michelle Rodriguez and comedian Tracy Morgan, all of whom were wearing the latest "Hollywood accessory" because of drunk driving arrests and convictions. Nicole Ritchie committed her second DUI arrest and is awaiting a trial date, which miraculously keeps getting pushed back, now due allegedly to her pregnancy by rocker Joel Madden (aka Hilary Duff's leftovers). We all witnessed Paris Hilton "checking-in" to jail for her DUI conviction, only to emerge a few short days later, not having served her 23-days, a light sentence for such an offense. Like Visa, her subsequent meltdown was priceless -- for the girl who is famous for nothing finally had to own up to something and could not handle it. Reports emerged about Britney Spears' most recent meltdown on the set of an OK! magazine photo shoot where she allegedly wiped her greasy, fried chicken lacquered hands on some high-end fashions, picked up dog poop with a $6,700 Zac Posen dress, took repeated bathroom breaks with the door open and fled the set with $14,000 in clothes. All of this drama and OK! says that none of the photos were publishable? This erratic behavior on the heels of swimming in her drawers, and having a slap-boxing fit with her mother, sealed with a restraining order, lead me to believe that these folks have gone batty.
Spears' camp (that would be just her since she has fired everyone around her) states that OK! is lying on her and exaggerating what actually happened. Um. OK. Lohan cries that she is innocent. Not only was she sober, but the cocaine in her pocket was not hers, a line taken from Michael Irvin's "getting off the hook," manual -- i.e. the crack pipe wasn't mine, it was my friend's pipe and I was trying to help him. Um. OK. Paris Hilton says that she was treated unfairly because she is famous, because she had to complete her micro-jail sentence. Um. OK. And the list goes on and on. We know, we know. It's not them, it's us. Tom Cruise had America sold on that line of thinking too, until he fired his longtime publicist, and we found out how crazy he really is. Why? Because he actually started believing his hype and thought that we would too, like these young ladies.
Celebrity has officially gone belly up because of a failure for stars to take responsibility for their actions. Only in Hollywood, can you repeatedly get arrested for DUIs, go in and out of rehab, never do any real jail time, and then hog the airwaves with tearful stories of victimization.
In their defense, these celebrities are assailed by the paparazzi, have their privacy invaded and are often victimized by the media. But, they have publicists who are paid quite well to make sure that they receive coverage in and on all popular media. So they are as much a part of the problem as the paparazzi. Does the paparazzi go too far? Absolutely. The coverage of Annna Nicole Smith's life and death was ridiculous. She was reduced to an object and it seemed as if people actually forgot that she was a human being. When Britney Spears was clearly having a nervous breakdown, the paparazzi gave us more instead of less, when less would have been more and clearly better for this young woman. Now we get to watch the rise and fall of Lindsay Lohan, who ironically is being deconstructed by the same media figures that helped to construct her initial image as a young, talented, rising star. Accountability is not something that these stars have, integrity is something that they seem to lack, and they are either too stupid, naïve or drugged out to get a handle on things.
These stars are out of touch with reality. They don't believe that they will face any real consequences because they seldom do. Their money, status and fame help them leap over mistakes that most of us would be made to remedy immediately. Perhaps if they were made to answer for their actions early on, then they might avoid later mistakes. We live in a culture where anybody can become a celebrity with the click of a mouse. The price we pay for this is a culture of recklessness and lawlessness amongst our celebrities where prison orange may become the latest fashion trend if they don't get it together.
Nsenga K. Burton is a Charlotte-based writer, professor and a filmmaker.