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From one beleaguered broad to another: CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric sounded a lot like Broadsheet’s Lynn Harris last night, when she gave a compassionate shout-out to Lindsay Lohan, whose recent arrest on drunken driving and cocaine possession charges, along with her glassy-eyed mug shot, have put her on front pages once again this week.
“Of course this 21-year-old bears responsibility,” Couric told her audience in a “Notebook” segment last night. “Her behavior puts others at risk, and the laws shouldn’t make exceptions for the famous. But when you’re staring at the magazine emblazoned with her photo, or that TV show breathlessly describing her latest fall from grace, remember that this young woman has a very serious medical illness: addiction. Her biochemical state is exacerbated by the constant media attention and parents who discuss her problems on national television.” (Memo to Dina and Michael Lohan: When an anchor takes special time to spank you for crappy parenting on a national newscast, it is the final sign that you should pack it in and permanently turn your daughter over to Mandy Moore’s parents.)
Couric wasn’t done, echoing Lynn’s sentiments with her assessment that “Lindsay Lohan, it’s sad to say, is a train wreck.” The question, she continued, is, “Why do so many relish her woes? Does it somehow make us all feel superior? What about compassion and the fervent hope she’ll get the treatment she needs? This young woman’s life is on the line. And that’s not entertainment.”
Now, it’s only fair to point out that as far as getting the treatment she needs, a wealthy woman like Lohan has vastly more access to care and more opportunity to improve her health than 99 percent of those in this country who also face addiction. She can afford any kind of rehab or treatment or therapy she might require.
But aside from that, the much-maligned Couric hits it on the nose here, and no, haters, it’s not an inappropriate segment to put on the evening news. We can’t pretend that the country doesn’t talk about this stuff, or that we — yeah, most of us, including those of you who clicked on this item — bear some responsibility for participating in a celebrity marketplace that rewards young women for titillating and entertaining and amusing us with their badly behaved antics and then tosses them aside when the costs of those antics begin to mount and they become sick or addled or bloated or unattractively emaciated or pregnant or incoherent or just plain older.
The meltdowns that have been taking place over the past year to Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lohan have proved to be spectacularly engrossing and embarrassing for everyone involved, including those of us who have read (or written) about them. But when we’re done batting these women around like mice who’ve become too exhausted and weak to hold our feline attention any longer, they will be left with nothing but bad chemical dependencies and a yawning, insatiable need to recapture our imagination, since we’ve taught them that it’s our interest that gives them value. And that’s if they’re lucky.
It’s easy to wistfully romanticize the demise of talented and beautiful women like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, who we now understand got so sick because of the pressures they faced to be what their audiences wanted: pretty and energetic and sexy and available to everyone. But we lack that perspective on the objects of our contemporary obsessions, whom we likewise pressure to perform for us, by dancing on tables or leading torrid public love lives we can follow like weekly serials, until they finally wear out and collapse, sometimes taking other people with them.
So have a good weekend, Broadsheeters. And please consume both alcohol and celebrity media responsibly.
Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.More Rebecca Traister.
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