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Rare glimpse of reality: Bad Girls Club

The Medium
Party and Punishment

Published: October 22, 2010

In April, after years of the online tabloids’ pushing photos of Lindsay Lohan looking undone in the back seats of limousines, Dr. Drew Pinsky, the TV addiction specialist, offered his opinion of Lohan to one of those Web sites.
Jirayu Koo

If Lohan “were my daughter,” Pinsky told Radar–Online, the celebrity gossip site, “I would pack her car full with illegal substances, send her on her way, call the police and make sure she was arrested.” Pinsky went on: “I would make sure she was not allowed to get out of jail. I would then go to the judge and make sure she was ordered to a minimum of a three-year sobriety program.”

It’s not clear whether a Pinskian frame-up ever took place. But Lohan, who is 24, has been sent to jail twice since Pinsky spoke to RadarOnline about her. Last summer she served 14 days of a 90-day sentence at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, Calif., for skipping the alcohol-education classes that the court mandated after two arrests in 2007 for drunken driving and drug possession. She was then sent to court-ordered rehab, but she failed a drug test not long after she checked out. She went briefly back to jail. She was released on bail. At the end of September, she checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif., reportedly for cocaine addiction.

Lohan’s four mug shots, which can be found on Radar, TMZ, Gawker, Perez Hilton, Pop Crunch and dozens of other gossip sites, are online genre pieces: studies in inky eyeliner, corn-yellow peroxide and precinct-office fluorescence. Chin tilted down, eyes cast up, Lohan expresses glamour — the modern starlet’s answer to grace — under pressure.

Celebrity women may find it easy to get into glamorous character because they’re so often arrested during evenings on the town, dressed to the nines. Celebrity men who are arrested, by contrast, typically get photographed right after a fight and may still have the adrenaline, aggression and injuries that come with trading words or blows.

When Web sites publish images of celebrities in trouble, they also solicit comments on these images. The comments are rarely kind. One report about Lohan in The Los Angeles Times won this response, which is still on the newspaper’s site: “That coke-headed prostitute will never rehabilitate herself . . . she’s forever and truly a MESS!! Let the skank hit rock bottom . . . hard!” Online commenters seem to concur with Drew Pinsky: what these women “need,” beyond punishment for any particular violation of the law, is time in prison to grow up and wipe that smug pout — and pumpkin-colored bronzer — off their faces.

Not long ago, “The Real Housewives of D.C.,” a reality show, chronicled the public humiliation of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the Virginia couple who managed to make it into a party at the White House without being on the guest list. While Michaele’s cast mates watched members of the House Homeland Security Committee grill and excoriate the Salahis, they whooped with delight. “Go to jail! Make some license plates!” shouted Lynda Erkiletian, a longtime social acquaintance of Ms. Salahi’s.

Over the course of the program, Lynda and the other cast members proposed that Michaele was controlled by her husband. They said she was unstable, a complete phony. They said she was like Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde murdered people.

In all the analysis, no one seems to zero in on what Michaele Salahi plainly is: a pretty lady who wants to dress up and have fun at fancy parties. Even after the story of her party-crashing broke, Salahi still wanted to talk to Bravo’s camera chiefly about her dress and what an impressive figure she had cut in it.

Maybe that’s not very noble. But in itself it’s not against the law. For that matter, alcoholism is not against the law, and neither is sleeping around or lying about how many drinks you’ve had or even seeming very, very skanky. For those who maturely skipped the party phase of life, gaming the guest list (But Russell Simmons said I’d have a plus one! My boyfriend’s right in the door!) is part and parcel of the night-life spirit — and also not in itself a jailable offense.

Right after 9/11, Muslim regimes were depicted as tyrannical in part because they demonized Western fun-loving culture in the name of a misogynistic ideology. Slowly but surely we’ve been doing the same thing with our most visible good-time girls, making villains of women who are dangerous almost exclusively to themselves. We point cameras into their darkened cars and literally up their skirts to find cellulite or evidence of immodesty that wouldn’t exist without the cameras. When they start drinking and doing drugs, just as many celebrities before them have done, we become incensed, agitating for them to go to jail. Pretty soon someone like Pinsky is openly scheming to frame one of them so she can end up behind bars. If these women are bad examples to our daughters, we who take a hang-’em-high attitude to party girls have officially become bad examples to their parents.

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