BY AMY Z. QUINN This being Valentine’s Day, the Holiday That Launched a Thousand Mixtapes, I wanted to talk about Rock and Roll Broads — Lady Rockers — and what they taught me about love and sex. The lessons are many and definitely worth sharing, but that will have to wait for another time. Because today, despite the fact that it makes me vaguely nauseous and sad, I have to talk about Anna Nicole Smith — so let’s just get it all out there and off our chests so we can go back to our lives, shall we? On one hand, I want to say that we’re on the edge of the next OJ-style Hollywood media drama — one that will force us to confront, analyze and redefine our ideas about celebrity, beauty and what passes for “real life” these days, blah, blah, blah. Etcetera, etcetera. But we won’t, because the star of the show is gone. Without Anna, and the promise that she could do something kooky at any minute, there’s no show. Who wants to turn on Court TV and see Howard K. Stern or Larry Birkhead, or that hideous mother who just crawled out from under a rock in Texas? But I bet you remember the video of Anna Nicole testifying during the J. Howard Marshall trial, with that giant head of platinum sausage curls, her face puffy from rage and bloat. Without her, it’s just lawyers and Nancy Grace. Lord, deliver us. Remember, Anna Nicole’s sugar daddy left her out of his will, and she supposedly never saw a dime of the estate — though grampa certainly did break a sister off while he was alive, gifting Anna Nicole with several million dollars’ worth of jewels, estates and such. She got plenty while he was alive, but sued for more after he died. The people who called her a gold-digger weren’t wrong. But now that she’s gone, all that remains is a little girl and two men battling it out for a taste of that Texas oil money, er, I mean, for custody of the wee babe they both so obviously love. All that’s left for them to do now is figure out which will bring the biggest payday: owning the rights to Ann Nicole’s image, hawking the castoff items of her life on eBay, or selling her story and the lurid details of her last days. Being both a feminist and a woman currently “of a certain size,” it’s been interesting to watch how peoples’ treatment of Anna Nicole changed — and how she herself changed — when she hooked up with TrimSpa and lost all that weight. I’ve been up and down the dial myself, and you don’t have to be Tyra Banks to know that people treat fat chicks differently than they do skinny ones — and no matter how much we talk about health, people don’t care HOW you get skinny, just that you do. But I’ve also learned that your own self-perception — what you project — plays a major role. Even when she was at her heaviest — a writer on Salon.com this week talked about “her mounds of white flesh and piles of blonde hair” — Anna Nicole was a naturally beautiful woman under all that peroxide and petrol-funded silicone. And what’s more, she knew how to be a star, how to get attention. When you could see she made the conscious decision to be fabulous, she was gorgeous.
Anna Nicole’s sin, if we are to cast her in the role of this generation’s tragic blonde, wasn’t gaining weight, any more than her redemption was simply getting skinny again. If we felt disgust toward her, it was because she became a drug-addled mess of a woman, making a spectacle of her already ridiculous life on E! That she was a large and often inappropriately clad woman throwing herself all over the place only made the disgust that much more satisfying.
Of course I watched. You did too, Bobby Trendy. Hey, at least it seems people are aware of what we’re becoming. On PerezHilton.com, one person wrote that Anna’s legacy would be:
“How the media and the entertainment industry try to push off lowlife’s as the norm. As the kind of people we should all aspire to be like. Because that is who they are and that is how they think and they are trying to make the rest of us just like them. And it is working.
Watching Anna Nicole Smith was like watching Whitney Houston on “Being Bobby Brown,” except without being able to at least cluck our tongues and say what a shame for all that singing talent to go to waste. We keep wanting to make the modern-day Marilyn Monroe argument stick, but the fact that she possessed actual acting talent was part of what made Marilyn such an enigma. Anna had looks. And tits. And men. She was just a beautiful train wreck that we could not help but watch. So now, the media tries to find ways to be respectful in death to a woman they sneered at in life. And as they search for ways to describe her life that don’t include the words “gold-digger,” “walking train wreck” or “junkie,” the talk is shifting to what I think is an interesting area: Should we be talking about Anna Nicole Smith and women like her — you know, the ones who are “famous for being famous” — as modern-day courtesans, professional party girls, women content to live lives of intellectual and spiritual insignificance in exchange for comfort, luxury and fame? Anna Nicole Smith had a crappy childhood, a crappy education, and no money. Yes, she was white trash. Given all that, was it wrong of her to use the one thing she did possess — beauty — as her ticket out of the gutter? Her breasts were simply the basketballs she used to get out off the neighborhood court and into the NBA. And anyway, what does that really mean, “famous for being famous”? Paris Hilton is famous because she’s rich and pretty, but she gets paid a lot of money to show up at parties. Kim Kardashian is famous for being OJ’s lawyer’s kid and for the sex tape you may have already seen, but she’ll get rich from being pretty and showing up at parties. Anna Nicole Smith got famous because she was a Playmate of the Year and a successful model after that. And to be fair, many women have become famous for far, far less. But she got rich from being pretty and showing up at parties. This really does seem to be a growth area right now, in terms of pink-collar employment opportunities for pretty, ambitious young women looking to move up in the world. All you need is a sex tape (or at least some upskirt shots), a posse of gays, some self-tanner and a few mentions on PerezHilton, and you’re on your way. Certainly, it’s a division of the world’s oldest profession, but a socially acceptable one. As one online commenter I read this week said of Anna Nicole Smith:
“She’d rather suck a 90-year-old man’s dick for two years than work as a waitress, a cleaner a shop assistant etc. Mind you, I’m NOT saying she was necessarily wrong.”
That, as much as anything else that will be said about her in the coming days, is a fitting epitaph for the woman who was, for better and often for worse, the latest Miss America to stumble through the skinny-mirror looking glass and fall down our national rabbit hole.