We're never short on "fallen starlets." Britney, Lindsay, and now, Mischa, have all been providing lurid headlines for years, tales of their struggles with addiction and mental illness pushing them from one end of the celebrity spectrum to the other.
The Fallen Starlet story is as old as Hollywood itself: drug addiction, drinking problems, and mental illness are all "exciting" story lines that capture the public's attention, if only because they poke holes in the glossy facade of celebrity, and provide proof that even the most beautiful, the most famous, the most admired can be just as screwed up—if not more so—than the rest of us.
And yet, with all of the cautionary tales, the Hollywood machine continues to suck young women in and spit them out once they're past their "peak." Our response, as an audience to all of this—and we are an audience, mind you, following these very real people through very real problems via secondhand reports, paparazzi shots, and orchestrated interviews with "friends" and publicists—is usually to blame the actress herself. She's an addict! She's wasting her talent! She's wasting her opportunities! She's replacable! She's an embarrassment! She's worthless! And so on and so forth.
I came across a particularly nasty article this morning written by a female college student at Michigan State University, who decided to use the very public career troubles of both Mischa Barton and tabloid punching bag Tara Reid to write a "humorous" post titled "Celebretard Showdown." The author begins by expressing her delight at Barton's recent psychiatric hospitalization: "I gotta admit, I really do enjoy watching a mediocre TV actress fall from grace (and she fell hard!)," she writes, before comparing Barton and Reid in various categories to determine which of the two is the ultimate "Celebretard." Ugh. Just a helpful tip: if you are going to write an incredibly nasty article about two actresses who have succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood in fairly depressing ways, it is probably best to avoid attacking them for their lack of "class."
The article goes on to determine that Barton, though a "fail" as an actress, has a shot at recovering her career. As for Reid? "Maybe if she worked more and spent less time romping around random beaches she'd be less of a whore. Maybe." As gross as this article is, it's also a pretty good representation of the types of articles written every time a young actress has a public breakdown. Instead of taking shots at the industry and the pressures placed on these young women to look and act a certain way, we go after the actresses themselves, with claws out and guns blazing, ready to punish them for having highly publicized problems.
This is not to say that we need to hold Mischa Barton Rallies around the country just because we happen to share genitalia. Nor do I think we need to light a candle for Lindsay Lohan every time she's photographed drinking or walking around without pants. I'm sure many of us have friends who have gone through similarly dark times with alcoholism or drug addiction, and have experienced the same kind of exasperation as the illness seems to swallow the person we knew, but with Lohan and Barton, two women who have been acting since childhood, the problems are magnified and handed out to the general public for judging and speculation, and we all tend to point fingers at the women for "screwing up," rather than the system for screwing them up.
Perhaps, in a way, we make jokes and write nasty pieces in order to distance ourselves from the reality of the situation. And perhaps it's easier to blame a select few than to blame society in general, or the way women are packaged, pushed, and ultimately disposed of in Hollywood. In mocking the sad stories, we find a sense of distance and peace; the more ridiculous the story becomes, the less real at seems. We're not attacking fellow women in that way, then—we're attacking characters that Hollywood has created and destroyed for our personal amusement.
It's easy for us to crack jokes about the soap-opera esque nature of these women's lives: Britney's pink wig days, Lindsay's drunk driving, and Tara Reid's sad drunken tours around the world have spawned millions of nasty zingers over the past few years. These were young women who, we believe, had everything: money, beauty, fame, and opportunities, and they squandered such things in favor of drugs, drinking, and shitty ex-husbands. But does anyone really believe that any of these women wanted to let go of such things in order to become a tabloid joke? Does anyone really think that the decisions these women have made were based on rational thought patterns? Probably not. And yet we still insist upon kicking them when they're down, just in case the fall from their pedestal wasn't painful enough.