Beside the raging and ongoing debate about whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first, there is now this one:
What came first, Anna Nicole Smith or the vitriolic culture vultures who crucified her?
I suppose it’s hard to cut the recently departed Smith any slack for her short but overly magnified life. She married a geezer and fought in court to get his money. She savored the celebrity existence. She posed for Playboy. She participated in a reality show. She was no Greta Garbo.
She willingly generated her own intense scrutiny. She turned the spotlight on herself. As far as the paparazzi, the tabloid reporters and the Internet gossip gurus are concerned, she was, and still is, fair game.
But just as she turned herself into a target, she also inspired the stockpiling of ammunition that the public aimed at her. When she died suddenly, the period of mourning lasted about 10 seconds, if that. Then the assault began.
The debate over which came first is now moot. The relevant fact is that she’s dead, and a party has apparently broken out on her grave.
The level of meanness in our current society isn’t exactly a news bulletin, but this is brutal. When someone like Anna Nicole Smith goes, with all her baggage and scandalous exploits, it says a lot more about the people who dump on her dead body than it does about the woman herself.
She died Thursday after collapsing at a Hard Rock hotel in Hollywood, Fla. Only five months before that her 20-year-old son died in the Bahamas in what is believed to have been a drug-related incident.
Smith’s death came only a few days after a female astronaut put on a diaper and drove a few hundred miles to try and kidnap a romantic rival. Naturally, that story was met with all the dignity and sensitivity of a mud-wrestling contest. Certainly it was bizarre and worthy of a few wisecracks. But clearly the woman was sick and had some sort of breakdown. Yet the response in the media was the modern equivalent of stoning a mentally challenged person in the town square.
Now it’s Anna Nicole Smith. The message boards in the coming days will be filled by cretins offering their warped observations on her life, their juicy speculation about her death and their cyber high-fives to each other. When Romans fed Christians to the lions, they did so with more hesitation than some of the drooling louts who are piling on a deceased tabloid queen.
Again, she is responsible for much of it. When she chose to marry oil baron J. Howard Marshall II in 1994, she knew he was 89 years old. She knew this was not a May-December romance but a May-next December romance. She surely knew the term “gold-digger” might be uttered. She accepted those consequences when she married him.
She also had to understand that a career path that began in a strip club as a topless dancer and extended onto the pages of Playboy might be met with some derision.
This is not an apology for Anna Nicole. You reap what you sow. It’s more a lament about the avalanche of glee that occurs whenever someone in the public eye takes a fall.
Not all situations are equal. Not all individuals warrant the same response. When Saddam Hussein is put to death, it’s understandable that such an event might bring out some spirited reaction given his heinous reign. When Anna Nicole Smith collapses and dies suddenly while grieving over the loss of her son, it might be a time to hold off a bit on the poisonous darts.
And surely there will be a lot more to come. I anticipate that no matter how careful authorities are with her autopsy photos a few of them might make their way onto the pages of supermarket tabloids. There will be lots and lots of unsubstantiated reports about the circumstances of her death, with little chance they will be challenged; who would sue on her behalf?
It’s said that comedy is tragedy plus time, but the amount of time has dwindled to almost nothing. The water cooler jokes probably began before rigor mortis set in.
Pop sociology is not an exact science, so the real roots of the response to Smith’s death and other such events are not completely clear. But suffice to say that the proliferation of media and communication outlets, especially television and the Internet, have fed a general disregard for human life.
Every day people see report after report of death and destruction, of mayhem, of horrible crimes, of unspeakable acts, until they’re benumbed to tragedy.
Another 100 people die in a car bombing in Iraq. Another spate of weather-related deaths in the East. Change the channel. See what else is on.
Into that arena comes the news about a dead tabloid figure, the proverbial blond bombshell who married a tycoon. It’s understandable why most people won’t cry. But it’s puzzling why so many snarl.
Anna Nicole Smith was not a great American. She will not be mourned by the masses.
But those who started throwing verbal rocks at the gurney that carried her out of her hotel room before she was even pronounced dead surely have some public figure that they look up to. An athlete, a politician, an actor, a musician, a talk show host.
Those folks should understand that they fed the monster that will someday devour the people they admire. You reap what you sow.