As a famous-for-being-famous celebrity, Nicole Richie is used to getting press for club-hopping with pal and “Simple Life” co-star Paris Hilton. She’s used to getting attention for her shockingly prominent collarbones, her drug use and revelations about eating disorders — and more recently for her Dec. 11 DUI arrest.
(Her court appearance for the latter has been postponed to August 16, so that her defense team can bring in an expert witness to dispute the toxicology reports — this, despite the fact that Richie forthrightly told police officers that she had smoked marijuana and taken a prescription painkiller before climbing behind the wheel of her SUV and driving the wrong way down a freeway. Never one to mince words, that girl.)
So it was no doubt a surprise for Richie to pick up a recent copy of Us Weekly with the screaming cover line “Nicole Richie: Yes, She’s Pregnant!” Inside, the magazine featured page after page of fawning coverage of Richie and her baby-daddy Joel Madden of the popular-at-Hot-Topic band Good Charlotte.
“She’s in a really good place … working on her album and her accessories line. I know she’s happy,” gushes one unnamed source. Madden’s brother Josh notes, “I would love for them to get married!” Non-famous pregnant women have to settle for occasionally being offered a seat on the bus. But for celebs, having a baby on the way translates to a nine-month Get Out of Bad Press Free card.
Ultimate image makeover
Is pregnancy the ultimate image makeover? Stars who want to be taken seriously often adopt external changes (dying their hair brown, wearing glasses even if they don’t need them) or profess to having internal ones (Britney Spears’ red Kaballah string phase, Paris Hilton’s jailhouse Bible). But nothing, apparently, turns the cynical, recycling-bin-rooting tabloid press into whimpering sob sisters like a pregnant celebrity. Snide blind items about lengthy visits to the ladies’ room at Hyde suddenly become mewling dispatches from Petit Tresor and other high-priced baby boutiques, where the mom-to-be’s choice of color for blankets and onesies (“Yellow? Does she not know the baby’s gender? Or is it a SECRET???”) becomes headline news.
This brand of celebrity redefinition is nothing new, of course. When Katie Holmes was carrying Suri, there was a temporary moratorium on jokes about Tom Cruise violating Oprah’s couch (unless you worked for the blisteringly funny Defamer.com). Denise Richards’ pregnancy glow was bright enough to envelop her then-husband, Charlie Sheen, making him look like the Mike Brady of Malibu. The very state of pregnancy became so chic when Julia Roberts was with twins that you would have thought the runways in Paris and Milan would be choked with models in their third trimester.
Ironically, it’s only because of the occupancy of Richie’s womb that her court case is getting this much attention in the first place. For better or worse, she’s never had the level of public fascination or indignation that Hilton generates, so an un-pregnant Richie would probably have faced sentencing with much, much less coverage.
And while observers of the law and the media currently have much bigger fish to fry — say, Alberto Gonzales’s ever-shifting testimony before Congress and the possibility that U.S. Attorneys were fired to allow the Republican Party to fix future elections — the Richie case is an interesting one in that it raises disturbing questions of its own. Do we still assume that a pregnant woman is somehow powerless and non-threatening?
Are “bad girls” no longer bad once their hormones skyrocket and their feet swell and they have to go to the bathroom every five minutes? And on the other hand, has the legal system been so tainted by the current administration’s machinations that the rich and powerful feel even more above the law than they used to?
It’s probably unfair to pin such weighty issues on Richie’s frail, bony shoulders, but every possible outcome of this trial will now be colored to some extent by her pregnancy. If she gets off, the media will more likely attribute her acquittal or probation to her delicate state. If she gets put behind bars right away, the public and the media will sympathize with her plight (never mind that women’s detention facilities coast to coast are currently packed with young moms-to-be). And if her sentence is delayed until after the child is born, we’ll get lots of “Nicole weeps as guards separate her from the baby!” headlines.
If someone as middling on the celebrity food chain as Nicole Richie can change her fortunes just by putting her uterus to use, how long before political figures do likewise? Scooter Libby managed to duck prison time without fallopian tubes, but don’t be shocked if Condi Rice or Monica Goodling — heck, even Harriet Miers — suddenly announces a forthcoming bundle of joy. And if the news should happen to coincide with the delivery of a congressional subpoena, so much the better.
Duralde is the author of “101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men” (Alyson Books). Find him at www.alonsoduralde.com.