If you’re an OG reader of Thirsty Thursday, one who remembers the days of the “thot thought,” you may recall my inaugural piece analyzing the shock rocker talk show circuit of yesteryear. Today, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on another television shit storm of a later era, one still marked by visible mics and lots of yelling, but also by its journey out of the studio and into the real word. The early to mid-2000’s seemed to be the glory days of reality TV, I guess because something had to distract the masses from the fact that jet fuel can’t melt steel beams. Sort of like those Roman circuses. As Carrie Bradshaw said in one of the time’s few shining scripted programs, “I stopped watching television when people started putting leeches down their pants.” Well, I was like 9, and being that white trash kiddie entertainment comes in the form of mixing ketchup with your store brand mac and cheesey dinner while sitting in front of grandma’s rabbit ears, I can’t say the same of myself.
Aside from ubiquitous Paris Hilton, there was one reality star that I remember shining brighter than the rest, with her fame spilling over from her own show into the jokes of every late-night circuit and episode of ET – none other than the all-American girl herself, Anna Nicole Smith.
I didn’t quite understand it at the time. I didn’t really understand 9/11 either. I literally thought Osama Bin Laden shot down some planes from his cave and they happened to crash into the twin towers. What I did know for certain was that I was supposed to be sad and that bad people lived in Iraq. Of course, I’m older now and capable of critical thinking enough to know that all the people who died in retaliation wars is equally as sad and senseless, most of the terrorists were actually Saudi, and that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. And, to be honest, I’ve had a fairly congruent experience when coming to understand the tragedy of Anna Nicole.
When I would watch the celebrity roasting of VH1 past, I knew I was supposed to point and laugh at the bumbling bimbo and feel superior without really knowing much about her besides that she used to be pretty and took grandpa to bone town. Even as recently as my piece on Satanism & socialism, I still felt compelled to poke the stick into poor old Anna’s corpse. Yano, metaphorically and all. But with the help of Julia Hoffer, whoever you is girl, who uploaded every episode of The Anna Nicole Show to YouTube, I’ve finally gotten around to do my own research, form my own opinions, and even do a little of my own soul searching. 9/11 was planned, and Anna Nicole was robbed.
Before I go any further, I feel like I should give a synopsis of her life for those who actually spent the 2000’s engaged in something productive. Basically, it’s a rags to riches to rags type of tale. Anna Nicole, or Vickie Lynn, crawled out of the cooch in Texas where she dropped out of the ninth grade to work at the crispy chicken shack. She married some bozo line cook, who, if he’s like any other line cook I’ve met, probably likes to flirt with 14 year olds with tongue rings and do lots of coke. Fortunately she left him after a few years, but not without slithering out an offspring, Daniel. Through some kind of course of inevitability, homegirl ended up a stripper, but also rising to fame by meeting billionaire/future husband/Medicare recipient J. Howard Marshall and experiencing success in both men’s and fashion modeling (something that’s pretty damn hard to pull off). Unfortunately, she was reduced to tabloid status after long legal battles with J-boy’s family over rights to his estates. My G – that shit went all the way to the Supreme Court. Let that sink in.
The Anna Nicole Show came about in good old 2002 and made Anna pretty much the laughing stock of the nation. It was more or less her and her squad going about chores like tattoo touch-ups and trips to the dentist with the spin that Anna can barely stand on two feet. Despite her Klonopin-drone, I spent my re-watch sessions amazed at how very much her beauty and sense of humor (which, in retrospect, seems a lot more self-aware than people realized) shines so brightly though her addiction. One scene that particularly resonated with me was when Anna’s blind date went on and on about how beautiful she was while she sat there absently eating a giant pickle. But I guess for the rest of Middle America, all they saw was fodder for riveting lunchtime convo and highly original fat jokes. After the super heartbreaking and odd foreshadowing that was her son’s deadly overdose, Anna had a daughter, Dannielynn, with some Keith Urbain-looking dude before succumbing to an overdose herself in 2007 (I question if it was suicide induced by coming face to face with the horrifying fact that she was staying in a Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida). Smith was only 39.
First and foremost, the wild speculation about Anna and Marshall’s relationship got me thinking about the daddy issues myth—the belief that young women without fathers look for other men, usually older dudes, to provide for them both financially and in terms of personal validation—and how it masquerades as being so low-key insightful when really it’s just another piece of oversimplification brought to you by pop-social science. Any chance to pigeonhole people based on their life choices, amirite? I like older dudes and my dad was always in the picture. I’m sure there are some women that like older men that never had a dad. I’m sure there are some women that like older men whose biological dad walked out but had a really rad step-dad. I’m sure there are some women who like older men and were raised by wild capybaras in the South American plains. How the fuck can you even begin to generalize that shit? People are attracted to who they’re attracted to. Fuck off.
After watching her show and seeing the way that he was so very much memorialized in her life, I think that Anna Nicole’s relationship with J. Howard wasn’t as cut and dry as people tried to make it out to be. Did she love him for his money? Sure, absolutely. But I also don’t think she loved his money because it bought her fucking Versace dresses and diamond chokers or whatever the style was then. He helped her escape poverty, stripping, an abusive relationship – lord knows, she might have died even sooner without him. I also don’t doubt that both parties cared about each other on a human level. Throughout the show, Anna still proudly refers to Marshall as her husband and even speaks freely to his departed spirit.
But let’s just pretend for a second Anna, myself, and everyone else in the Sad Girls’ Club really are just gold-digging hoes. What if I did take that goddamned boob job from Dahvie Vanity? Who is anyone to really judge? Don’t all relationships at least somewhat operate as business arrangements? Look at all the tax breaks and insurance benefits that incentivize marriage. You could even make the argument that the whole not wanting to die alone thing constitutes some kind of ulterior motive for getting with someone. How would it of been such much less artificial for Anna to get on fucking Match.com out of desperation for companionship than it was for her to marry J. Howard Marshall. I don’t know, it just all feels like such a slippery slope. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I don’t think you can judge the authenticity of a relationship by its cover.
Another lesson that can be learned from Anna Nicole’s short life is that being a woman really fucking blows, because at the end of the day, you can never, ever win. Howard Stern taunted Anna’s weight by making her step on a scale live on-air (even though it’s perfectly acceptable for him to look like my big toe when I forget to shave it for a couple of days), and even when she was applauded for losing 69 pounds (in a troublingly short amount of time with the help of sketchy diet drugs), she was still run into the ground for basically being on the hot mess express bound for benzo town. She had tried to be a legitimate actress but was shut out based on her overtly sexual appearance, and was then shut out for being a D list celebrity, even though Hollywood pretty much pushed her into that mold. Remember: to get roles, you must be hot but also not hot.
The more I’ve been thinking about the confines Anna faced in her life, I can’t help but also see them when I reflect on my own. Being in the legal field, I try every day to command respect the old fashioned way in the way that men can. I put on a blazer and my CNN news anchor voice, walk confidently, and work my ass off, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m still condescended regularly, have clients trying to get fresh with me, and get called “sweetie” and “honey” by just about everybody. It seems like being half-naked and rolling around on the floor drunk doesn’t yield much worse of results. If anything, people will just leave you alone because they think you’re nuts. And then when it comes to my writing, there’s the whole double standard of how Bukowski can talk about Darlene’s cunt hairs but the moment I try to talk about anything remotely sexual I get pegged as some kind of sad sloot. It’s this paradox of being held to such a higher standard while also get repeatedly reduced to something less than human. It’s all a trap.
When you’re like Anna, you often get told that if you would just “have more respect for yourself” you would garner more value, respect, and self-worth. But oftentimes this is just unsolicited advice to fit into the traditional paradigm of womanhood, one that may be empowering to some, but repressive to plenty of others. Instead, I find it more empowering (and honestly more fun) to fuck the way men are taught to, to hijack the objectification of female sexuality and turn it into something so aggressively powerful and dazzling that it makes people uncomfortable. And boy, some people don’t like that, because the moment you start using high standards of beauty and hyper-sexualization for your benefit, as your own source of self-expression, as your own source of empowerment, and not just the benefit of others people get real butthurt real fast. Cue the mass-shaming of Anna Nicole.
And so, that’s why I contend Anna Nicole is America’s true sweetheart, and not no fucking Jen Anniston (apparently slinging Aveeno crap that everyone knows you don’t actually use for a dollar is so much less shameful than banging grandpa for a dollar?), because she represented the true condition of being a woman. Her death was one for which everyone was responsible, and no one wanted to be accountable – yet another trap. On the brightside, while the tragedy of Anna Nicole continues to be relevant today, I am thankful that we have seemed to have laid to rest the time when the television set was king. Say what you want about the PC internut age, but the era of exploitative reality television and fat-shaming gang rape was an ugly one. Also, say what you want about the Kardashians, but at least they’ve introduced us to a more meta, social media-based reality TV 2.0 where issues like addiction are talked about like the true challenges that they are and not sources of material to use for your shitty set at the Chuckle Bucket. Hell, it might even be okay to have a fat ass. God bless.