“With Freudian analysis I realized that making movies is my way to kill my father. In a way I make movies for – how can I say – the pleasure of guilt.”
Bernardo Bertolucci, quoted in The Week
It looks like as if we are in the midst of an immense feeling of guilt, shared by intellectuals and politicians alike, and which is linked to the end of history and the downfall of values.
Jean Baudrillard,Commodification of Suffering,” 1998
Much has been said lately about former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s thinking with an organ other than his brain, after his recent flaming tailspin away from a career distinguished by luminous moral reputation. The fact that Spitzer neglected to take adequate precautions to bury the trail of evidence linking him to the Emperor’s Club V.I.P prostitution ring is being seen as a mind-blowingly dumb, much in the same way that Bill Clinton’s tragic dalliance with Monica Lewinsky was groaningly regarded as an expression of latent idiocy brought on by egomania, arrogance and abuse of his position.
What has not been discussed is a tendency among the famous – particularly those whose images are built on ideals of morality — to be inexorably drawn to making spectacles of public disgrace out of themselves. While there is invariably something addictive in guilty pleasure, this fame-based public-psychological mechanism doesn’t seem to crave the guilt of pleasure so much as the pleasure of guilt. Esteemed people – maybe because they are faltering, on the inside, in their ability to shoulder morally superior public images — seem to need to reward themselves privately with ethical transgressions that are the paradoxical opposite of the images they represent in our culture. Their glory becomes so intolerable, they crave much-needed vacations into virtuelessness, and retreat to their private paradise of private hell.
Most glaring examples: Britney Spears, whose early career included both Mouseketeering and a public vow of chastity until age 18; Lindsay Lohan, another former child star equally damaged by publicly coming of age in the image-bondage of a Disney contract signed as a pre-pubescent.
Hollywood men have been having a hard time weathering images with even subtler virtues: David Hasselhoff, best known for playing a lifeguard, has mainly been in the press of late for drowning himself in vodka; likewise Mel Gibson’s enormous success as a follower of Jesus demanded that he rebalance his image of insupportable saintliness with drunk driving and racial slurs. Comedic golden-boy Owen Wilson’s impenetrable personal misery caused him to attempt suicide; Heath Ledger, best known for skilled portrayals of strength and self-discipline — heroic knights and sensitive cowboys — perished abruptly from a lack of control over drugs.
There is a design inherent in these “stupid” netherworld adventures – our cultural role models are compulsively building their own ethical rat-traps in such a way as to virtually guarantee that they ensnare themselves in agonies of public humiliation – because they need us to stop seeing them as good.
The world of public opinion seems to become, for these unhappy celebrities, a prism of parental and almost Catholic authority through which they view, judge and punish their own sins. They get caught red-handed, and they are flayed open on the great psychological couch of media opinion, where they endure a thorough, scouring analysis. If they’re extremely lucky, they emerge scrubbed, rehabilitated and chastened, ready to work hard and embark on desperate new attempts to re-inhabit their old images with the new humility of redeemed sinners, in the hopes of earning validation and forgiveness from us.
It’s an interesting process by which our cultural Gods throw the Godliness we bestow on them back onto us. Our worship makes them ill, so our Gods throw themselves at our mercy – knowing full well how Old Testament style -cruel we can be. They want the Book thrown at them.
Strangely enough, the same fall from grace going on with Spitzer enjoys its negative mirror in the great and sudden ascent into fame of his $1000-a-pop prostitute, the fetishized commodity known as “Kristin,” variously known in and out of the demimonde by such sexual racehorse noms-d’amour as Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro, and Ashley Alexandra Dupré.
Ms. Dupré, an “aspiring singer” has been a top hit on the internet, in Kim Kardashian, heat-seeking fashion.
She will undoubtedly be able to land a real singing gig, now; this route worked well, after all, for Clinton scandal Gennifer Flowers.
Perhaps Ms. Dupré can work a “Chanteuses Who Brought Great Men Low” variety circuit in Branson, MO, replete with a guest spot from Jessica Hahn and a big evangelical conversion finale: a weeping rendition of “God Bless America” that modulates into “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.”