Lohan and Holy Gossip

Lindsay Lohan’s encounters with the law, creatively rendered.

Lindsay Lohan has been back in the headlines recently, after the notoriously reckless actress slammed her Porsche into an 18-wheeler in Santa Monica, CA. Lohan initially claimed she was not driving the car, but as the drama surrounding the accident escalated, her account of the event became more and more elaborate. Of course, the gaps in the story made for good gossip. Visitors to celebrity gossip websites like tmz.com have been abuzz about what happened. Hundreds of comments adorn articles about Lohan’s crash, but few are sympathetic toward the starlet. Some readers have even gone so far as to express gratitude for the accident, or at a further extreme, wishing Lohan would have died in it.

Reading this got me wondering: what is going on here?

Like Charlie Sheen, Lohan is a star that stargazers love to hate. And yet even death-wishing commenters are also diehard fans of a sort: they can’t keep their gaze off of the star that they hate! But bashing (or admiring) celebrities often has more to do with getting to know other stargazers than the stars themselves. And sometimes even the dimmest of stars seems to offer more light than anything else in an individual’s life. People form pseudo-relationships with famous people in hopes of forming real relationships with likeminded people.

This approach to forming relationships demands keeping up with celebrity gossip so as to keep one’s friends. One has to know who and what others are talking about. I remember when a few of my friends snickered when I admitted that I had no idea what a “Kardashian” was (it sounded like a dog breed to me).

“You don’t know who the Kardashians are?!” they taunted. “No,” I replied, “and neither do you!” (Of course, as soon as they turned around, I pulled out my phone and consulted Wikipedia.)

But what might our idle chit-chattery about celebrities say about us? Especially online, there’s a sense in which knowing a celebrity (or, more precisely, knowing about them) gives me access to other people. A person who wants to be ‘in the know’ might dive deeply into the lives of celebrities so that the star’s life can serve as a medium for veiled self-revelation. We may be talking about Lindsay Lohan’s latest wreck or Lady Gaga’s concussion–which really has nothing to do with me. But my constantly talking about it just might reveal how much I need the presence, attention, and concern of others.

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