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Monday, July 23, 2007

It's Just The Way That You Sicken Me: Paula Abdul and The Rise of the Celebreality Star

In the tradition of Anna Nicole Smith, Danny Bonaduce and Flava Flav, Paula Abdul has her own reality show, Hey Paula. Okay, first of all, I have to admit that is a great name. Too bad it’s wasted on such a wad of dreck. Hey Paula follows Paula Abdul and her world-weary assistants around the country as she stumbles glassy-eyed and slack-jawed through QVC spots, animal rights events, Starbucks outlets and awards dinners. The woman is clearly debilitated in some way.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself; my intention in this post is not to critique the show but question its very cause of being. Who thought this would be a good idea? Clearly, Bravo thought that people would tune into the program to see Paula act insane. Paula and her handlers clearly thought that the program would be a great way to quell the rumors of her alcohol and drug abuse. But why do such programs exist in the first place? Why would we possibly want to see the waning glow of a former pop star as she goes gently into that good night? Celebrity-focused shows have been everywhere for the past ten years. It started with the rise of VH1: Behind the Music, the show that allowed me to watch Milli Vanilli crash and burn a total of 27 times during the rerun laden summer of 1997. Since then we have seen the birth of the “celebreality” program, a portmanteau describing a reality show featuring a celebrities as they “really” are. Such programs include The Surreal Life, Strange Love, My Fair Brady, Hogan Knows Best, Breaking Bonaduce and Dancing with the Stars. I was tempted to assume that these shows are so popular simply because Americans love to watch beautiful, wealthy and famous people fall horribly. We love heroes and villains, and we love it when our heroes become villains and vice versa. We love professional wrestling. We love easy formulas and guilty pleasures. Watching Paula Abdul drunkenly break a heel on MacArthur Blvd while trying to avoid getting stabbed is one of those guilty pleasures. However, I am beginning to think it is slightly more complicated than that. Celebreality is, above all things, a voyeuristic artform. We, the peons get to peek into the special worlds of movie stars and rappers. We get to be a part of their lives and, by association, form some libidinal ties to the Worthy, the Worthwhile, the Celebrities. Ironically, when you sneak into the VIP entrance of Paula's elite club you find out that her life is boring and sad, not glamorous and fun. In this way, the audience is able to conquer and destroy the very object it once revered and coveted. We the voyeurs get to violate the privacy of a celebrity and are vindicated when we exploit her, critique her and deem her life inferior to our own.

I should say at this point that I’m in no position to deduce whether or not Paula Abdul is on drugs. I have spent a fair amount of time with alcoholics and pill-poppers, however, and I can say her erratic behavior, unsteady gate, slurred speech and poor impulse control are all suggestive of such habits. Sure, it could be a brain tumor, a sleep disorder, a mild case of mental retardation, low-level environmental toxins, closed head injury, carbon monoxide poisoning or, possibly, Naegleria infection. It could also be a buttload of Xanax with a Vicodin chaser. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what’s wrong with her; all that really matters is that she leads a sad, lonely and interminably dull life. She is clearly too self-absorbed to understand how pathetic and unimportant she appears on television. Even her audience, a crowd of jackals salivating with shadenfreude and ill will, is bored and saddened by her state. Anna Nicole was hard to watch, but at least she seemed somewhat aware of how she masochistically paraded her fatuity for public scrutiny. Paula just seems terribly out of it. She constantly complains about how tired she is, and about how dramatic her life is; yet she neither tries to get rest nor resolve her paltry conflicts with brevity or grace. Everything is a telenovela with Paula Abdul. Everything is crisis. It is unclear whether she simply lacks any kind of coping skills or, sadder yet she simply cannot accept the fact that she is no longer an international pop star. By touting her schedule as “hectic” and “non-stop” she holds on to her dying dream. If I were a betting woman, I would bet double or nothing that Paula will check into a “spa” for “some rest” by the end of the year. This woman is one bottle of Stoli short of stumbling down a staircase asking for her close-up, Mr. DeMille. At what point do producers, assistant directors, friends, family, press or entourage step in and offer to get her some real help? Hey Paula is a clear case of enabling self-destructive behavior for entertainment value. Sure, it might all be an act, but I have a feeling Paula isn’t that great of an actress.

Bonus: Alternate Names for “Hey Paula”

Most people who know me do not know that I was a huge Paula Abdul fan in the late 80s. When no one in my family was around I watched the video for “Cold Hearted” over and over and tried, in vain, to copy all of the dance moves. It is in this spirit that I decided to come up with some alternate titles to Paula’s show:

1) Straight-Up (Now Tell Me Cause I Really Wanna Know, are You on Quaaludes?)
2) Opposites Attract Unwanted Media Attention
3) Imbibology
4) I Need You (To Score Me Some Barbies)
5) Crazy, No Longer Cool
6) Knocked Out (Because I’m HIGH)


Blogger steamy said...

this is immensly wacked out :)

9:52 PM  

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