Lindsay Lohan proclaimed herself "a bit of a narcissist" on the season finale of her OWN show Lindsay last night, and yet that show was too ugly even for her to stomach. Before a single episode of the show had aired, Lohan intimated to Jimmy Fallon that Lindsay presented a distorted view of her life, in its portrayal of her move from L.A. to New York. (She also intimated that she wasn't reprimanded by her boss, Oprah Winfrey, which she was, so perhaps Lohan has a distorted view of her own distortion).
When last night's finale was filmed, Lindsay had already begun airing and so Lohan was able to respond to her show on her show. This was the show's most meta moment since Lohan told her life coach that she would have preferred to have the conversation they were having about Lohan's sobriety off camera first, although perhaps less revealing. In a rambling, somewhat erratic monologue (most likely cobbled together from answers to a series of questions from story producers), Lohan discussed the impossibility of self-objectivity ("I don't see it as me…it's strange"), emphasized her newfound spirituality ("I worked with a shaman, I did a cleanse...I saw myself die, it was insane, I saw myself being born"), and excused what seemed like reluctance to film what she'd signed up to film (her own show) by explaining that she took a two-week break from Lindsay because she had a miscarriage.
I don't know whether she did or not, and I don't even think there's much to derive from her stoicism during this brief reveal—her miscarriage is hers to feel however she does about it. I did, though, think back to her telling Ellen Degeneres in March that they were done filming "for now," which I interpreted as signaling hope for another season. I also thought back to the letter that Courtney Love wrote to Lohan a few years ago, when Lohan started cultivating her former-child-star/current-bad-girl image. Referring to Lynn Hirschberg's Vanity Fair profile, in which it was alleged (in what Love called a misquoting) that Love had shot heroin when she was pregnant with Frances Bean Cobain, Love wrote to Lohan, "I thought the world had split open and was going to swallow me whole. All I wanted to do was kill that woman. I realize now that as hardcore as it was, it made me a lot more interesting and somehow employable."
What a pragmatic approach to the mechanics of modern fame. Yes Courtney, it does behoove you to be a little bit of a mess. It gives you character, it gets people talking. It fills out your image in spaces that your work just doesn't reach. It does make you more employable, depending on what jobs you're willing to take (Lohan would not have gotten this show if she lived Natalie Portman's life)...unless what your messiness points to is that you may be unemployable (see: Lohan refusing to film her own reality show on multiple occasions).
Being employable is something that Lohan repeatedly insisted that she was on her show, at times ranting about her agent for taking no for an answer on her behalf. Like so many other people on reality TV, Lohan has aspirations of starring in films, and the lack of self-awareness to fully understand why that will be difficult.
Or she's just lacking self-awareness, period. Elsewhere in what was effectively her Lindsay exit interview, Lohan described the experience of watching the show: "I can relate to that girl, which sounds kind of crazy. I'm like, 'Oh my god, this is really sad. Who's helping her?'"
Who is helping her? Who isn't? For much of the show, Lohan had in her entourage a personal assistant, a life coach, a sober companion, a driver, her mother, as well as an entire production crew, including director Amy Rice, whose presence on the show exceeded that of virtually any other reality show producer in history. Rice generally showed up when Lohan didn't, and led the efforts to rouse her star from her reluctance.
Lohan's hand-wringing and sadness from watching Lindsay mirrors a lot of people's experience with the show. (Lindsay's self-consciousness was of coke-fit proportions, so of course, the finale also included a montage of outsiders discussing the show and their resulting impressions of Lohan.) People tended to hate this show, if they cared about it at all. Its premiere airings never commanded more than a million viewers (unless the not-yet-released finale numbers prove otherwise, its most viewed episode was its premiere, which did 693,000+ sets of eyes).
Lindsay was sold to us as a show about Lohan getting her life together, but it was clearly given to Lohan with the understanding that it might not be about that at all. On the way to Dina Lohan's house to admonish Lindsay for her spotty attendance, Oprah Winfrey noted, "This is exactly what everyone said was going to happen, and I believed differently." Yeah sure, but in this case, a little bit of a mess behooved everyone (or so it would seem, given that mess works as fuel on reality TV). In that way, the official mission statement of Lindsay came off as smarmy dishonesty with self-serving intentions. As Jon Caramanica wrote in his New York Times review of the show in March, "Lindsay is, by far, OWN's splashiest effort and, naturally, its most fraught. Ms. Winfrey has to pay for the privilege of creating a problem that this show, and her channel, might attempt to solve."
Just like there is no hiring Lindsay Lohan without at the very least considering the benefits of a worst-case scenario, there is no pure "real" when a camera comes into the picture. Lohan herself admitted as much on the last episode, saying that she turns on when a camera is pointed at her. "And if I know I'm not capable of being on, that's why I would say, 'I can't film today,'" she explained right before dropping the miscarriage bomb.
That said, I think between the meta moments and the tatters that this person is clinging to and calling life, Lindsay was realer than most things of its kind. It was a brutal look at fame's morning after. It explained why an actress with so much perceived talent (even now, after both the Elizabeth Taylor biopic and The Canyons, people still tsk and talk about how good Lohan could be if she'd only get her shit together) is doing so terribly in Hollywood. It gave several indications that her sobriety has been in jeopardy, and that we can't exactly take her word on it.
This depressing chapter in Lindsay Lohan's life would be happening with or without the reality show. She isn't the first has been, and she won't be the last. Maybe there's an argument to be made that the show exacerbated her situation, that it was a kind of methadone program keeping her vaguely relevant through some clips and talking points, while she tapers of into obscurity.
But those of us who follow pop culture—those of us who gossip and pry—get to skip away without being faced with the devastation that fame leaves in its wake. We ostensibly sign up for reality when we watch reality TV, but rarely do we want something as grimly real-talking as, say, Lindsay or Being Bobby Brown. We want the ascent story, whether it's via a talent competition or a "branding" opportunity by an enterprising scene-stealer on a candid show, but we don't want to watch the agony of holding onto fame once it's been attained. You want the truth? You can't handle the truth, and why would you, anyway, when there are other celebrities who you can ogle and/or mock because they're famous and fair game? (Perhaps this is why Lohan and OWN always referred to Lindsay as a "docu-series." She explained to DeGeneres that it was not a reality show because "it's not scripted or anything like that. It's pretty raw. It's very honest.")
The last words we heard Lohan say on the season finale (and possible series finale) of Lindsay were, "Sharing things that I think I can share with the world, whether people like them or not, that's something I've always wanted to do, as a little girl." Conversations of Lohan's career always come back to her childhood with good reason. That's when she was thriving, and when she was ruined. There is something about the enormous amount of attention that children receive as stars, and then miss when their time is over, that fucks them up. There have been too many child-star causalities to ignore this basic fact.
The general consensus that I've gleaned from reading reactions to Lindsay is that ignoring it was the compassionate thing to do. However, the only mass compassion that actually could have made a difference in her life would have come in the form of ignoring her all together, never letting her blossom as a celebrity in the first place. And while Lohan has, no doubt, sabotaged herself and made terrible decisions, it's clear her life's mess is a part of a much larger problem in the entertainment industry. Lohan seems to be genuinely stuck with her issues and, as long as we keep consuming humanity and discarding it when we're done with it, so are we.