All right, maybe it’s a little odd to send a Valentine to a dead person I didn’t even know, but all the cable news frenzy has been a Valentine of a kind too, right? A twisted one, but then, that’s entertainment… as Anna Nicole (nee Vickie Lynn Hogan) must have known.
I’m guessing she didn’t start out knowing it. A lil’ Texas girl for whom the best available route to the most glamour, fabulosity, and probably also just plain makin’-ends-meet lay in the many gentleman’s clubs that mushroomed up there in the 80s. But you meet a lot of rich guys in those places, maybe she figured, and so she did. Never mind that the one she snagged was old enough to be her great-granddad — he looks pleased as punch in those photos of him they’re showing on TV.
This isn’t exactly the American Dream. And yet it is, for plenty of American women (and gayboy twinkies, too, truth be told, who are just as up for finding Mr. Rich Mr. Right). See, Anna Nicole’s American life is, in this historical moment, pretty much completely shaped by her femaleness, not to mention by her class. And at this time, when the pundits are alternatively helping to keep the bright lights of life still shining on her memory and shaking their heads because everyone’s so fixated on her*, her death, her details, the great attention paid to her passing isn’t just because she’s America’s Rose (huh?) or our next incarnation of Marilyn Monroe or even America’s Diana. It’s because she’s the girl next door who rose to unexpected (and in one sense unexplained) heights. *She’s* the proof that in America, anyone can make it really big… and that fantasy helps so many people wake up in the morning, it’s no wonder folks are fixated on Anna Nicole. For one thing, dying young, while nailing any kind of celebrity to the wall of the pop limbo hall of fame, really messes with the fantasy.
Die young, baby… stay pretty. Live fast, ‘cuz it won’t last.
She *was* young, even if sometimes she was already a pretty blowsy rose. She was ten years younger than me, born the year I got my first transistor radio and learned to yearn along (until I sent myself to Feminist Rehab, something I believe Anna Nicole managed to completely skip) to “What’s your name? Who’d your daddy? Is he rich like me?” That means Anna Nicole came of age to the dreamy radio crap of the late 70s and early 80s, when America was heading down the Reagan rabbit hole and if you couldn’t be a Yuppie, you might as well strip for them and get as much of their money as possible.
When you consider her gender, Anna Nicole plays out so many Women’s Studies issues it makes my head spin. And I believe part of America’s love for her, if that’s what it is, comes from this way that she essentially lived the contradictions of a woman pulled by very un-modern roles and desires into the larger-than-life character she became. She was a siren, a wife (maybe a gold-digging one, maybe not — hell, old farts sometimes give very good head, and she might have adored old Howard), a model, a mother. All she needed was to have a Barbie molded of her… but it would have been so top-heavy it’d fall over. She struggled with her weight. She struggled with drugs. She wanted fame so badly she played gamely along when what fame wanted to do, half the time, was make fun of her.
From a class point of view she’s more like Larry Flynt, coming up from under to successfully exploit an unsinkable fascination, the kind of working class hero who wants to escape “real” work, “Dirty Jobs“-type work, forever: winning some kind of lottery that catapults them out of the coffee shop or truck-driver’s seat forever.
But speaking of lotteries, here’s what really makes it a can’t-look-away train wreck of a newsday: Who’s Your Daddy, indeed? Never in history, perhaps, have so many guys wanted to *take* paternity tests. And the subtext, of course, is that Anna Nicole didn’t just pose her way into the stratosphere, she fucked her way into it. And glittered there like a loopy star, somehow inherently likable enough that she didn’t get completely savaged for being a slut. Certainly the pop-cult firmament has glittered with plenty of women (and men) whose sexual appetites and/or strategic availability has shaped their lives, but rarely do we get to consider it so very openly. That this paternity circus is so overblown, yet is being taken so very seriously, means to me that the role of sex in a public person’s life has shifted slightly.
I missed my one chance to meet Anna Nicole, though I should disclose that I want to send her a Valentine because I thought she was absolutely lovely, in an Nyah Nyah, I Escaped From Waitressing kind of way, in Playboy and, especially, the Guess ads in the early 90s. Yeah, I saw her naked, on paper, but didn’t we all? Plus which, while I know she fought her weight, she was a damn sexy big girl, and bravo to that. When her reality show was hot, her production team entered negotiations to bring her and her entourage to Good Vibes for a private tour. Now, I know you all must be clutching yourselves. Yes, I know, greatness passed me by, *this* close. But can you imagine what a hoot it would have been to explain all the sex toys to Anna Nicole? I wonder if I could have taught her anything at all. The “See, You Don’t Need a Man” level of the dialogue seems like it would have been completely irrelevant in her universe. I hope her appetites brought her satisfaction, at least sometimes.
And my Valentine greetings send her not just thoughts of sexual satisfaction (I know, she’s dead and I’m NOT goin’ there) but of love, and I hope that from her lil’ cloud she can look down and see how much of this frenzy is, in fact, tinged by love, even if it’s sort of irrational around the edges. Who can completely explain to whom the people will give their hearts? What is this strange compassion, full of fantasy of way more than just a sexual kind, that makes America pay more attention to a bottle blonde gal from Texas than to Scooter Libby and Iran?
You can see from the footage, the smiles, the poses, that she wanted love, and don’t we all? On some level Anna Nicole’s bereaved (I mean America, not just all the guys who say she had their kid) are using her death to grapple with love’s irresistable pull, all the pleasure and pain it can bring. Happy Valentine’s Day, Anna Nicole.
* Footnote re. pundits: Is there *anyone* in American media right now that can see the freaking forest for the trees? Is Mr. Chomsky in the building? The media creates the glare of attention, and often real celebrity, that leads the media to devote all that airtime to covering and decrying. Geez, people, Tivo Lowell Bergman’s PBS series “News War” and get yourselves some some dang perspective on your role in the culture. Humph.