(Submitted to Maxim, Fall 2007, unpublished)
Does rehab help? Does it hurt? Do we care? And will there be tits? Such questions, as necessary as they are, have an entirely different set of answers, depending, of course, on whether we are talking about celebrities or ordinary, run-of-the-mill Americans. The former get us hot, wild, and upset in equal measure, while the latter is Uncle Joe, or Cousin Pete, and we sure as hell know they haven’t had a sober Thanksgiving in years. That said, families across the country have testified to the miraculous nature of no-nonsense rehab, though if you’ve ever watched A&E’s “Intervention,” you’ll notice that every single one of ‘em has fallen back into hellfire. Sure, many a man or woman has bounced the booze, or kicked the needle, or walked the straight and narrow for more than a country mile, but the process is so exhausting and tedious that they’re forced to measure sobriety in minutes, rather than the sort of time frames that actually mean something. It’s like those irritating breeders who refuse to use years when discussing the ages of their children, as if “twenty-nine months” didn’t immediately brand one a lunatic from the opening bell. Rehab, then, is an unspeakable gauntlet, and it’s about time we stop acting as if it accomplished a thing. Or should.
Rehab is an illusion. Something to act as a stand-in for God and Jesus and the belief that life only really begins at death. It’s that purpose we all seek, yet never attain, and it promises a better life, when the only thing worth living for is the thing you’re giving up. And why the push to be better? A national fix-it craze might make the streets less bloody, or family life less volatile, but what about art? Or simple entertainment? Take Lindsey Lohan: the past, present, and future of rehab as we now know it. Since she defiantly, and inexcusably, refuses to do porn, she hangs around trying to be all serious – you know, an actress – when we all know she’s not even up to outwitting Herbie. She’s damaged goods; a skin-tight, slam-bang trollop of Tinseltown, and she’s our whore, dammit, as if she had a say in the matter. She’s a crash at 2am, a dented utility pole, a teary-eyed loudmouth who smacks cops and guzzles man juice like she’s Nosferatu on a night binge. But there she goes, again and again, as if extending second chances into the dozens made us a more compassionate people. Can she change? Will she change? And why can’t we root for failure?
And that’s the crux of the matter. Few say it openly, but the likes of Lohan, or Spears, or Hilton, or Richie, push even the most compassionate star-fucker to call for the removal of live flesh and seamless substitution of a well-preserved corpse. Sure, it might be hard to tell the difference in all but a few cases (we’re still waiting for the news flash that our beloved Paris is, in fact, animatronic), but as Ann Nicole Smith’s funeral proved, it takes a bit of dying to get the good press these people so obviously crave. Smith studiously avoided rehab, of course, which might be why she managed to reinvent herself as a loveable icon, even after she was but stuffing for an overly large garment bag for the expired set. To hear admirers and social critics alike, she was “playful” and “sweet,” even though she never appeared in public without forcing us to wonder of she’d survive the interview. If she wasn’t drunk, she was stoned, and if she had managed to move beyond that stage, it was only to permanently occupy the zone that is known as “walking oblivion.” One wonders why she never went away to a happy place during her tenure as an even fatter, more ripped Marilyn Monroe, but let us assume that she would have stormed out within hours. She was that kind of gal.
This is the point in any journalistic account where we crunch the numbers, do the math, and report that, all mockery aside, rehab is a positive turn in our cultural life. Hearts are on the mend, after all, and everyone deserves a shot at redemption, as the old Paul Simon song says. Only they don’t. Rehab steals away the gutless and the talentless and the witless all in one swoop, and no one who values the contemptible in American life should stand back and let it happen. If rehab is to be tolerated, why not ask for truly inside accounts, where we learn that the beautiful and the damned have soiled their designer underwear, or run screaming from a gated compound dressed only in a pair of vomit-stained Monolos. This is where our tabloid bloodhounds can finally earn their keep. We need snapshots of crying fits, defiant explosions, comically violent D.T.’s, and assorted brats attacking their high-priced doctors with all the rage of a B-movie queen accepting the fate of yet another skin flick. If these joints must exist, open them up to the public, where we might gawk at the prayer circles, needle exchanges, or heavily monitored smoke breaks that somehow manage to become shower scenes from a women’s prison picture, complete with lesbian guards and steam-filled catfights. At least let us peek at our strung- out heroes getting undressed. And surely nightly bed checks involve some form of probing?
The key in all this is: has any celebrity ever been “saved” by rehab? More importantly, has a star ever emerged from the process a better person? The question implies that sobriety is preferable to permanent intoxication, but no matter how it’s framed, the answer is no. From
Hollywood’s opening bell to the present day, rehab hasn’t done a bit of good for the only entity that ever really matters: we, the audience. Sure, some found God along the way, or put away the bottle and had a kid or two, but what did that do for us? This is Babylon, after all, where babies are supposed to be unwanted and aborted, not cuddled and paraded before the cameras with love and reverence. If we’re keeping score, the celebrity baby obsession seemed to peak at the same time rehab became a popular option for the glitterati, which simply means we’ll be saddled with an entirely new generation of pampered half-wits in need of relief.
Contrast today’s dull, unbruised set of mommies on parade with say, a towering icon of vanity from the past: Mommie Dearest herself, Joan Crawford. This impregnable lockbox of eyebrows and cruelties used her little ones as props, not objects of affection, and when they weren’t serving her career, she whipped the snot out of their ungrateful hides. When the old battle axe wasn’t sucking down gallons of liquor, she was balling up her fists for another round of beatings. Rehab? Surely you jest. Despite having a barren womb torn to ribbons by untold abortions and every cock not tied down by homosexuality or impotence, this was one glamour girl who knew that a little touch up of face paint was all anyone needed to face the day. Even after a binge that would have felled both John Belushi and Chris Farley in turn, Joan could simply apply a bit of lipstick, adjust her shoulder pads, and take on all comers, be they directors or scoop-happy reporters. Once upon a time, broads knew how to hide the sins of the sauce; now they confess it all before a live studio audience. They survived, we applauded, and no one was the wiser. We could learn a trick or two from such giants. They don’t call them the good old days for nothing.