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Friday 8 December 2023 Dublin: 9°C
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Column You cannot – and should not – fix a broken life in front of a thousand cameras

Lindsay Lohan’s “docu-series” on Oprah Winfrey’s channel had bombed; have we finally had enough of watching celebrities fall from grace?

SO, DID YOU manage to catch any of the clips from ‘Lindsay’, Lindsay Lohan’s “docu-series” on Oprah Winfrey’s channel OWN? No? That’s OK. You’re not alone (and not just because the full episodes remain unavailable on this side of the pond).

Ratings for the show, which focused on the star’s professional and personal struggles, dropped dramatically after its premiere, and despite a veritable avalanche of scandal – Lindsay’s infamous “sex list”, bust-ups with her hideous parents, a stern intervention from Her Oprificence herself – Lindsay’s public reacted with no more than a weak and echoing “meh”.

This is very good news for a number of reasons.

Post-rehab loser-shaming

Firstly, because it is refreshing to see one of Oprah Winfrey’s soul-reconstruction projects sputter to a pitiful stop. Yes, that’s pretty mean-spirited, but in the world of celebrity analysis you’re allowed to be occasionally mean-spirited, and a fair chunk of us harbour a dull kind of revulsion towards Winfrey and her snappy sound-bites.

Winfrey is, of course, unquestionably successful and inspirational. That her word is a sort of gospel is not a new concept, and her success means that if she throws her weight behind an idea, that idea is given credibility. Whether selecting titles for her phenomenally successful book club, or giving the profoundly ignorant Jenny McCarthy a platform to spew dangerous rubbish about modern medicine, Oprah exerts the kind of influence most politicians can only dream of.

But Winfrey is a little too impressed by her lunch-hour wisdoms. Apparently seeing in Ms Lohan a chance to practise her platitudes, Oprah snapped up the starlet for a post-rehab interview and series on her eponymous OWN channel, and with cameras primed, launched a doomed attempt to make Lohan feel the Power Of Winfrey through a strong course of well-lit loser-shaming. The idea seemed to be that nothing would make Lindsay behave quite like the heart-shattering awfulness of Disappointing Oprah. Ironically, the results for the most powerful woman on television were disappointing.

Which brings us to our second point: you cannot fix a broken life in front of a thousand cameras.

The celebrity circus

Lindsay Lohan is a woman with multiple issues: alcoholism, substance abuse, a mechanical kind of dissociation from the concept of responsibility, lack of direction, bad management, and lingering damage from an extraordinarily stressful childhood. She may once have been a gifted actress, but currently she’s a professional mess, a young woman who generates interest by parading chaos wherever she goes. In and out of court, in and out of rehab, in and out of nightclubs and fast cars and slagging matches and Los Angeles topiary.

Her career has suffered. She has cultivated a reputation for being impossible to work with – lazy and entitled. There are hundreds of young American actresses who possess the same skills as Lohan, but who are also reliable, hard-working and self-aware. The only reason to employ Lohan in her current state is to benefit from the circus that operates in a giddy, gaudy, 24-hour bonanza around her glam-but-glum axis.

Oprah’s pseudo-benevolence has failed

If the aim of the Lindsay “docu-series” was to give Lindsay, the professional mess, a professional makeover, it failed in the planning stages, because you cannot put right a woman who seems to have no means of financial support but professional messing by giving her a camera to be a mess in front of.

Oprah, and her minions at OWN, know this. Their offer of help for Lindsay was to be repaid in photogenic gratitude and ratings and that hasn’t materialised, because addicts do not operate according to a script. Oprah’s pseudo-benevolence has failed her. The notion that if she wanted it hard enough she could somehow glue the younger star back together is quintessentially Oprah, and there has already been plenty of criticism levelled at Winfrey for commodifying therapy, and dragging private crises into the public sphere so that they can be publically solved and the accolades distributed accordingly.

Exploiting grief for commercial gain

But to believe that Oprah and the people at OWN misread the situation is to let them off the hook, in a way. Sure, Oprah is rather too fond of her own legend, and rather too enamoured of the benefits of positive thinking and gooey spirituality, but could the world’s most influential woman really think she could repair Lindsay Lohan by tutting at her on camera? Was the journey far more profitable than the conclusion? Was the conclusion even relevant?

The darkest facet of all was Lohan’s on-camera revelation that her lack of cooperation midway through the series was down to her suffering a miscarriage. This hugely personal, hugely stressful event was treated as another scandalous surprise in the Lindsay Lohan cabaret, an end-of-season hook to engage an apathetic audience. It is nauseatingly cynical to exploit grief for commercial gain, ostensibly for the sake of artistic transparency.

Are we finally finished with watching people fall?

The third bonus I’m choosing to take from this godawful sham is the apparent disinterest shown by OWN viewers. Lindsay, the professional mess, is clearly no longer messy enough to command our attention. Or – better again – maybe we don’t wish to be distracted by failing celebrities anymore. Maybe we’d rather see someone on the way up than prep the popcorn for their tumble.

Think about it: paps and gossip sites have been selling us the “professional mess” package for years – Lindsay, Britney, Tara Reid, Charlie Sheen – and maybe we’ve decided there’s nothing to it but venom and hot air. In using failing idols as salves for our supposed inadequacies, we’re only buying empty calories to feed the green-eyed monster. It’s bad for us. The most important lesson learned in the Lindsay fiasco is that there really is nothing to see here. And while we move along, maybe someone genuinely caring will take Lindsay Lohan under their wing, and enable her sorting herself out … away from the cameras.

Read more of Lisa McInerney’s columns here >

Follow Opinion & Insight on Twitter: @TJ_Opinions

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