Part 3: A Mythological Goddess

Anna Nicole Smith
The ancient myths were designed to harmonize the mind and the body. The mind can ramble off in strange ways and want things the body does not want. The myths and rites were means of putting the mind in accord with the body and the way of life in accord with the way that nature dictates.

— Joseph Campbell,
The Power of Myth

Love is blind. Love is unconditional. Love conquers all. Love can make a man act like a damn fool. Some people might say my adulation of Anna Nicole Smith must have its explanation in those romantic platitudes... if they felt like being polite. After all, anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past ten years knows that the object of my affections is far from perfect.

A great many people absolutely cannot stand her. Even if they approve of her plus-size proportions, they may despise her crass demeanor, her pervasive falsity, her poor mental acuity, and all the outlandish things she has done. I completely understand how someone would construe my professed love as a crock of shit: a cascade of pompous, pseudo-intellectual lies spewed by some loser whose only true interest in this worthless celebrity bimbo is his impossible dream of banging her. Only raw lust could allow a man to ignore what she is, right?

Well, that's a trick question. Loving Anna Nicole Smith doesn't require denying her true nature; you just have to observe it from the proper perspective. Yes, I admit that she is vulgar, and outrageous, and in many ways thoroughly fake. But you see, the thing you have to realize is that Anna Nicole Smith is not real. She is an invention, and thus cannot be understood on the same terms as a real person. You have to regard her as a theatrical character, a living work of fiction, the modern-day incarnation of a timeless archetype.

From a more literal and less imaginative point of view, I'm not in love with Anna Nicole Smith. I'm in love with Anna Nicole's myth.

As part of the overall decline of our spiritual lives, modern Western society has lost touch with mythology and its invaluable guidance. With religion largely failing to provide us an adequate mythological framework anymore, our psyches have sought out alternative sources of legends and archetypes to fill the void. And so we have turned to popular culture and its celebrities for our new mythology.

Think about the meaning of the term "celebrity." Not just any ordinary actor or singer or fashion model can claim to be a celebrity. It's an exclusive status that a public personality attains upon reaching a certain perceived level of fame and eminence. Being a celebrity is not a measure of artistic skill, intelligence, or other talents, as shown by the many celebrities who are politicians, broadcasters, royalty, or filthy rich... and often quite devoid of personal merits. Being a celebrity is all about power. It's also about our need for mythic icons. We create celebrities because something in our psychology demands that we have larger-than-life archetypal figures to look up to. And these days, famous people are the only option of idolatry readily available to us all.

Celebrity Worship Celebrities are everywhere around us, in movies, television, magazines, ads, posters, billboards, web sites. And yet we never see them in person, except on rare and treasured occasions, typically with the celebrity kept ceremoniously isolated from us in the crowd. This omnipresence without being present, and this mystery of the unknowable, are obviously qualities that our subconscious associates with the divine. Among celebrities, I think actors and models come the closest to being true mythological figures. That's because their craft is not to create discrete works that can be easily dissociated from their creators, such as music or novels; actors and models are artists whose canvas is themselves. All the great Hollywood stars and supermodels have cultivated a superhuman persona that serves as an indispensable part of their success. Their business is turning themselves into myth.

Or trying to.

You might think this set of conditions would be enough to launch hundreds if not thousands of contemporary celebrities to the heights of mythic resonance. But that's not the case at all. We have but a bare handful of truly mythological living legends these days, despite our ravenous hunger for their presence.

There are two reasons for this, and they're both our own fault. The first problem is that the individuals we choose to be celebrities are, by and large, inadequate vessels for mythological meaning. They are shallow and flimsy ciphers with no hope of living up to the timeless archetypes of our collective unconscious. That's why we have so many trendy stars du jour who rule the world today and end up cluttering the "Where are they now?" file tomorrow. The hot celebrities of the moment are doomed to fade away if they can't spark some kind of deeper resonance.

The other problem is more insidious. On those rare occasions when a true mythological figure does emerge from the celebrity world, we don't know how to deal with it. We are unable to recognize and appreciate the example the celebrity has created for us, and like a frightened tribe of barbarians, we try to destroy it. Our worst sin is confusing the mythic persona with the real person. The two may be related, but they are not the same thing at all.

As Joseph Campbell would say, it's a huge mistake to read mythological symbols as prose instead of poetry.

Back when Anna Nicole Smith first fell from grace and became the whipping girl of the tabloids, I must confess that her image tarnished a bit in my eyes. She was sexy as all hell, no doubt about that, but I had to balance her beauty against all the crazy stuff she was doing and all the dirt the media was digging up about her past. Anna Nicole was beginning to seem like a sham.

Mug Shot Her name is fake, coined by Paul Marciano of Guess? Jeans because "Vickie" wasn't classy enough for him. Her blonde hair comes from a bottle. She doesn't look nearly as beautiful without her makeup on. She indulges in a longstanding affectation of painting a Marilynesque beauty mark on her left cheek for special occasions. For a time, she actually went around claiming to be the long-lost daughter of Marilyn Monroe, even though Marilyn died in 1962 and Anna Nicole was born five years later.

Her famous breasts, which she formerly insisted were the natural by-product of pregnancy, were in fact the result of multiple implant procedures. She has always identified the small Texas town of Mexia as her hometown, even though she actually grew up in the less picturesque metropolis of Houston and only briefly lived in Mexia in her later teens. She has always cited her pre-Playboy resume as consisting of minimum wage jobs at Wal-Mart, Red Lobster, and Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken, but in fact her primary source of income in those days was topless dancing. She had to conceal that piece of her past when she submitted her photos to Playboy, which as a rule does not select strippers as Playmates. She has reported that she was too bashful to disrobe at her first Playboy shoot until the crew gently cajoled her into it -- a dubious claim in light of her past professional experience.

And the exploits of Anna Nicole's personal life were becoming progressively more insane. She garnered a reputation as a notorious party girl, and that wild lifestyle caught up with her in February 1994 when she was hospitalized from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol. The following year she suffered another overdose, and checked in at the Betty Ford Center to treat her dependence on painkillers. Her Honduran nanny sued her for sexual assault in 1994. She was arrested for public nudity on a Bahamas beach in 1995. She once crashed a bar mitzvah and did an lewd impromptu dance for the young man being honored. Of course, there's also that #1 big thing that Anna Nicole is so infamous for, but I'm not going to talk about that until later. And it seems that every time she gets the opportunity to make an accounting for herself in an interview, she reveals herself to be about as dumb as a stump. I admit it.

Sure, it was unpleasant for me to deal with the ongoing evidence that my beautiful goddess was an empty facade. But over time, I developed a forgiving acceptance of the facts, and reached a new understanding of her true nature.

Anna Nicole and Vickie Lynn I came to realize that there are two Anna Nicole Smiths: the fantasy woman, and the real person. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to the fantasy woman as "Anna Nicole" (her stage name), and to the real person as "Vickie Lynn" (her birth name). Vickie Lynn is deeply flawed as a mere human being, but the Anna Nicole icon she has created will remain perfect in my mind forever. I have decided not to care anymore about her endless scandals and misadventures. Vickie Lynn can go nuts and do whatever the hell she wants, and it won't change the way I feel about Anna Nicole. I wish Vickie Lynn well and I want to see her living a sane and happy life, but I do not love her. No, Anna Nicole is the one I love.

And it makes no difference that her boobs are fake, that she's a bleached blonde, that she has to be made up to look good, that she lies about her origins. Anna Nicole is just a fantasy, anyway. Rather than shattering the illusion, these secrets make me admire the skill and creativity that went into her invention.

The Blue Dress In Part 2, I described some difficulties resulting from the Vickie Lynn vs. Anna Nicole conflict, which I had to grapple with before I had learned to distinguish her two selves. When she turned up in that blue dress at the 1996 Oscars looking disheveled and out of control, we were seeing the private turmoil of Vickie Lynn invading and overtaking Anna Nicole's public persona. This was in the context of a Hollywood red carpet event, a well-established platform for Anna Nicole to work her magic. But instead she was looking like crap, drunk and disgraceful. It was a traumatic blow to the Anna Nicole icon, but not a fatal one. The contemporaneous photo shoots she did for Lane Bryant remedied the damage, as Vickie Lynn put her personal problems in check and restored Anna Nicole to her full, glorious beauty. Which of these two sets of images is closer to reality? Well, the blue dress photos are closer to the real Vickie Lynn, and the Lane Bryant photos are closer to the real Anna Nicole. A slippery answer, perhaps, but when you're talking about celebrities, reality is a slippery proposition.

With all celebrities, the mere person who creates the persona can also destroy the persona... but only until the persona attains legendary proportions, and takes on a life of its own. The mere person can then change and age and die, but their transcendent persona remains intact. Consider how the fat Vegas Elvis could never erase the young "Heartbreak Hotel" Elvis. Vickie Lynn has foolishly tampered with her persona and put it through the wringer a few times, but it's clear that Anna Nicole has ascended to that higher level of stardom, because she keeps bouncing back. Even during Vickie Lynn's most devastating disruption of her legend -- that drastic weight loss and three long years of being thin -- her old pictures and our memories kept the flame burning. And inevitably, Vickie Lynn yielded to destiny and regained her classic figure, and now Anna Nicole walks among us once again.

This split-personality hero worship may sound mildly deranged to some observers, but I believe it's a perfectly healthy and proper attitude to have toward celebrities. In fact, I consider it a real breakthrough. When I first adopted this line of thinking, I had unwittingly taken the first step toward recognizing Anna Nicole as a mythological being. For years I have fondly referred to her with the tongue-in-cheek appellation of "Goddess Supreme." Only recently have I come to realize how appropriate that divine title actually is.

In the course of studying the deeper meanings of Star Wars over the past few years, I have gained an interest in mythology and its unnoticed implications in modern life. I've read some Joseph Campbell, and learned about Jung's archetypes and the hero's journey. I've also been profoundly influenced by Alan Moore's writings on the usefulness of magic symbolism and mystic rites as tools for fueling creativity and living life to its fullest. These concepts naturally spread to my other areas of interest, including Anna Nicole Smith. I gradually realized that my peculiar assessment of Anna Nicole as two separate entities actually makes sense in terms of mythology. I had learned to tell the difference between a spectacular and richly symbolic celebrity persona and the mere human being who plays the role.

Having an appreciation of famous people in this manner is apparently a tremendously difficult challenge for us. I think we used to be better at it back in the golden age of Hollywood. It wasn't just that there were so many stars of a higher caliber back then (and there were), it was also that the audience was less cynical and more game to play along with the notion that their screen idols were genuine larger-than-life entities. Sure, there were gossip columns and sensational movie rags back then, but there wasn't the bloodthirsty drive to shred the veil of fame and expose every human frailty and shortcoming in a celebrity's life. There was never an E! True Hollywood Story reveling in Humphrey Bogart's dark battles with addiction, and no tabloids ever ran candid snapshots taunting the cellulite on Greta Garbo's thighs. When you just let celebrities put on their show and refrain from exposing and dissecting their private lives, they have the potential to inspire us and teach us about the joy of life by grand example. This is the function of mythology.

But our culture is too literal and too small-minded to regard most celebrities in anything but the most superficial terms. "He's a bad-ass." "I'd like to do her." "That guy sucks." We're caught up in a sick love-hate relationship with celebrities, putting them up on a pedestal just so we can knock them off at a moment's whim. By denying the distinction between their public personas and their personal lives, we set up celebrities for inevitable failure when their humanity stains their glamorous image. This is why we reserve our highest veneration for those tragic celebrities who die young and leave a good-looking corpse. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Princess Diana got to take the express train to mythic status, since old age and infirmity never got a chance to besmirch their legends.

Madonna Still, celebrity mythology is not the exclusive province of the dead. I believe the foremost example of a star who has successfully established herself as a modern-day myth is Madonna. She has done this by means of her ever-evolving progression of "looks" and new identities, clueing people into the fact that she's just playing a role to entertain us, which has nothing to do with her true self. And we have accepted that as being okay, even if some of us dismiss Madonna's multiple personas as evidence of her pretentious fakery (which they may be). Interestingly, Madonna is also one of the very few female celebrities in the elite group of mythic living legends. Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman and Michael Jackson are among the numerous men in the club, but the ladies are much more scarce. As I mentioned earlier, myth-worthy stars are hard to come by these days, and that's especially true among the women. Aside from Madonna, the main examples I can think of are Barbra Streisand, Liz Taylor, Diana Ross... and Anna Nicole Smith.

All right, so now I'm going to explain exactly what is the mythological significance my beloved Goddess Supreme. Cynics can feel free to roll their eyes, and insist the last thing we need is another stooge who's flipped through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and feels like he's an expert on comparative mythology. I admit I'm a novice at this subject, and I'm bound to get parts of it wrong. But I feel so passionate about my conclusions and so certain of the underlying truth that I'm perfectly willing to make a fool of myself, if I have to.

As I devoted Part 2 to exploring, Anna Nicole Smith is an unusual and powerful sex symbol in our society. Think about the term "sex symbol," and you'll realize that all sex symbols are mythic, to some degree. Myths are symbols, and sex is one of the fundamental topics that myths are all about. In mythological terms, women represent life. Being the source of all living things, the female is the vessel carrying the mystery of our existence.

So it's not a great leap to suggest that Anna Nicole symbolically fills the role of fertility goddess, and serves as an incarnation of feminine power, or more specifically, the anima archetype. In Jungian terms, the anima is the feminine aspect of the "transcendent Self," representing the masculine psyche's idealized sexual desires, as well as the unconscious feminine component of the male identity. Anna Nicole is nothing if not a personification of anima force. But you may ask why she deserves special recognition in this regard. After all, there are countless other attractive celebrities with functioning ovaries whom we might also nominate as goddess symbols. What's so different about Anna Nicole Smith?

The Goddess Supreme Well, for goodness' sake, just look at her! If you've got eyes and a pulse, you know exactly what separates this woman from the likes of Julia Roberts and Heather Graham. Her body is the living expression of feminine desirability hard-wired into the Cro-Magnon male brain. Anna Nicole is the anima archetype made flesh... and with plenty of it. Her broad hips are ready for childbearing, her bountiful breasts are ready for nursing, and her smooth blanket of subcutaneous body fat is ready to keep her children warm and comforted. One look at her registers an unconscious sensation of awe, because you implicitly recognize that she is the mystery of life.

And there is definitely more to Anna Nicole's zaftig form than just its reproductive properties. Her body potently speaks of pleasure. The two primal sources of pleasure in human existence -- and in fact, the only two biological imperatives all living things share -- are sex and eating. Anna Nicole is obviously well accomplished in both pursuits. Her plump figure reflects a decadent indulgence in the carnal delights of food. This unabashed enthusiasm for giving pleasure to herself suggests that she would also know all about giving pleasure to a man. Plus, that hearty appetite of hers has granted her a body built for ultimate sexual ecstasy.

Notice how it all moves around in a circle: pleasure creates fat, fat creates pleasure, for both the woman and the man, ad infinitum. It's a natural, primordial equation that we have only forgotten in our misguided age. Anna Nicole's appearance reawakens those dim genetic memories of what the truly desirable woman looks like. The puritanical streak in the American psyche equates pleasure with sin, and self-denial with virtue, but deeper down we know there's nothing immoral or shameful about Anna Nicole's well-fed figure. Compare her pleasure-driven body type to the denial-driven body type preferred in our society. A woman who denies herself pleasure risks losing her understanding of the very concept. How is she supposed to give her partner pleasure if she doesn't even know what it means? And why should he even care, if all she has to offer is skinny legs and a bony ass?

There remains a third aspect of Anna Nicole's mythological dimension, one that transcends the corporeal realm of fertility and pleasure. And that is her beauty. In its finest representations, Anna Nicole possesses a timeless beauty that makes the spirit soar. She carries herself with the self-assured knowledge that she is beautiful, without succumbing to vanity. Her pride in her attractiveness is not directed inward, as a selfish expression of untouchable superiority, but rather directed outward, as a joyous desire to share her beauty with the world. She is a kind and generous goddess, delighted by our delight in her.

Joseph Campbell said that myths are a means of helping us "feel the rapture of being alive." To me, that's exactly what Anna Nicole symbolically represents: she is an affirmation of the ineffable joy and wonder of life itself. Her image stands for femininity, beauty, fertility, pleasure, generosity, and love -- all the emotionally precious qualities of our existence. She reawakens our lost knowledge of true timeless beauty, setting the mind in accord with the body, and life in accord with the way nature dictates. She is at once the unknowable mystery of life, and the warm and comforting reassurance that everything's going to be all right.

That's what I believe.

By separating the persona from the person, I have discovered the deep, resonant meanings in the living metaphor of Anna Nicole Smith which I could only unconsciously sense before. But you may wonder, where does that leave the real woman? Are we supposed to discard Vickie Lynn as being irrelevant in our appreciation of the myth?

No, certainly not. And this is probably the most interesting surprise about Anna Nicole's myth. You see, Jungian psychology dictates that a man must learn to separate the anima archetype from the woman onto whom he is projecting his desires, before he can ever begin to know her as a real person. Well, that's exactly what I have done. And I swear to you, I made my decision to do so long before I had any idea what an "anima archetype" is. I guess that's what the guy meant by synchronicity.

Now, my objective was to get to know the Anna Nicole persona better, but in the process I suppose I've learned more about Vickie Lynn as well. Confronted with the truth about a celebrity's private life, you face a "glass half empty" or "glass half full" situation. You can choose to be disappointed and disillusioned by the man (or woman) behind the curtain, or you can choose to be amazed and inspired to see how a grand myth has blossomed from the humble soil of humanity. I have chosen the latter. As Joseph Campbell said, it's only the imperfections of life, rather than the perfected state of the divine, that we can truly find lovable.

Vickie Lynn's story is actually a key component of the Anna Nicole mythology. Just like King Arthur, Hercules, Odysseus and Luke Skywalker before her, Vickie Lynn embarked on a hero's journey that transformed her into the stuff of legend. Come and listen while I tell the tale...

The Hero's Journey Distanced from her true mother and father as a child and raised by a surrogate parent (her aunt Kay), Vickie Lynn grew up in a humdrum, dirt-poor setting in rural Texas. She yearned for thrills and excitement in the world beyond, with dreams of being a glamorous star like her idol Marilyn Monroe. One day the call to adventure came, in the form of a newspaper ad searching for Playboy models. At first she refused the call, racked with self-doubt and afraid of being naked in front of the world. And besides, there were no more Marilyn Monroes in this day and age.

But in the end, with the guidance of a mentor (photographer Eric Redding) and the bestowing of a magical talisman (her breast implants), Vickie Lynn gathered the courage to cross the first threshold as Playboy's Miss May 1992. From there she was abruptly cast into the belly of the whale -- the chaotic world of fame and celebrity -- where she metamorphosed into a new and more powerful self. Anna Nicole Smith was born.

Now transformed, Vickie Lynn went on to suffer a long road of trials from which she ultimately emerged triumphant. She returned from her ordeals with a boon for the good of her community: an aesthetic restoration, with herself spearheading a revival of the glamorous tradition of Marilyn Monroe. Her tall tale of being the secret illegitimate child of the legendary bombshell now begins to make sense.

Tragically, just when victory was within her grasp, misfortune struck again. Vickie Lynn spent three years lost in the wilderness, in denial of her true destiny. Metaphorically, she died and rose again, transcending her human origins. The apotheosis was complete. The mortal woman had become the Goddess Supreme.

You see how much more lyrical and meaningful the story is when you view it through the lens of mythology, as poetry instead of prose? I think it's amazing. I feel like I've uncovered a revelation. We all need some sort of devotional or philosophical construct to help us find spiritual fulfillment in this crazy, mixed-up world, and I believe I've found the pagan deity that's right for me. Annanicology will probably never catch on as a religion, but you know, I really don't care what anybody else thinks.

You follow your bliss, and I'll follow mine.

Part 4: Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?
The never-ending scandal that threatens to rob us all blind.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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