Part 6: She Drives Me Crazy

Anna Nicole Smith
We've heard this little scene,
We've heard it many times.
People fighting over little things
And wasting precious time.
They might be better off, I think,
The way it seems to me,
Making up their own shows,
Which might be better than TV.

— Talking Heads,
"Found a Job"

NOTE: The following essay was originally published in February 2003 on my Anna Nicole Show Fan Site and is incorporated into this encomium to detail the tremendous impact the television series had on my continuing relationship with Ms. Smith.

What do you do when an impossible dream comes true? How do you react when reality suddenly and inexplicably contorts itself to your most intimate desires, and presents you with a personalized gift so frighteningly marvelous that you would never have even allowed yourself to wish for it?

I think I have a pretty good idea what you do. You go mildly insane.

The Anna Nicole Show has turned my fragile mind inside out and left me feeling like I'm living a Twilight Zone episode in which a national television show has been created exclusively for my enjoyment... and everybody else thinks it's a pile of crap.

First, you have to understand that I'm not accustomed to contemporary popular culture giving me what I want. In virtually all aspects of my lifestyle, my tastes run toward the obscure and contrary to the majority opinion. No one has heard of my favorite writers and musicians, I hate professional sports, I don't drink, and I use a Mac. The only mass-market phenomenon I've ever really loved has been Star Wars, but even that interest has been deemed uncool since The Phantom Menace. My sense of cultural disenfranchisement also extends to my taste in women. And thus it's only fitting that Anna Nicole Smith should be my ultimate dream woman.

I've been crazy about Anna Nicole for over ten years, starting from the day her first Playboy hit newsstands in 1992. As she has receded from popularity over the years, my fascination with her has inversely intensified. The more her public image waned, the sweeter and more intoxicating her rare moments in the spotlight became. Her obscurity also encouraged me, on some deeply buried level of psychological self-preservation, to indulge my obsession without fear of going over the edge. Sure, go nuts, my superego confidently assured my id. How can you overdose on a drug that you only get in tiny doses once or twice a year?

When a slick new pusher starts dropping off a hundred kilos at your house every Sunday night, free of charge... that's how. My brain was calibrated to observing Anna Nicole Smith on a microscopic level, and then a thermonuclear explosion melted all that sensitive instrumentation into slag. I was a starving dog plunged headfirst into a swimming pool full of liverwurst. The advent of The Anna Nicole Show has had an impact on me that even a thousand wacky analogies can't make anyone else understand. Nobody knows it but me.

Anna Nicole Smith getting her own weekly television series with cameras following her around in her everyday life? It still seems inconceivable to me sometimes. Things like this just don't happen to me. I'm not used to the things I love being treated this way.

Eye of the Beholder

To the rest of the world, Anna Nicole is a washed-up minor celebrity. But to me she's a living goddess. People think she's gotten too fat and lost her looks, which is the only thing she ever really had. I think that's ridiculous, because to me she's physically more beautiful than ever. People disapprove of her past, her morals, her I.Q., and her alleged chemical dependencies. I have come to realize that these things are either irrelevant or none of our business. People think she's not worthy of having her own TV show. I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.

This is the prism through which I view The Anna Nicole Show, my favorite television series currently broadcast and one of my most cherished entertainment productions ever created. I admit that I can't be objective about the show because of my attachment to its star. A weekly series of Anna Nicole clipping her toenails would be just fine with me. Nevertheless, I really do believe it's a good show, despite however much the rest of the universe may hate it.

Once again, I find my tastes at odds with the judgment of the teeming masses. It's a familiar position for me, no doubt, but never before has there been such intense mass contempt for something I love so dearly. People have every right to their opinion, and I should have thicker skin by now, but the pervasive condemnation of Anna Nicole and her show has really hurt me. For a while there, I came rather unhinged.

Right after the show was first announced, I set about writing a massive essay entitled "My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith." This was purely a preemptive defense mechanism, motivated by my dread of the backlash the series' debut would inevitably spark. I wanted something I could point to whenever someone asked me, "How in the world can you like that crazy, messed-up woman?" That essay helped me mentally prepare myself, but I think it was too long-winded and complex for many people to bother reading, let alone understand and find persuasive.

A central premise of my essay is that Anna Nicole Smith is one of those rare public figures who has achieved mythological status in her own lifetime. Her artistry lies in the glamorous femme fatale image she has created, which is wholly distinct from her actual self. I used to be disturbed by some of her scandalous behavior, until I made the realization that the fantasy woman from the photo shoots and public appearances is a distinct entity from the real woman with all her private flaws.

Viewers have expressed shock and dismay over Anna Nicole's behavior on the show: her immature temper tantrums, her vulgar remarks, her self-centered demands, her spaced-out weirdness. None of these displays has surprised me. I have studied Anna Nicole Smith for a long time, and I know that's just how she is. And none of these attributes diminish her appeal for me in the least. In fact, they make her even more charming, in some way that lacks any rational explanation. The eccentric content of her character makes her only more beautiful.

And that brings me to the reason why I got interested in Anna Nicole in the first place, which is that she is the only full-figured sex symbol of modern times. She is a tremendously significant icon representing the beauty of larger women, and the desires of we men who admire them. Anna Nicole is the anti-waif, and we need her more than ever in this age when the top female stars are shrinking away to skin and bones.

Her weight has fluctuated over the years, and The Anna Nicole Show has captured her at perhaps her heaviest. This is very exciting for us guys who like big girls, but horrific for the rest of the viewing public. I believe the primary factor behind the uproar against the show is not Anna Nicole's personality but her size. The show has fallen victim to our society's unyielding prejudice against larger women. We've worked so assiduously to eliminate fat chicks from any positive presence in the mass media, the last thing we want to deal with is a successful TV show starring one.

People point to Anna Nicole's weight as evidence that she is a wreck and needs to get her life back together. It absolutely infuriates them to see her acting self-confident about her size, wearing belly shirts and skimpy dresses that a woman of her dimensions "shouldn't wear." Well, guess what, assholes? Anna Nicole is still sexy, and so are thousands of other women with body types like hers. And if you have different ideas about how they should look and what they should wear, that's your problem, not theirs.

Those kinds of criticisms I can deal with, but there's another reaction to her weight that's more insidious and more depressing. The show has triggered a false revisionist history of Anna Nicole's career, which is that she used to be thin and sexy but now she's fat and ugly. The fallacy here is that she was not skinny when she was in Playboy, and she was the heaviest Playmate of the Year ever. Back then she was heralded as ushering in a new era of the full-figured bombshell (which never arrived, sadly). Just because she's gained weight since then, people seem to have forgotten that she was plus-size even in her heyday. Sellers on eBay cautiously label their vintage Anna Nicole collectibles as "Thin," "Slim," "Before TV." This retroactive reassessment of her early career robs Anna Nicole of her mantle as our sole full-figured sex symbol, and reduces her to just another hot chick who got fat. That's completely wrong. Yesterday and today, her generous proportions have always been part and parcel of her beauty.

Reality Bites

Another unfortunate misclassification is that The Anna Nicole Show is lumped in with the current programming fad known as reality television. My favorite show bears very little resemblance to loathsome garbage like Survivor and Joe Millionaire.

In general, the only reality shows I find interesting are the ones about extraordinary people. I enjoy programs like Iron Chef and Junkyard Wars, which feature highly talented individuals using their skills to do things most of us could never even attempt. Contrast that with shows about average nobodies fighting and scheming against each other to win some prize or other. Their viewer appeal lies in soap-opera melodrama rather than any inherent character in the interchangeable participants, whose only remarkable quality is typically their good looks.

The Anna Nicole Show is different. It's about an extraordinary woman and her extraordinary life. The only reality show comparable in any way is the show that inspired it, The Osbournes. Both series are about the private lives of offbeat but past-their-prime celebrity figures who have agreed to be on camera 24/7. Both stars come across as goofy, scatter-brained, and incapable of functioning without the aid of those around them.

So does this kind of program simply amount to exploitation? That depends on your frame of reference. Just about any human transaction involves exploiting somebody to some extent, and virtually everything in the entertainment business does. The Anna Nicole Show certainly doesn't exploit its subject in any way that she didn't consent to. Some people express sympathy for poor Anna Nicole, since E! is "taking advantage" of her and her lawyer "forced her" to do the show.

These condescending know-it-alls need to give her a break. Anna Nicole is no rocket scientist, but she knows the score. As she has said herself, she doesn't mind being exploited as long as she's getting paid for it. Just consider the many demeaning entries on her resume: serving fried chicken for minimum wage, stripping in nudie bars, posing naked in men's magazines, flaunting her assets in crappy B-movies. You'd have to say The Anna Nicole Show is actually one of the least exploitative things she's ever done for a living. It doesn't require her to pretend to be something she's not, and she gets to keep her clothes on.

But what really keeps this show from being some pathetic exercise in exploitation is the fact that Anna Nicole, contrary to what some may think, still possess the extraordinary skills that made her famous in the first place. It's just that the show removes her from that context, just the same as with Ozzy Osbourne. Put the doddering dad on stage in front of a screaming crowd, and he's still the f***ing prince of darkness. Put the moody, dimwitted Anna Nicole in front of a camera with her hair and makeup all fixed up, and she's still the devastating blonde bombshell. Their respective shows aren't about has-beens. They're about legendary talents on their day off.

The "reality show" mentality restricts complex thought because it leads viewers to appraise real people as if they are fictional characters. We are accustomed to picking up on certain cues in books and movies in order to make decisions about who's the good guy and who's the bad guy, who's in love with who, and what their psychological underpinnings are. These kinds of cursory judgments are great for entertainment, but don't work so well in real life. It's an unfortunate trend that you can directly trace back to talk shows like Jerry Springer, where the studio audience feels qualified to lecture the guests on their lives after hearing them speak for five minutes. Reality show viewers think the same way, abruptly pigeonholing all the stars so you can figure out who to boo and who to root for.

This is an inappropriate perspective from which to approach The Anna Nicole Show. Watching the series premiere with that sort of attitude, you immediately conclude that Anna Nicole must be on drugs, that Howard must secretly be her lover, and that Kim has a mad lesbian crush on her. Then you probably get bored with the show and quit watching it, and you never find out that these are complex human beings who can't be summed up in 15 words or less. Viewers who stick with the series gradually discover that Anna Nicole is naturally wacky, and Howard and Kim really are just her very good friends.

Some of the snap judgments viewers make are absolutely infuriating. Purely on the basis of the first episode, in which Anna Nicole leaves 16-year-old Daniel at home alone while she attends a party, people have had the gall to brand her a neglectful mother. What kind of bullshit is that? It's fine to criticize a celebrity's hairstyle or fashion choices, but to attack their parenting skills? And on such flimsy grounds? it's unfathomable to me. But my favorite thing is when critics blast the show for crimes it never committed. I've read an article complaining that the the program showed Anna Nicole making herself vomit after eating too much (not true), and that it broadcast the sounds of her using the toilet once when she left her microphone on (she described such an incident in publicity interviews, although the embarrassing event was never aired). Shouldn't professional critics actually watch a show before they pan it?

But all in all, I have to be grateful for the reality TV craze. Without this programming trend providing the necessary precedence and context for a documentary series about a celebrity's personal life, this show would never have made it on the air. God bless Ozzy for starting off this crazy train.

Cinéma Vérité

I had high hopes for The Anna Nicole Show before its premiere, and harbored some dark fears as well. Was E! going to deliberately ridicule Anna Nicole and contrive the show to make her look like a complete fool? Some viewers say they have, but I disagree. E! has done a fantastic job of representing Anna Nicole in a fair and even-handed manner, and this has been the most pleasant surprise about the show. The thoughtful editorial judgment brought to bear in the series makes it a hundred times better than I realistically expected it to be.

Believe me, if E! really wanted to make fun of Anna Nicole, they could do it. They could use cheap tricks like cartoon sound effects and video loops to explicitly mock her strange or silly behavior. But they have restrained themselves to an unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall style that presents the facts as they happened. The only extraneous sweetening added in post is the well-chosen background music, which never trivializes anyone or anything, aside from Bobby Trendy.

Obviously the footage is edited for maximum entertainment value and choicest Anna Nicole sound bites, but I generally get the impression that the party responsible for her displays of goofiness is not the editors, but Anna Nicole herself. One minor exception is the gratuitous shots of her tripping and slipping that so often make it to the final cut, but still, I have to admit that her clumsiness does make a pretty funny running gag. In any event, the production exhibits a remarkable degree of discretion from the network best known for such pandering masterpieces as The E! True Hollywood Story and Wild On.

The shows don't always distill down into a perfect 22-minute-sitcom format, but the editing is often rather inspired. For instance, it was a brilliant move to combine the dentist visits and the amusement park trip in one episode, showing our heroine battling her fears but lacking compassion for Kimmie's... and getting her just deserts in the end. This is a perfect example of the show presenting Anna Nicole in a negative light because she deserves it. Such portrayals do not constitute exploitation, and neither are they a reason to scorn Anna Nicole for her shortcomings. They are merely evidence that she is a human being.

And let's not forget that the star of The Anna Nicole Show doesn't always come across looking bad. My goodness, no! We get to see her calmly reasoning with Howard about financial issues, and giving Kimmie a generous birthday gift, and hosting a party for a charity group. Fewer of these moments make it into the show, since they're clearly deemed less of a draw than the more outrageous stuff. The same critics who object to Anna Nicole's questionable acts would probably find it boring to watch her always being nice.

If I had to identify the biggest flaw in the show's production, I suppose that would be the over-reliance on contrived stunts. Throughout the first season, E! seemed desperate to keep placing Anna Nicole & co. in some peculiar situation or road trip of the week. I know you've got to have some of that to keep things interesting, but sometimes the forced set pieces don't work too well. It was a mistake for the producers to coerce Anna Nicole into having an eating contest, for example, on a day when she really wasn't into it. Some of the best moments on the show are completely spontaneous, like the surprise visit from cousin Shelly. Anna Nicole Smith is one of the most interesting people in the world, after all, and I'd like to see more episodes that just turn her loose and let her do her thing.

The Road to Recovery

I think Anna Nicole is an incredibly courageous woman for baring herself to the world on a show like this. How many of us would be willing to let it all hang out and be ourselves while a camera crew followed us around nonstop? Who would be able to handle all the scrutiny and ridicule from the vast basic-cable audience gawking at our private lives? Like her or not, you have to admit Anna Nicole has got the self-confidence of a Sherman tank.

Something most people forget is that Anna Nicole agreed to do the show as a way to fight depression. She had spent six months in bed before E!'s offer came along, despairing over her endless legal battles. The Anna Nicole Show has been a public form of therapy for her, a reason to get out of the house and put her life back on track. It's an unconventional course of treatment, certainly, but Anna Nicole is an unconventional person. And it really makes an odd sort of sense, when you consider her long-standing love affair with cameras. This knowledge provides a poignant subtext for the series: when you see Anna Nicole laughing it up in Las Vegas or an amusement park, you're not just watching some celebrity goofing off, you're watching a psychologically troubled human being in the process of healing.

And now I'm left to follow in her footsteps, and walk my own road to recovery. The Anna Nicole Show has dealt a heavy trauma to my mental state, from the mind-blowing rush of wish-fulfillment to the brutal stomach punches of all the hate-filled critics. But the most severe blow to my sanity is something different. Remember my theory about the mythological Anna Nicole Smith? Before the show came along, I had convinced myself that my fascination rested only in her fictitious fantasy woman persona, and not in her as a mere human being. But now, after being granted this extended look into her private life, I'm afraid I'm falling in love with the real-life Anna Nicole as well. That's why I'm worried I may have taken one step closer toward going off the deep end for good.

I'm trying real hard to keep my grip and steer clear of psycho stalker-land. I'm feeling much better now, thanks to the break between seasons giving my fevered brain a chance to cool off. And I'm going to keep on evangelizing the glory of my goddess to the best of my ability, hopefully in a sane and healthy manner.

I'm crazy for trying, and crazy for crying... and I'm crazy for loving her.

Afterword: How She Threw It All Away
The tragedy of TrimSpa and the fall of a goddess.

My Love Affair with Anna Nicole Smith

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