Lindsay Lohan: The reality show we don't want to watch

Monday, December 31, 2012 - 9:38am

In the eyes of the public, the year is ending for Lindsay Lohan in much the same way it began: with an impending court date.

At the start of January 2012, the then 25-year-old actress was on track to receive a positive midmonth progress report on her efforts to complete probation for two drunken driving convictions from 2007.

Yet as we begin a new year, Lohan is scheduled to go before a judge once again on January 15, this time for a probation violation hearing after her probation stemming from a 2011 shoplifting case was revoked.

It's a cycle that has become all too familiar to even the most casual observers, thanks to the coverage that's tracked her every car accident, substance abuse struggle and financial problem for not just the past 12 months, but the past five years.

Her life and her decisions have become so singularly infamous that even her appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and "Glee" earlier this year, pegged as attempts to get her career back on track, poked fun at her turbulent history. And we've joined in: If there's news of another Lohan arrest, Twitter is filled with jokes. When the website BuzzFeed puts together a list of those who are having a worse day than the average reader, Lohan's on there. The pile-up of overwhelmingly negative reactions to her role as Elizabeth Taylor in Lifetime's "Liz & Dick" bordered on comical.

But the cynical humor isn't wholly unexpected: Since 2007 we've had front-row seats to 19 court appearances, five rehab stints, one no contest plea to a necklace theft charge and an alleged altercation at a nightclub. By now, Lindsay Lohan has become less of a living, breathing human being than a public punchline. Yet this year, it seems that "joke" has become as worn out as the saga itself.

"There always comes a point where you are just done. I think that's really happened to a lot of people with Lindsay because she hasn't exhibited any long-term ability to break the pattern of misbehavior, and it's really disappointing to a lot of people. She's been given a second, third, fourth chance, and the narrative is very tired," said E!'s Chief News Correspondent Ken Baker, who referred to the attitude as "Lindsay fatigue."

In general, public interest has shown signs of that, said celebrity journalist David Caplan of GossipDavid.com. The response to stories about her, he said, isn't as robust as it was when she was a teen star in her "Mean Girls" era circa 2004.

The reason the coverage doesn't go away, much to the annoyance of the frustrated "Why is this news?!" readers, is more complicated. For starters, there's no ignoring the fact that Lohan is still a celebrity in the truest sense of the word, with her currency having less to do with her career than it does with her power of recognition.

"America completely fell in love with her when she looked like this girl next door, and she was cute and had a real talent, " said Us Weekly reporter Jennifer Peros. Although she has been seen more often in court than on screen in recent years, Lohan is still "a huge name."

With the November TV movie "Liz & Dick," "people were definitely expecting it to bomb, but at the same time, everybody tuned in just to see what she'd be like. People all over the country were watching that movie on Sunday night. ... If people totally wrote her off, nobody would really care about what she's doing," Peros said. "Anything she does is going to make headlines, and it's sad. ... I flew out to L.A. to interview her for that big story we did, and just sitting out with her in a public place, people pass by her and take pictures of her for no reason, just because it's Lindsay Lohan."

At this point, said Caplan, the press isn't going to turn away from a star, particularly one who keeps landing in trouble.

"Lindsay Lohan stories always have the perfect narrative -- there's drama, there's conflict," said Caplan. "That's why she gets covered, because she lands in these problems that make the perfect stories." As a result, she has turned into something of an "easy target."

"There always has to be some, and it's cyclical," said Caplan. "There was a time when Mischa Barton was targeted; earlier this year, it was Amanda Bynes. There's always a few people, and Lindsay Lohan's good because she always ends up in these situations."

But these days, Baker said, her pattern of behavior has turned into a kind of reality show the public doesn't want to watch.

"I can't tell you how many people have said to me over the past few months, 'I really wish she would just go away and get help.' Whatever it is. We don't know what her problems are. Those are very personal issues she's dealing with," he said. "And whatever that is, even on just a human level, whether you're a fan or a journalist or you're just an impartial observer, you have to want someone to get healthy and take care of themselves."

The encouraging news out of this, added Peros, is that Hollywood is home to plenty of comebacks.

"If a celebrity wants to change the narrative, they can do that by actually changing the behavior," he said. Since charges were filed against her in November in connection with a car accident that happened last summer, "we haven't seen anything of Lindsay Lohan, nothing out of control," Baker said. "And that says to me that she is capable of controlling her behavior."

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