by: Nico Lang
Before I begin, I want to issue a disclaimer: I have no particular investment in the film career of Lindsay Lohan, and I’m not really a big fan of her acting. Although I think the remake of Freaky Friday is underrated, I enjoy Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance in it more than Lohan’s, mostly because she always seems to be slightly uncomfortable onscreen. The same goes for Mean Girls, a film I think succeeds despite Lohan’s limited comedic range. She reminds me a bit of Britney Spears, more famous for what she represents than the quality of her actual work.
And that’s okay by me. I’ve never expected Oscar-winning quality from Lohan; she evokes in me more of a sense of nostalgia, harkening back to a time and place when Disney Channel films still meant something to me, one right before I entered middle and high school and began the painful process of growing up. When her Playboy pictures were posted online, I knew what people meant when they said a part of their childhood died.
Even though I think she’s not a great actress, I root for her because part of me identifies with her torturous transition to adulthood and her inability to fully put her life back together. More than any famous person who has publicly battled their demons, I’ve wanted great things for her. I’ve wanted her to become this generation’s Drew Barrymore, another starlet from a famous family who pervasive tabloid scandals to become America’s stoner sweetheart. I want her to prove the gossip rags wrong, to prove her critics wrong, to prove that she can be the great actress she has said she aspires to be.
I guess that’s why I was so pissed off when I woke up Sunday morning and read all the bile flung at her after her performance on Saturday Night Live last weekend.
To be fair, Lohan really wasn’t very good on SNL, but I kind of expected that. Her opening monologue was mostly strong, one in which she poked fun at her history of drug abuse, but she didn’t show the timing necessary to really land the one-liners. In what should have been the funniest part of the segment, Kristen Wiig pats her down, checking for drugs, alcohol or weapons on her person. To excuse doing so, Wiig quips: “I’m a lesbian now,” and Lohan replies: “Been there, done that.” It’s great writing and that line should have killed, but it fell flat.
For most of the evening, Lohan let her obvious nervousness get the better of her, particularly in the “Scared Straight” segment, where she clearly struggled to keep up with the sketch’s famous fast pacing. To survive, Lohan read directly off the cue cards and still flubbed some of her lines. It was painful and heartbreaking to watch, and I partially blame SNL for giving her material that was clearly too much for her to handle. Know your host’s limitations.
In 2009, Taylor Swift hosted the show and similarly floundered in that sketch, as her good-girl persona simply couldn’t translate within a sketch that peddles seven minutes of anal rape jokes. To paraphrase Lohan’s Mean Girls, it was like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. However, when Swift hosted, she did so right after the Kanye West-VMAs debacle transformed her from just a music star to a beloved sensation. Swift fever was everywhere, her albums were selling like every kind of cake and people who didn’t even care about country music did everything they could to support her. The Grammys even went so far as to give her Album of the Year for it.
The night she hosted, the public support for her in the air was palpable, and people were quick to name her the “Best Host of the Year.” The support, at least in the studio audience, was similarly palpable on Saturday. When Kristen Wiig mentioned during Lohan’s monologue that the people at SNL only want the best for Lindsay, the house seconded that with thunderous applause that almost brought the show to a halt.
However, the audience at home was not so kind. Although Entertainment Weekly’s criticism of her (in which a headline asked readers if she was the “worst host of the year”) was fine, those who sounded back on the comment board and her critics on Twitter were much harsher. Joan Rivers told her to go back to rehab—for acting lessons. User Drunk Enough commented that “This may be the first time Lindsay Lohan had trouble doing lines,” and one of the editors at Esquire alleged, “The only thing Lindsay Lohan seems addicted to is the SNL cue cards.”
As a film critic, I understand the importance of critique and cultural engagement, and I believe that Twitter and the internet have the potential to act positively in that respect. After the Oscars, Twitter led the public outcry against Billy Crystal’s decision to appear in blackface, a choice that blatantly ignored the ways in which blackface has been used to stereotype, caricature and demean black Americans. On a night in which two black actresses were favored to win Oscars for their performances, this was a bold step in the wrong direction for a voting body recently criticized for its overwhelming lack of inclusivity.
In this way, Twitter and the blogosphere acted a tool for dialogue on the history of blackface and a way to ensure that history is remembered. However, nothing about the ways in which some tore down Lohan’s performance was particularly helpful or constructive, and this backlash will only serve to further destroy the career of someone who is publicly struggling to improve herself. As someone who has been famous her whole life, Lindsay Lohan grew up in the public eye, one that rallied behind her when she dealt with her various problems. When her personal life crumbled, the public that raised her helped orchestrate her downfall. The very same people who supported her when she battled her issues with her parents seemed to take a perverse pleasure in her failure; around that time, Lohan became a popular Halloween costume, and on the internet, those who joined “Lindsay Lohan Death Pools” waited for her to die.
When her Playboy cover leaked, people focused less on the sad state of her career than the Photoshopping of her shoot, the color of her nipples and how thin she looked. Recent comments about Angelina Jolie’s “emaciated” right leg at the Academy Awards showed the same tendency (critique for the sheer sake of schadenfreude) rather than any real interest in the health or well-being of the actress at hand. It didn’t matter that Jolie seemed to take pride in her body, as evidenced by her insistence at showing her leg off by poking it out of her dress at every given moment; what was more important was reflecting our own body negativity and our collective need to skinny shame her and tear her down.
After the Lana Del Rey-SNL backlash exploded on Twitter, a time which people seemed to take real pleasure in lambasting someone who was clearly nervous onstage, SNL expertly responded during their Weekend Update segment by having Kristen Wiig impersonate Del Rey. Satirizing the overly harsh criticism of Del Rey’s SNL performance, Wiig quipped, “Based on the public’s response, I must have instead clubbed a baby seal while singing the Taliban national anthem.” However, more importantly, the sketch perfectly encapsulates how counter-productive and damaging this criticism can be. In character, Wiig says, “In this age of dangerous school bullying, you have sent an important message: If you think someone is weird, you should criticize them as much as possible.”
Although this can be read as a call to never critique anyone ever—as was the thesis of the failed CW reality show H8R, in which Mario Lopez shamed people for, God forbid, taking issue with the effect of Jersey Shore on media representation of Italian-Americans—we should instead see this as a call for decorum in what we say about others, famous or not. During our current election cycle, many have criticized our political candidates for the below-the-belt jabs they’ve taken at each other, and we should hold ourselves to the same standard. The politicians we elect and the celebrities we make famous are reflections of our selves and our foibles, and if we can ever hope for a culture that doesn’t highlight the worst in us, we must stop reflecting that venom and use our critical eyes responsibly and mindfully.
At a time when Whitney Houston’s death showed the impact that drugs and alcohol can have on our lives (and the costs that we incur when we don’t vanquish our personal demons), we must rally to help those who want to get better—and foster a culture that rewards recovery. If we want others to succeed, we must bring out the best in ourselves.
Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a film critic forHEAVEMedia, where he talks about nerd stuff on a weekly podcast called Pod People. Nico is also a contributor at Thought Catalog and the Huffington Post and has been featured in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, the New Gay and on his mother’s refrigerator. Nico is poly, pansexual and genderqueer but really just identifies as whatever David Bowie is. Follow Nico on Twitter @GidgetLang or on the Facebook.