Friday, April 27, 2012

Am I A Misogynist, Or Do I Just Have Eyes?

Grace, poise, elegance
A couple days ago I saw some truly troubling news: that sentient afterschool special Lindsay Lohan will soon return from her chemically induced exile from film sets, agents' offices, and bars that don't take credit to play the role of -- and I am having a hard time getting my fingers to even type this -- Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor.

It's only a made-for-TV movie, and even less auspiciously, a Lifetime movie, but still, it's hard to imaging a more grotesque bit of miscasting. Admittedly, there are a couple of similarities between the two women: they were child actors, and they both ended up being a bottomless trough of tabloid fodder. (In the early '80s, Taylor seemed to be singlehandedly keeping the National Enquirer in business, and Lindsay -- well, you don't need reminding about Lindsay and the tabloids.) They also both got into the fragrance business: Liz introduced "White Diamonds" in 1991, while Lindsay launched "Coke Sweat" in 2007.  

But -- and I expect this post to be picked up by the Huffington Post, because I'm really breaking some news here -- the similarities end there. Ms. Taylor's career fizzled out in the 70's when she hit 40, started gaining weight, and stopped drawing at the box office, but not before she won two Academy Awards and starred in about 40 movies, at least eight of which are stone-cold classics. Miss Lohan, on the other hand, was drummed out of Hollywood not because of declining box-office power -- she never had any to begin with, and she only made one good movie (Mean Girls, which worked because of Tina Fey's script and because Lohan was surrounded by strong supporting performances by Lizzy Caplan, Amanda Seyfried, and Rachel McAdams, all of whom are now highly sought after and none of whom have been fitted for ankle monitors) -- but because she let a drug problem got completely on top of her by the age of 21.

Really though, that's not the reason she's such a terrible choice to play Liz Taylor. Movies are pretend. If Tobey Maguire can play a guy who sticks to walls and shoots webs out of his wrists and Denise Richards can play a nuclear physicist, Lindsay Lohan can play a beautiful, distinguished actress. Just not Elizabeth Taylor, because Lindsay Lohan doesn't look like Elizabeth Taylor. I don't mean Lindsay's not pretty enough -- I kind of think Elizabeth Taylor is a bit overrated in the pantheon of screen beauties (but then, so is Lohan). It's just that Elizabeth Taylor did not alter her face to look like a 45-year-old drag queen. (Not until she was 60, that is.)

Yes, at the ripe old age of 25, Lindsay Lohan appears to have given her face what contractors call a gut reno -- a complete teardown and rebuild. Even in an age when movie stars commonly botox the expression out of their faces and go out of their way to look like they just broke out of Madame Tussaud's before the final buffing, Lindsay's appearance on Saturday Night Live was jaw-dropping. Was she funny? Does she have what it takes to make a real comeback? I was so distracted by her inflated face, which for a moment I thought was the Garfield float heading past Macy's, I couldn't even tell you if she spoke English, much less gave a good performance. (After a second viewing, I can tell you that she did not.) It is a bad idea to put Lindsay Lohan in anything, because it is impossible to pay attention to her when you're searching her face for seams, or maybe an inflation valve, during all of her closeups.

"Can we just take 8 or 9 more? I'm not looking
at her right now, and I'd like to keep it that way." 
Since our son was born a little over five years ago, my wife and I have left the house together at night without him maybe a dozen times, so most of our quality evening time together these days is spent enjoying our lovely home theater setup, and one of the ways we like to keep that interesting is by playing Spot The Work. You probably play this game too: when someone comes onscreen who's had obvious plastic surgery, the first person to shout "Work!" wins -- and by "wins," I mean that person gets to stay comfortable while the other person goes to retrieve the brownies/ice cream/raw cookie dough that will accompany that evening's entertainment. Things slow down a little once you have kids is what I'm saying.

Lindsay was such an easy layup in that night's game of Spot The Work that she may have been the final nail in the game's coffin. It's just getting too easy: not only do actresses (and, let's be fair, quite a few actors) seem to think they can CHANGE THEIR FACES and no one will notice, they are getting oddly brazen about it -- indeed, it seems like the plastic-surgery community is in an arms race to see who can have the most obvious lip injection/cheekbone lift/forehead smoothing/eyelid shortening. So the thrill is kind of gone from Spot The Work. It's too easy, and it's so, so sad to see all these beautiful women willingly turning themselves into grotesques.

It's not just me, right? Something's wrong here.
That didn't stop me from nearly spitting my tea all over the screen when my job in the online video coal mine required me to watch Ashley Judd's new show "Missing" a few weeks ago. I admit without shame that I am a heterosexual male, and as such I take great pleasure in the sight of a beautiful woman. When Ashley Judd first came to my attention back in the '90s, she was one of my favorites, the very definition of a natural beauty, who had somehow slipped the genetic noose of her weird-looking sister and her weirder-looking mother. I can't think of any movies or TV shows I saw her in (maybe she's not actually such a great actress, I dunno) but she could always be counted on to pop up courtside when Kentucky made the Final Four, looking gorgeous with no makeup and a ponytail pulled through a baseball hat.

Which is why I was so crestfallen to see her on ABC, puffed up like a beach ball, with the same unnaturally plump cheeks and impossibly tight skin as so many plastic surgery victims before her. It was distracting enough that I almost didn't notice how bad "Missing" is.

A few days later, Ms. Judd wrote a very spirited defense of her face in The Daily Beast, denying that she'd had any kind of plastic surgery and explaining that she looks puffy (her word) because she got lazy and put on some weight, and then got sick and had to undergo some steroid therapy. I see no reason to disbelieve this explanation -- she is getting a little less puffy with each passing episode of "Missing" -- but I do take issue with her contention that even noticing that she looks a little off is inherently misogynist.

Does this mean I hate women? Or does it just mean I have eyes? Bad plastic surgery bums me out because it's like defacing a work of art. If I register disappointment when someone draws a mustache on the Mona Lisa with a sharpie, does that mean I hate art? I would gladly trade all my Spot The Work victories to see what Meg Ryan would have looked like if she'd allowed nature to take its course -- she'd probably be a starting forward for the Diane Lane All-Stars. In any case, I'm certain that it would be an improvement over what we have now.

Danke schoen, Dr. Levine. Danke schoen.
Ms. Judd also laments that this kind of focus suggests that women are only valued for their physical appearance and not the content of their character. I would remind Ms. Judd that she is in show business, and her physical appearance is what got her through the door. Once someone is established in show business -- once people know what they look like -- it's more than a little jarring to see that person's appearance unnaturally altered, whether they're a beautiful woman or a not-so-beautiful man. I find Kenny Rogers and Wayne Newton and Bruce Jenner just as troubling. Given the current social arrangement between me and Ashley Judd -- she appears on my TV screen saying words someone else wrote for her -- I have no basis to value her as a person or a mother or a wife. By her reputation, she's one of the best, and I have no reason to doubt it. But that's not the same as knowing her.

What I know is her work as part of a piece of art -- if you grant that "Missing" is art -- and I think it's within my rights as an audience member to notice if she looks like something traumatic has happened to her face. As it turns out, it has: she had steroid treatments. I admit to having feared that she'd succumbed to voluntarily destroying her very pretty face, that she'd arrived at the same conclusion as so many of her contemporaries -- that age equals death. (I guess it does, if your looks are all you had to offer.) But I take no pleasure in it.

People do, at times, indulge in a some schadenfreude when it comes to botched or obvious plastic surgeries, because in most cases it confirms what we already suspect: that celebrities are just as insecure and miserable as the rest of us, that money and fame in fact have not bought them happiness. Nobody's surprised that Heidi Montag is getting her nose narrowed and her cheeks lifted and her lips plumped, because that's what people like her do. The only thing at all surprising about Lindsay Lohan's facelift is that she got it so young. I don't think anyone in their right mind would have bet against her having had one before she hit 40. 

You better eat your Wheaties! And get daily injections in your face!
But when we see someone who seems like they should know better, like they have their head on straight, like an Ashley Judd, for example, the idea that they've had unneccessary work done gets a little more attention because it bums us out. It bums me out -- not (just) because you've ruined your looks, but because you bought into the same shallow crap as Lindsay friggin' Lohan. Does that make me a misogynist? More importantly, does it give me cover to play Spot The Work in peace?

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