Friday, February 16, 2007

The Anna Nicole Smith Case

Are you surprised by the topic of this post? I am, a little, but while doing chores last night I got thinking about the whole debacle, what it tells about human beings that her death (or rather its aftermath) is the big news item; the inheritance she leaves and the many father candidates is what the media talks about and not about global warming or the horrible situation in Iraq or any of the other truly serious issues. And it seemed useful to try to understand why people or at least the media are so very much wrapped up in this case.

I don't understand it well, but I'm going to throw a few ideas here. The first one has to do with fairy tales, the kind which tell about someone really stupid doing really stupid things and how poorly it all goes. In a sense this story is like one of those fairy tales. It teaches a lesson to the innocent. Of course it is not always very clear who the "really stupid" person might be in these stories and perhaps it is the American public, for agreeing to focus on something which has no actual relevance in our lives.

But there is a psychological benefit to these sorts of fairy tales, not only in the education one gets but also in the way these stories, when about rich people, let us pretend that they are not ultimately worth envying, that our own lives are at least a little more ordered than what we see, hear and read about poor Ms. Smith. This explanation comes pretty close to why I believe so many people follow the doings of the famous or the royal, too, and the worse the doings are the better for the audience.

Then there is the smell of sex in the story, beginning with Ms. Smith's early career and continuing with her marriage to a much older but wealthy man and ending with all these father candidates cropping up from the woodwork for her baby daughter. Sex always sells, and if there is anything at all kinky about it, it sells even better, because both those who salivate over teh kinky and those who disapprove of it will read the stories and watch the programs.

Turn the case a little, and a different explanation for the interest pops up: A morality tale. A woman trading on her looks and sexuality climbs up the ladder made out of men and look what happens to her? -- I also see, darkly, another morality tale about an old man buying young wives but that one isn't as interesting.-- Moralizing is very comforting, very comforting indeed, because it allows the moralizer to feel righteous and excited at the same time.

On the whole, I'd go with the "stupid" story as the explanation, as it also seems to cover all these new eager father candidates and their bizarre behavior. But it's a most tasteless "stupid" story, and the reactions I've seen are so lacking in empathy or even any respect for the dead that I wonder if this can be the same country as the one which is all about family values and morality.

The baby. I can't stop thinking about the poor child. Which of those father candidates would change her diapers? Which would hold her head when she pukes with a stomach flu? Which would go and cheer at her soccer game or play recital. That's the one I'd pick, whatever the DNA samples might say. But it's all about money, of course.

Most things seem to be.