It shouldn’t have been that surprising, but it was.
Anna Nicole Smith was a woman plagued by endless personal strife: a poor childhood, teenage pregnancy, her marriage to J. Howard Marshall and her subsequent fight to have access to his estate, the death of 20 year-old son, a paternity dispute over her five month old daughter. These are just a few in a long list of outlandish and bizarre events that happend to Anna Nicole.
I know what you’re thinking: “What did she really ever do?” Why was the American public so drawn to this figure?
She was beautiful. She was dysfunctional. She was the perfect pop culture icon.
“No question, she was beautiful,” said Joy Behar, of ABC’s The View. “We know people like to watch dysfunction. But beauty gives you something extra to look at. Dysfunction and beauty: Now that’s something to watch.”
Compare her to Paris Hilton, another pop culture icon. You can feel sorry for Anna Nicole while Paris Hilton almost deserves to slapped a few times.”With Anna Nicole, she was pathetic but at the same time you thought, ‘Gosh, if I could just scoop you up and fix things, it would be OK,'” said Jerry Herron, a professor of American culture at Wayne State University. “You wouldn’t want to scoop up Paris Hilton.'”
“Anna Nicole was,” Herron noted, “in both her actions and her physical being, such an over-exaggerated version of what we both lust for and loathe in our society. Bombshell blonde? Family feuds? Lots and lots of money? Weight troubles? Obscene self-revelations on TV? She had it all.”
Smith’s death yesterday has even drawn comparisons to Marilyn Monroe; it was a tragic end to a tragic life. There is no comparison to Marilyn Monroe, who was a talented performer. But she and Anna Nicole share a similar rise from obscurity to fame and ultimately tragic fates.
“She came from humble origins and achieved celebrity and wealth, one way or another“, said Richard Walter, a film professor at UCLA, “And that is an American story.” Admit it: for all the problems that Anna Nicole had, for all the times she looked absolutely pathetic, for all the times you felt sorry for her, you never wanted to look away.
Why do I care about Anna Nicole Smith? It’s something I’m trying to figure out.I follow pop culture obsessively. I read gossip blogs and the society page of The New York Times. I can never remember the names of humanitarians or politicians but I know who’s dating who, who’s related to who, who’s feuding with whom. I’ve even developed a strange appreciation for Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan. (Maybe I should become an anthropologist or something.)
American pop culture is one of the most absurd yet fascinating aspects of American life and it affects people in bizarre ways. I go to a women’s college. If anything, Anna Nicole’s life should have no influence on mine; our lives are in no way following the same path. But I was still saddened by Anna Nicole’s death. When I went to class this morning, at my liberal and feminist slice of academia, the one news story we all wanted to discuss was Anna Nicole Smith’s death.
She was more important and more influential than she will ever know.