Thursday, September 30, 2010

Appointment in Samarra

Lindsay Lohan should be awarded the Darryl Strawberry Prize, which is given each year to celebrity relapsers. The real question is, why is Lohan getting so much attention? There are performers who have wasted more talent than she did. Certainly Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Agee, Richard Yates, Fred Exley, Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowksi were among the prose writers who squandered their God-given gifts, as did playwright Brendan Behan, John Belushi and Lenny Bruce in the world of comedy, Billie Holiday and Tommy Dorsey in the world of jazz, and Richard Burton in theater. And though Dylan Thomas didn’t die of alcoholism per se, among poets he drank death-defying amounts of booze. Sylvia Path didn’t drink herself to death; she simply stuck her head in an oven. But we all mourned her loss. The fact is that the bar has been lowered. It used to be that you had to have some talent to be a celebrity. Now, apparently, one of the chief qualifications is the ability to drink too much, take too many drugs and refuse to show up in court when arrested for some substance-abuse-related infraction like a DWI. You don’t even have to die. Paris Hilton is a curious case of celebrity with a minimum of talent but with a nuclear-level self-destruct impulse enabled by a pocket full of inherited shekels. Jackson Pollock’s death in 1956, in a drunk driving incident, was a great loss to American painting. There are many poor souls who have an Appointment in Samarra—to quote the title of a famous book about self-annihilation by John O’Hara, who didn’t necessarily squander his talent, despite being a lush—but their names rarely make it to the headlines of your favorite Internet news source or supermarket tabloid. 

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