The Death of Innocence

When the sun sets on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, strange life forms and inhabitants emerge from the woodwork and from their daytime slumber. It is then when we begin to see a new world… a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday Hollywood and hardly ever seen on the celluloid. Here dreams are lost, there is an ever-present sense of fleetingness and ultimately there is the death of innocence.

At the heart of the strip lies the infamous Viper Club, which at on point was co-owned by superstar and heartthrob Johnny Depp, where such a dream was lost (probably the first of many) and where such a death of innocence took place. River Phoenix was probably at the height of his career when he died on that Halloween morning in 1993. The cause of his death was determined as an overdose on a cocktail of drugs: primarily heroin and cocaine. Some speculated that his death would polarize future generations from this kind of lifestyle, it did anything but.

Nowadays, we constantly hear many an actor or actress who has crossed the line into the darkside of Hollywood. What has changed however is that instead of indulgence being the key reason for such ventures, it has now become the hunger for fame… or rather infamy. Gone is the talent and in its place we only find an unremitting hunger for a mere 15 minutes of fame, ironically like a junkie's thirst for a quick fix.

Let us start with the usual suspects.

Actress Lindsey Lohan started her career with the 1998 remake of "The Parent Trap". The young actress was lauded for portraying a set of twins, conspiring to get their individual parents to fall in love with each other. Critics lauded her role and expected many great things from her. However, in the decade of her foray into Hollywood, she has quickly gained ill repute rather than critical acclaim. One would probably hear more about her antics off the camera, rather than her acting prowess. In all of the motion pictures that she's starred in so far, it is only Mean Girls that has given her an acclaim of any kind and grossed more than $128 million dollars worldwide. It was shortly after this stage in her life that the downward spiral began, her films lost their charm as did her interest in them.

In 2007, while Lohan was working on Georgia Rule, her continual absence from the set and lackluster interest in the project drew a scathing letter from the CEO of Morgan Creek Productions, James G. Robinson. In the letter, Robinson wrote, "We are well aware that your ongoing all night heavy partying is the real reason for your so called "exhaustion". We refuse to accept bogus excuses for your behavior." The letter, which was leaked online and in gossip magazines, went on to call Lohan a "spoiled child" and "irresponsible." It would be the same year that Lohan would be arrested twice, both on charges of drinking and driving, and the possession of illegal substances. Entertainment Weekly magazine quoted the head of a major film studio as saying, "Her career was over long before she had these troubles. Right now, she'd have to pay a studio to get herself into a movie." Lohan is probably the most prominent actress delving into the dark side, her counterpart from the world of music would easily be Britney Spears.

Who hasn't heard of Britney Spears? The thing is now we don't hear her singing as much as we do hear her pleading for help, privacy and sometimes even incoherently about nothing. One wonders if her career is now more about what she will do in her personal life, than what she will do for her next project. Her last album failed to do anything and her first onstage performance in a while (at the recent MTV Awards) was deemed a catastrophic failure. Her antics off-stage became like honey to many Paparazzi drones, who caught every single antic of hers on film and soon the image of the "Bald" Britney attacking a car with an umbrella became famous.

Her antics may seem to hurt only but herself, lately however that has not been the case. In a recent string of events, such as her last divorce and a highly publicized court battle she has slowly been seen losing her grip on reality. Though she wasn't arrested, she was taken to hospital on the evening of January 3 2008, police were called to Spears' home after she refused to hand over custody of her children to her ex-husband’s representatives. She was then taken to the hospital, where it was reported that she "appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance." Although the toxicology reports said otherwise, she was still held overnight and a further two days for a psychiatric evaluation. Such behavior garnered a media frenzy that wasn’t anywhere to be seen in her musical career.

And that is perhaps the sad thing amongst it all. Between Lohan and Spears there’s hardly any talent involved, their rise to fame has been more of a spiral into infamy. Through arrests and public fiascos, their personal lives are what have made them famous; they are quite literately a genre of entertainment unto themselves and its not like they don’t have fans. Chris Crocker, a YouTube/MySpace celebrity, was such a vocal fan that he immediately posted a video of himself pleading for the life of Britney spears. This “Leave Britney Alone!” video has been viewed a record amount of 3.3 million times as of January 2008, one wonders how many of that was by Ms Spears herself.

The most notorious persons delving and actually residing in this dark side are of course the Socialites. These are the sons and daughters of famous celebrities who have only their surnames to live their lavish lifestyles upon. And right at the forefront of it all, is of course, Paris Hilton. The granddaughter of the hotel mogul Barron Hilton, Paris did not shy away from flaunting her lineage to get into the spotlight. From the 80s all the way through the 90s, you had socialites but not like Paris.

Having gained notoriety through a stolen home video, she was then part of reality TV show called “The Simple Life” which was nothing but an attempt by Ms Hilton to establish herself as an actress and a celebrity and not the other way around. Which is ironic, because the show was supposed to be a “reality” TV show and wasn’t supposed to be about acting things out – something someone forgot to tell Ms Hilton. But she was still none the wiser, however her biggest claim to fame so far has been the fact that she served a 20-odd day sentence at Los Angeles County Jail on charges of drunk and reckless driving.

Again, the splurge of media coverage – the pictures of Hilton crying as she was led away by the police, the video footage of her wailing to her mother as the police car drove into the jail and ultimately the interviews after she was released – snowballed over anything else that was happening in the entertainment world.

Now while this look might have seemed quite harsh and one way, one cannot overlook that these people actually had some sort of talent which they themselves destroyed. Lohan not only had a fledgling movie career, but she also ventured into the music world with some level of success. Spears’ music will probably be remembered as the iconic music of the early 2000s. Hilton is a strong supporter of animal rights, vegan life and anti-fur.

However unlike River Phoenix, Heath Ledger or Michael Hutchence who lost their lives by venturing too far into the darkness, when the likes of Lohan, Spears and Hilton venture far into this dark side we don’t sense a feeling of loss. We will not sense any loss to the contribution they might have given to the entertainment industry, probably their only contribution will be that loss.

Throughout the years, Hollywood has always maintained a dark side. Through the years of Prohibition up until the modern days, but it has never been like this. Never has been it been about the wasting of life and talent, we would never heard of those people who could never achieve fame and we would not know of their fates. Now however, thanks to the likes of Lohan, Hilton and Spears, one can be pretty sure that we will never forget every time innocence dies.

(This article originally appeared in the May 19th, 2008 edition of Dawn Images)