Another day, another Amanda Bynes tweet. For the past few months the pop culture world seems to be on the edge of its seat waiting to see what words will come from Bynes’s fingertips next. Her internet escapades have included risque “selfies,” odd tweets to other celebrities, rambling explanations of her legal troubles and a constant stream of insults hurled at those who interact with her. Today the increasingly notorious former pop star had her Twitter account verified, meaning we have to rule out “twitter hijacking” as the cause of her recent Twitter activity. It also means we have to think long and hard about what our reactions say about us.
I’m the first to admit that this bizarre and public change of behavior is, on some level, entertaining. But I’m also the first to admit that there is something very wrong with that.
Let me back up here. You see, once upon a time I took on a harrowing task: I was going to open a can of academic whoopass on the topic of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, the modern breakdown queens. Yup, for my communications thesis I pored over article after article detailing the breakdowns of Brit Brit and LiLo. I looked at Spears’s infamous head-shaving, her failure of a VMA performance, and finally the meltdown that put her in the hospital and under the conservatorship of her father. I looked at Lohan’s many arrests and the accusations of drug use and theft, all amid an ongoing series of court dates and legal battles.
There were chronological binders, there were tab dividers, there were excel spreadsheets. I looked at the ways in which the female body became a literal site of conflict, at how these women were infantilized, taunted and subjected to extreme derision. Everything from their personal relationships to the jiggle of their stomachs and the hair on their heads was dissected. And we’re not just talking Gawker and TMZ–we’re talking NYT. Let me break the main point down real quick for you: the public female breakdown ain’t treated so kind.
And so along comes Amanda Bynes, former “star” and “girl next door,” in the throes of a public meltdown.* Driving related arrest? Check. Drug accusations? Check. Erratic behavior? Check. Defying aesthetic conventions? Big ole’ check.
All of this has of course led to the inevitable comparison of Bynes to Spears and Lohan. Twitter followers of Bynes tweeted things like, “it’s not easy to be on Lindsay Lohan’s level but your are coming close.” The internet has had a field day reposting the oh-so-popular Celebrity Breakdown lists, comparing Bynes to others who have had their fair share of troubles.
But the media are not alone, and Twitter has made it that much easier for us to join the conversation, a conversation which news outlets can further report on. When Bynes tweeted shortly after her arrest in late May that she was sexually assaulted by a cop, the responses ranged from “BITCH YOU A LIE” to “In defense of the cop, she was pleading for her vagina to be murdered a month ago” (a reference to a tweet from Bynes asking singer Drake to “murder” her vagina). The tweet was retweeted over 6000 times, and was then reported on by numerous news outlets. The same news outlets report regularly on Bynes’s plastic surgery, Twitter pictures, and alleged misdeeds.
It feels like time to step back and admit our own culpability in what’s going on, whatever that may be. We are either witnessing a very public breakdown and egging it on, or pathologizing a 27-year-old’s refusal to adhere to the norms of female stardom.
She has face piercings and wears wigs and posts pictures of herself wearing skimpy clothing–why is that so scary? She, like so many other celebrities, has been seen smoking weed–why is this so different? From our condemnation of her physical appearance to our demands that she seek psychiatric help, it seems we’re holding her to standards she doesn’t care to be held to. Absent from the silver screen for the majority of the last 5 years, Bynes seems content to look the way she looks and live the way she lives, tweeting today, “All I’m becoming is more famous!”
I will mention only fleetingly that this is, at its core, more than just a celebrity issue. This is a female issue. With the exception of Charlie Sheen, there have been very few men infantilized and derided by the media quite like the Lohans and the Bynes of the world. I will say this: Justin Bieber left a monkey in Germany and has had multiple driving violations, but most people haven’t pinned him as a nut job yet. Although we might if he busts out a wig and some cheek piercings.
I’m not attempting to say that we should turn a blind eye, nor am I trying to say that Bynes isn’t potentially suffering a very serious mental breakdown.** I also haven’t even begun to address the fact that Bynes herself has put this all in the public eye. But the fact is we’ve seen this rodeo before, and every time it’s a celebrity refusing to be what we want her to be. So maybe, just this once, we consider that it’s not her, it’s us.
*I acknowledge all the issues that come with using the word meltdown, but have yet to find a better substitute
**And I’m definitely not saying I don’t sit jaw open staring at some of the things Bynes tweets and does. I’m flawed, sue me.