LOS ANGELES – On Thursday, the world stopped for the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Harvard is electing its first woman president, and the country may be ready to do the same, but the woman of the hour was the one who, as the producer of her most recent film put it, “had the market cornered on the dumb blonde act.”
Why is there still such a vibrant market for “the dumb blonde act?”
“People will see that maybe I have a little talent and will take me serious as an actress,” she said, in explaining her decision to star on “The Anna Nicole Show” which began its two year life on E! Entertainment in 2002.
What people saw, and heard, was that she had difficulty getting out a sentence straight. But Anna Nicole wasn’t somebody to listen to, but to look at. Or leer at. In justifying the endless coverage, the news people kept referring to her climb from the bottom to the top, from teenage mother and waitress to television personality and multi-millionairess.
If Anna Nicole Smith represents the top, we need to teach our daughters to aim elsewhere. If her life was a fairy tale come true, then it tells you what’s wrong with fairy tales. They lie, and mislead. She made it to the top, if you call it that, by taking off hers. She never owned her own success. She was defined by who she married and the size of her breasts. She made many lawyers rich, by fighting for the rights of the golddigger, but she never really won the fight. She gained weight and lost weight, and turned it into her most famous role. She was defined by who she used, and who used her.
Marilyn Monroe, everyone kept saying. But Marilyn Monroe was a real actress. And Marilyn Monroe lived at a time when women had few choices other that to use their sexuality as their most important source of power. Marilyn Monroe was an icon when being beautiful was the only way for women to get close to powerful men. Marilyn Monroe was a role model when there were no powerful women to look up to.
Anna Nicole Smith wasn’t a throwback. She was a failure. If she were a flat-chested brunette, she might be alive today. She wasn’t made by her looks, but done in by them.
So why do we all try so hard to look like her?
I live in a town in which there are little Anna’s everywhere you look. Girls having plastic surgery before they’re old enough to drink. Breasts hanging out of halter tops, wheeling backpacks behind them on the way to school. Go to the mall and try to buy something for a teenage girl to wear and you think the stores are outfitting whores for the brothel.
That’s the “junior” department. Junior to what? The boys dress like slobs and the girls dress like sluts.
Go to the fashionable restaurants here and you see the middle-aged (and older) men and their teenage girlfriends, fresh off the bus, wearing shoes too big for them, barely able to walk in the heels.
What are these children doing out so late? If the genders were reversed, the women would be laughingstocks, ridiculed, beneath contempt. Instead, the old men sit with the young girls at the best tables, the objects of envy instead of condemnation.
Don’t these men have daughters? Is this what they would want for them? Where does it end?
We know the answer to that. There is never a happy ending. It ends in misery, and tragedy. It ends with the son of the teenage mother dead from drugs, and the big-breasted beauty choking on her own vomit. It ends with the men in her life fighting over the money, and a baby growing up without a mother.
The dumb blonde dies badly. What else is new.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for foxnews.com.