Nation, I fell off the wagon again Monday night. Watched cable news. I got home at around 11 pm, jonesing for any coverage I could get on the Scooter Libby commute. Since the free-cableverse limits my options to CNN Headline News, that’s where I flipped to. I was hoping for the answers to three questions hinging on the difference between a commutation and a pardon:
1. Could his $250K fine be paid for or reimbursed by the Libby Defense Fund?
2. What does probation mean for a conviction like Libby’s, other than he’ll be in some real trouble if he perjures himself a second time?
3. Would a pardon have nullified Scooter’s 5th amendment protection against self-incrimination–that is to say, could he then be compelled to testify about the Plame leak runup? Is this the difference between pardon and commutation?
Instead CNNHN had an hour-long investigation of the celebrity rehab epidemic. Did you know that only 10% of celebrities seek treatment for their addictions? It’s true. Did you know some Malibu treatment centers offer whale watching? Did you know that addiction doesn’t just affect celebrities? Sometimes it’s entire celebrity families who suffer.
So I’m just going to run with it. Contemporary celebrity rehab shows deep similarities with the mid-century love of institutionalizing our major late-modernist creative figures (Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, Robert Lowell, to Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus). Somehow the confinement of our cultural elite reflects the evolving concerns of our times: Freudian urges and repression and behavior in the 50s and 60s; for today, the equation of self-indulgence with self-destruction, puritanism and the fetishizing of pleasure, the disappearance of the middle, the memoir-and-Oprah arc of fall and redemption.
The difference is in the who. Today, there are no longer content creators (writers, directors, artists, for the most part musicians, whatever poets are still left) among the quarantined. The rehab stint is increasingly borne by performers, actors, former actors, models, and default celebrities. On the other side of this widening gap is an increasing sense of decorum, a New Professionalism, where it’s no longer considered proper form for rising or established creatives to carouse. Far from revealing an artistic temperament, inebriation today merely reflects a lack of self-control and an inability to cope with the rigors of the artistic professional’s life.
It’s easy to see the added efficiency of this developing setup, where the burdens of self-destruction are increasingly suffered by the frivolous and disposable. I think I’ve said here before that America treats its celebrities the way the Aztecs treated their sacrifices—worshipped, fawned over, stared at and massaged, free meals on the state. But come that first lunar eclipse…
I feel compelled to tie this back to Scooter. There is the overlap between the behavior of the rehab-hopper celebs and our nation’s conservative soldiers: Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, and Rush have all rehabbed first thing postscandal. But I’d like to contrast the recent fates of Scooter and the queen bee of the rehab set, Paris Hilton, who’s so hot she hasn’t even been to rehab yet.
There was much Schadenfreude when Hilton was forced to serve her prison sentence for her drunk driving violation. Paris showed us that America still had the rule of law, that wealth and fame doesn’t protect anyone from the impartial disposal of Justice. And then Scooter reminded us that there is still a power far greater than celebrity.