Low Society

Just as the tail of the Tiger was sashaying off the front pages, a youngish woman named Casey Johnson died, and her demise set off a new round of daily reports of sex and scandal among the rich and would-be famous.

As you know if you have been sentient for the last seven days, Casey was a black sheep heiress of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Her parents cut off her access to her share of the family swag because, reportedly, of her drug-fueled lifestyle. Her mother also took custody of her granddaughter, afraid apparently that Casey was unfit to raise the girl. It’s not hard to imagine why Sale Johnson Rashad would feel this way: Casey, in no particular order, had in recent months 1) her hair set on fire by a girlfriend; 2) allegedly stolen jewelry and clothes from her ex’s current girlfriend; 3) been living in the kind of squalid rental that defines the seedy side of Hollywood. She was also “engaged” to a self-promoting dynamo/ecdysiast with the sleazy name of “Tila Tequila.” Ms. Tequila is one of those ultra-petite and oddly proportioned femuncula reminiscent of Pia Zadora.

If you are like me, you only became aware of the engaged couple in the aftermath of Casey’s untimely departure. Although I vaguely remembered reading about the pixie cut pyrotechnics, I did not remember who it was that had the hot hairstyle. And as far as Ms. Tequila is concerned, not only had I never heard of her, I still don’t exactly understand what the basis of her fame is. She is, I gather, a nude model, singer, reality TV star, and clothing designer, again in no particular order.

I have followed this breaking story with interest so avid it perplexes. There is nothing new here: poor little rich dope fiend dies a premature death estranged from her family and entangled with a grade C celebrity. We’ve heard it all before. There is no moral lesson here: heiress leads empty life and dies, friends blame her wealth and upbringing. Heard that one, too. No, I think what has me so intrigued is the way in which this one story defines our contemporary notion of “society news,” the stuff that used to fill the “women’s pages” of the daily paper, and that is gasping for its dying breaths in the “Style” section of the Sunday New York Times even unto today. When I hear or see the term “socialite” I think of Brooke Astor cuddling dachshunds to her bosom as she wrote generous checks to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I do not think of aimless young women willing to engage in unappetizing PDA’s or reveal their private parts and sordid private lives to cameras and the world. If that’s what “society” has come to, we are in more trouble than I thought. Next thing you know they’ll be letting the Irish into the Vincent Club!

But all is not lost, I think. In contrast to Casey and Tequila there is Victoria Beckham, she of the emaciated form, bad complexion, tattoos and perpetual frowns. I had been prepared to sneer at the former Posh Spice, a pastime practiced by many readers of the British tabloids. I thought that she was a washed-up singer from a manufactured “girl group” who managed to snag a rich, buff, sports celebrity for a mate. End of story. And in fact, Posh is all those things, but I have come to understand, she is also a whip-smart entrepreneur, whose latest endeavor—her clothing line—manages to be edgy and classic at the same time. At 35, she has succeeded in a range of fields with the canny intelligence of a natural business woman and the confidence of a seasoned dealmaker. I was surprised to learn of her privileged upbringing. Surprised, I guess, because unlike Paris or Casey, Posh could have settled for being famous for being famous but she didn’t. And so when I see the endless photos of her in the Daily Mail, I don’t wonder or even care if she has tipped off the paparazzi, I think she is scoring free advertising for the multiple products that make up the Victoria Beckham brand. You go, Spice Girl!

2 thoughts on “Low Society

  1. Well, VB’s nickname “Posh” was sort of a dead giveaway of her upper-crust upbringing.

    Apart from that, the point about the catch-all nature of the term “socialite” is a good one. I think that nowadays–at least insofar as the tabloids are concerned–anyone who doesn’t dine from a dumpster and sleep on a subway grating is a socialite.

  2. BTW, I can’t believe you’d never heard of the utterly fabulous Tila Tequila till Casey’s demise. And you claim to have your finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. Humpf.

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