Enabling Celebrity Dysfunction (I Blame Oprah)

Just when it looks like Roman Polanski has re-set the bar for personal behavior so low that it’s practically subterranean, the late John Phillips comes along and somehow finds a way to slink underneath it. Maybe. Maybe, because his accuser is his own daughter Mackenzie Phillips, a drug addict since the mid-70s who is currently peddling her sordid tale of incest, heroin and general dysfunction to anyone with a lens and a microphone.

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Perhaps this junkie, who by her own admission had a decade-long affair with her own father starting at age 19, is not the most reliable witness. On the other hand, considering the Hollywood community’s frantic defense of noted pedophile Polanski, it’s not too difficult to imagine how Mackenzie and her rock star father might have figured, “Well, we’re here, we’re high, we’re horny. What’s some shared DNA between stars?”

I blame Oprah.

Oh, I blame Mackenzie Phillips too. The law has a wonderful concept called “joint and several liability,” which recognizes that several wrongdoers can all be jointly blameworthy even if they do different awful things. Mackenzie Phillips is a narcotics-gobbling pervert; the manifest evil of her father does nothing to lessen her own guilt for the smoldering wasteland she has made of her charmed life. That is, assuming even a portion of her accusations against John, some of which her sister backs up (which itself is mind-boggling), are true.

But Oprah’s blameworthiness is based not on committing the underlying evil but on exploiting it, celebrating it and normalizing it. That YouTube clip was not selected at random. It’s an ad, and it’s selling degeneracy. Watch as it strings along the viewer with tantalizing tidbits like “My father shot me up for the first time” and an anecdote about a lecherous Mick Jagger while leading up to the big score, the hook, the catharsis, the promise of a heartrending confession of incest, some tears, Oprah’s soothing words (aided by the currently sleek Valerie Bertinelli) and a final absolution right there on daytime television.

You screwed your dad for a decade while in a drug-fueled haze, but you came on my show and confessed, and your sins are washed away. Go in peace, my child. You are absolved.

No. It’s long past time to end the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex’s power to grant indulgences.

There’s this powerful tool out there that for too long has been stashed away in our society’s attic. It’s called “shame,” and it serves a wonderful purpose: it helps prevent people from doing horrible things by ensuring they understand that when they do horrible things, society will treat them like people who have done horrible things.

Mackenzie Phillips ought to be ashamed of herself. She should be hanging her head in shame, not hanging out in studios getting sucked up to by TV nimrods:

Ladies and gentlemen, Mackenzie Phillips, who as an adult, shot smack and banged her dad – thanks for sharing your amazing journey!

But shame is so old-fashioned. It makes people feel bad. And who wants to make people feel bad? Probably those mean old conservatives who have nothing better to do. No, it’s easier to simply normalize dysfunction, to rationalize wrong, to mainstream evil.

You get to be the good guy, the nice guy. You get to be Oprah.

That’s how the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex works. The Complex encompasses talk shows, tabloids, web sites – anything that embraces the dysfunctional, caresses them, pats them on the head, assuring them they are blameless while displaying their dysfunction for our amusement. And by doing so, the Complex whittles away at the differences between the dysfunctional and the functional until they can’t be told apart.

This requires a rejection of judgment. Oprah would never be judgmental. That’s too emblematic of a narrow-minded worldview where all you see are black and white instead of moral relativism's gauzy, comforting gray.

As we know, judgmental is the worst thing you can be. Mao can kill tens of millions, but who are we to judge? We light up the Empire State Building to celebrate his creation.

Now, on the other hand, take Sarah Palin – well, feel free to judge the hell out of her.

The smack-addled bimbo who nailed her pa for a decade – no, she’s the real hero.

Right and wrong are troublesome concepts because they impose limits on what one can and can’t do. This is against everything that the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex stands for, because if people start judging those they see wasting their lives and their talents on drugs, alcohol, perversions and all manner of other debauchery, then the circus is over. When Lindsey Lohan sobers up, the party ends. When the mutants from the Springer-type talk shows stop living like the crew from Deliverance, the gravy train derails. And the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex depends on a never-ending supply of new human train wrecks.

The task of bringing down the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex falls to us. You have a remote that goes with that big screen. Up near the top is a red button. When some degenerate comes on your screen, supported and approved of by media demigods, spouting off about how being a stripper is empowering, push that button.

When a checkout-stand tabloid tempts you with the tale of some Hollywood hunk’s extracurricular three-way action, reach past it, grab some Tic-Tacs, and pay your bill. Home-wrecking isn’t funny or fun and don’t let your good money go to support it.

When you walk through Barnes & Noble, walk right past Mackenzie Phillips’s paean to perversion and grab something else, anything else. Just leave her book right there between the unsold stacks of Spellbinder: The Essential Speeches of Al Gore and The Carter Sutra: Jimmy and Rosalind’s Illustrated Guide to a Sexually Satisfying Marriage.

We’ll know we’re winning when Oprah asks Mackenzie Phillips just what the hell she was thinking. When the ladies of The View come to a rare consensus that she ought to be ashamed of herself, then we will know the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex is collapsing.

Maybe Mackenzie Phillips and Roman Polanski have done us a favor. They’ve given us a glance at the dark, sick places where the Celebrity Dysfunction Complex would take us. Now, the question is whether we will choose to follow its lead down into the murky depths, or turn and climb back up into the light.

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