The scream-worthy coverage of celebrity breakdowns

“Ah sanity. It can be so aesthetically limiting.”

So began a rather tasteless fashion spread on Vanity Fair’s online Hollywood blog entitled, for real, ‘The Meltdown Makeover.’ In the link, it’s tagged as ‘celebrity breakdown lookbook,’ in an attempt to, I don’t know, trivialize mental illness some more?

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Amanda Bynes (TROUBLED STAR), as most of the Internet-using world knows, remains involuntarily hospitalized on a 5150 psychiatric hold for setting a fire in Thousand Oaks, Calif. And, of course, the coverage has been wildly dismissive. OMG, SHE WASN’T WEARING PANTS IN BLOOMINGDALES. LOL, CRAZY.

Now, before I go all LEAVE AMANDA ALONE!, allow me to preface by saying I’m not a Bynes fan in that I literally I have no feelings/opinions about her acting ability. I would have fully been able to ignore her Twitter presence if not for the unrelenting coverage of it. BREAKING: Amanda Bynes Calls Someone Ugly. Again.

Thing is, I think this lady has some shit going on in her head, and I don’t understand why we’re all standing around gawking, pointing and laughing at her. Or calling her an ugly bitch on Twitter because she calls other people ugly bitches on Twitter. Productive!

The discourse surrounding Bynes… and Lohan, and Winehouse and all the other Troubled Stars before her is, ahem, troubling. Because it’s all fun and games and tasteless fashion spreads on the Vanity Fair blog until someone dies. And someone always dies. Then we all remember we’re human beings and wring our hands and clutch our pearls and whisper in hushed tones how sad it all is and how we should have done something.


“But! But what if she’s trolling us?” you might ask. OK, what if? Whether she’s struggling with mental illness — as the 5150 suggests she might be — or deeply invested in some sort of elaborate post-modern performance art piece, the point remains the same. The only reason, to my mind, that someone would feign a mental break for attention is because s/he is the product of a society that continues to give mental illness the sideshow treatment. Amanda Bynes is only a tabloid story because we’ve made her into a tabloid  story, and NOW LOOK I HAVE TO WRITE A COLUMN ABOUT HER. Both cases warrant empathy, not spewing geysers of vitriol. One is sad; the other, a sad comment.

Imagine your worst moment. Maybe a nervous breakdown. A panic attack. A feeling of spinning out of control. Now imagine living that moment in a very public way. Every time someone who is dealing with anxiety, depression, disordered eating, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder — the list goes on — sees someone famous get absolutely shit on for traveling the same dark road, the effect is incredibly silencing. It’s little wonder, then, mental illness remains so stigmatized.

Jen Zoratti blogs about  feminism and pop culture at Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.