[quote][url=http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/08/AR2007020802435.html]The Fantasy Of Happily Ever After
Anna Nicole Smith Stripped Marriage Of Its Illusions
By Philip Kennicott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 9, 2007; Page C01
In the minds of most people, she was the most famous gold digger in America, which explains the cataclysmic jolt to the daily news cycle, the explosion of office babble, the reiteration of a joke that went pretty much like this: “And will you always remember where you were when you heard that Anna Nicole Smith died?” For as much as she was a figure of fun, a goddess of tabloid abundance, the shock of her death at 39 was far bigger than that of just any celebrity. She had gotten under our skin, and taken on a role we didn’t quite realize was so big in the history of marriage, money and sex.
Poor Anna began her climb to fame and riches as a stripper, and in the end, she was a stripper again, seemingly uncontainable by ordinary clothing. She spilled out of her tops, she spilled into the tabloids, she was a mess. Her death gave you whiplash: Time to feel sad for a woman who was never supposed to be more than a source of amusement. Her final notice was never intended for the front page, just a few inches, 40 years hence, at the back of the obits, reminding us of the bombshell who married well . . . and was forgotten as her beauty faded.
“Courtesan,” which in a different age is probably what she would have been labeled (even though she was married), is a category we don’t have much use for anymore. The woman who makes sexual alliances for money, who was less than a blushing bride but not so fallen as a prostitute, was once a vigorous cultural type, at least through the 19th century. Courtesans were the essential heroines of our greatest operas. They offered up their bodies, in various states of undress, to painters from Caravaggio to Toulouse-Lautrec – and too many others to mention. It was a courtesan who set in motion many of our greatest novels, not least of them Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” – which begins with the love of a man named Swann for a “great courtesan.”
But the idea of the courtesan has all but disappeared, and with it much of the nuance about our analysis of sex and marriage.
Our continuum of sexual alliances runs from the happy marriage of loving equals, on one end, to prostitution – the pure exchange of sex for money – on the other. The trophy bride, the marriage of youth and beauty to age and power, is the closest we have to the category of the courtesan – but it involves the collective pretense that it isn’t only about money. To see the old category of courtesanship in operation today, you have to travel to poor places around the globe, where sex, love and sometimes marriages are negotiated between wealthy westerners and local girls without either party acknowledging the idea that the exchange is commercial.
The courtesan was rich but not on her own terms, an object of scorn but not completely disreputable, a living reminder of an economy of sexual exchange that we like to pretend doesn’t exist. When Anna Nicole Smith, a voluptuous 26-year-old Playboy Playmate, married an octogenarian oil-rich billionaire, she crossed a line, assuming too high a place in our supposedly mobile society. After her elderly husband died a little over a year later, she stood to inherit $474 million (still in legal dispute), and her name became shorthand for marital opportunism. Her husband went down in the books as the most ridiculous of old goats – but he was dead and beyond the reach of our scorn. Anna had her second and third acts, on television and shilling for diet pills, but none of these chapters ever did much for her dignity.
Society took its revenge, confining her to gossip magazines and scandal sheets, foreclosing her appearance in the black-and-white party photos of respectable magazines, where trophy brides appear smiling and dazzling with their balding, sagging, tremendously rich husbands.
For centuries, there have been men who have wondered why women really love them. That the real sexual allure of men may not be their good looks, their masculinity or their charm, but rather their power and position, can make men wonder whether they are loved for themselves or for something external and unrelated. When marriages don’t look like they look in storybooks – love matches between princes and princesses – intimacy is shadowed with doubt.
And it’s the same fear that made poor Anna Nicole Smith gibes an endlessly rich source of material for Leno and Letterman; they were laughing at her, of course, but also at men who were foolish enough to marry women like her. We laugh at what makes us uncomfortable, and Anna Nicole Smith made us very uncomfortable indeed.[/[/url]quote]
THought this was an interesting essay on Anna Nicole’s life/death. I’ve provided the URL if you’re interested in reading the entire essay. Here in smalltown america you’re average person is quite interested in her story. At work a group of the nurses were sitting around a TV in the break room intently listening to the news when it broke. When I teased them about it, they were indignant with me. Today at the coffee shop a fairly intelligent and articulate woman critiqued the above essay - she thought it was hogwash. Felt/thought is was a slap in the face to women - it was essentially demeaning all women by suggesting that marriage/liaisons make whores of us all. She posited that it was entirely possible that Anna Nicole actually did love her 90 year old millionaire husband because he treated her with respect and protected her. In other words, not a marriage of convenience but of love. I thought this perception was incredible, but interesting.