Lindsay Lohan may be a tabloid publisher’s dream, but for fans of celebrity news her exploits tend to induce more guilt than pleasure. We remember her when she was just a girl, brimming with talent and potential. We know how far she’s fallen.
That’s why, when we really need to scratch that gossip-news itch, we increasingly turn to disposable "stars" like Snooki and Courtney Stodden. Their failures don’t fill us with shame and dread. They make us feel the way we want to feel when we click on a celebrity headline: superior!
Andy Warhol created the first disposable celebrities when he plucked Edie Sedgwick, Baby Jane Holzer and others out of obscurity and declared them "Superstars." As it turned out, making them famous required nothing more than saying it was so.
"They were all dedicated to Andy's visions and gave their best to him, because he had freed them to be themselves," explains Victor Bockris, author of "Warhol: The Biography." "They were on the cutting edge of the front line at the height of the cultural revolution. They were electric and creative."
True, Snooki isn’t exactly an obvious heir to willowy, wealthy Edie Sedgwick, but bear with us.
"Andy Warhol was democratic about success," Bockris says. "He liked whoever was successful. If Andy were alive he would say that 'Jersey Shore' is 'fabulous!' and he would take Snooki with him everywhere. She is today's Warhol Superstar."
In 1968, Warhol very famously said, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." The statement seemed to prefigure our Internet-enabled era, where notoriety touches more people than ever before – only to fade as our attention is drawn away by the next distraction. (Warhol also said, "In the future 15 people will be famous" and "In 15 minutes everybody will be famous," but those predictions didn’t pan out as well.)
And no group embodies Warhol’s prediction more accurately than the stars of reality TV.
If Warhol is the fickle father of the insta-celebrity, the "Miss America" broadcast, one of TV’s most reliably successful offerings in the ‘60s, is its hovering stage mother. The winners of this annual pageant soon flooded the red-carpet-and-velvet-rope circuit, posing an early threat to the original celebrities, Hollywood actors.
In the decades that followed, “non fiction” shows including "The Real World," "Survivor," "The Real Housewives" and "Jersey Shore" proved that Americans had an unlimited appetite for the antics of talentless showboats. The deal is simple: we get to judge them while they let it all hang out. But they get to be famous.
Some also made money off their quick rise to fame -– from appearance fees, endorsement deals, ghost-written books and more -– but not all. Not by a long shot.
Snooki, who has kept her celebrity momentum going well past her presumed expiration date, is among the leaders of today’s disposable celebrity bunch. The "Jersey Shore" party girl became a breakout star of the booze-fueled show after a male bar patron socked her in the jaw as MTV’s cameras rolled.
Standing 4'9", with skin the color of an Oompa Loompa, Snooki was too ridiculous to worry about. When Chris Brown hit Rihanna in February 2009, the world rushed to her defense. When footage of Snooki’s beating aired later that year, the world clicked "share."
But Snooki isn’t the only one to rise in the ranks as a beloved celebrity fell. In the spring of 2011, as Lindsay Lohan was being fitted with her house-arrest ankle bracelet, 16-year-old Courtney Stodden was slipping on her new wedding ring -- given to her by 51-year-old actor Doug Hutchinson. As if to maximize the "ick" factor, Stodden spent much of her time prancing around in bikinis for photographers and talking about how satisfying her sex life was. With Lohan looking lost to us for good, Stodden was a breath of fresh (and guilt-free!) air.
"Whether we care about a child star, see them as a precious part of our memories of youth, want to compare their lives to our own or are fascinated by their potential decline, there is some sense of a narrative there," says New York University professor of pop culture Moya Luckett, trying to explain the public’s connection to Lohan. "Courtney Stodden, on the other hand, came out of nowhere...There is no connection and we see her as just another space filler who has no narrative or back story, with whom we have no connections and who we expect to vanish within the next few months."
And right on schedule, as Lohan begins to regain her footing in Hollywood, Stodden is grasping at straws in her fourteenth minute. She recently went so far as to release a kitty fetish video.
"It is very unlikely that Courtney Stodden will be successful at becoming a mainstream star, despite her brazen attempts to attract attention,” says CEO and president of 5WPR, Ronn Torossian, who has represented celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Pamela Anerson. “I couldn’t think of any brand who would associate with her in any sort of serious way. And at this point, I am doubtful that she has any earning potential at all."
But in the wake of Lohan's latest set-back -- an eyebrow raising collision with an 18-wheeler -- Stodden might just get a few minutes added to the clock.
Check out a timeline of reality stardom below: