The Amanda Show

This is where it all started to go bad. 

Full disclosure: I never really watched The Amanda Show when I was a kid. In fact, so long as we’re being honest, I never even paid too much attention to All That. Amanda Bynes was not on Doug, Rugrats, Salute Your Shorts, or Home Improvement, so I honestly had no idea who she was until she started to go absolutely batshit crazy last year. After some research, I found out that she was a former child star who had recently retired from acting at the age of 24 so she could focus more on drug abuse, erratic behavior, and run-ins with the police.  

It seems like every celebrity meltdown begins with them getting pulled over, doesn’t it? Mel Gibson first started explaining his complex and nuanced opinions about the Jews during a traffic stop, and it was traffic violations that briefly landed Paris Hilton in jail. Maybe there’s something about contact with the LAPD that makes famous people go crazy – like what blood in the water does to sharks.

Whatever the reason, last year Amanda Bynes made headlines by racking up a number of tickets and citations, and was arrested after sideswiping a police car while drunk. After being charged with a DUI she asked President Obama via Twitter to fire the cop who arrested her. She spent the rest of the summer causing so much trouble on the road that I think I might be the only person in Los Angeles who she didn’t hit with her car at some point.

In October, after being spotted talking to herself at the gym, Bynes moved to New York to become a fashion designer. During this same period she started sending out increasingly bizarre Tweets, such as, “I want @Drake to murder my vagina.” Over the next few months she flooded her Twitter feed with bizarre self shots documenting new hairstyles and piercings, threatened to sue any media outlet that wrote about her, and chucked a bong out the window of her 36th floor apartment. Somewhere in there her agent, publicist, and lawyer all quit.

Last month, Bynes found her way back to LA, where she set fire to a can of gasoline in her neighbor’s driveway and, at long last, was arrested and sent to a psychiatric hospital. Five days ago she checked into a new clinic to continue treatment.

If I’ve learned anything from social media, it’s that the rate at which people melt down is far higher than I had previously assumed. It seems like every month somebody in my newsfeed is going ballistic about something, calling out an ex by name, or penning vague screeds about all the people who have wronged him or her. And the more I see of that, the more I start to wonder – would this person be melting down right now if nobody was looking?

The past year of Amanda Bynes’ life has been pretty rocky for her what with all the car crashes and arson and stuff, but it’s been just great for entertainment news and gossip sites, which are considerably more tenacious and thorough in their coverage than the White House press corps. Every time Amanda Bynes left her apartment in a weird outfit she was unwittingly putting dinner on the table for dozens of paparazzi and systems administrators.

I can’t really blame the media for covering Amanda Bynes’ antics, and I can’t blame people for following the antics so closely.* A phrase my Mom uses from time to time is, “It’s tough to quit watching a trainwreck.” I’m not sure how many bonafide train wrecks my mother has witnessed in her life (Portland’s rail lines must’ve had lax safety standards in the 1960s), but I get the sentiment – disasters are fascinating, even the personal ones.  

*I mean, I’m writing a blog entry about it, for God’s sake, so if anything I’m part of the problem.

And really, if we’re going to take pleasure in somebody else’s misfortune, who better than a celebrity? This is somebody who was a TV star before she hit puberty, who has enough money to rent a highrise Manhattan apartment and just chuck perfectly good bongs out the window whenever she wants to. It’s not like we’re laughing at some one-legged orphan who just found out he has AIDS; no matter how bad her life gets, she’s still got it better than virtually every other human being who has ever lived.

The sticking point for me is that this trainwreck has been coming for a good long time, and somewhere along the way somebody probably should have tried to stop it. 

When Amanda Bynes was 13 years old, she had her own TV show. To put that another way, Nickelodeon gave Amanda Bynes pretty much unlimited attention for three straight years at the worst possible time in her development as a person. Attention is like crystal meth for teenagers; being the star and namesake of a national TV show at that age must’ve been like going into Heisenberg’s lab and just eating fistful after fistful of blue meth.

So I’m not saying that TMZ shouldn’t be covering her meltdown, or that we shouldn’t be watching that coverage, but can we at least stop acting so surprised that she’s not behaving like a normal person? What’s going on in her life is a tragedy, but given the way she grew up it would’ve been more surprising if this didn’t happen.*

*Case in point, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. How is he so un-crazy!?

The thought provoking way to end this update would be for me to say, “Let’s just focus on how to prevent this from happening in the future,” but that’s pretty unrealistic. Amanda Bynes was a talented and charismatic young actress, and talented and charismatic young actresses tend to get famous. The only surefire way to prevent this sort of thing from happening is to keep your children out of showbusiness at all costs – so if you’re down to deny your kid’s dreams and aspirations, go right ahead, I guess.

Sometime in the next five years, I’m predicting that Justin Bieber will be pulled over by the LAPD. I really hope that by then Amanda Bynes is in better shape.

Truman Capps thinks Amanda Bynes could do a lot better than Drake.