The cult of Anna Nicole
A rambling by Tom Knapp

Let me ruminate for a moment on the Cult of Anna.

I don't wish to dismiss the sadness with which all feeling people greet the news of an individual's death, particularly a young person (she was only 39) who leaves behind a young child (5 months old). It's a shame and, given her fame -- or notoriety, if you prefer -- she certainly deserved coverage of her sudden, unexpected death.

But Anna Nicole Smith was famous for only a couple of reasons. One, of course, was getting naked. A former Playboy centerfold and Playmate of the Year, she used her generous curves to help break the anorexic image that was, for a time, the seeming ideal for all models. For that alone, I applaud her; I hate it when my first reaction to seeing a famous model is an urge to make her a sandwich. For a time, Anna Nicole was the epitome of the healthy-bodied female.

Things went down from there, of course, from her marriage to a billionaire more than twice her age (she deserved her inheritance, she testified after his hasty but inevitable death, because she performed her "wife duties") to the court battles with his family over his wealth, from her ballooning weight problems to her embarrassing reality series. Still, she moved from humble beginnings to achieve fame and fortune, and one has to imagine she'd be pleased by the media frenzy that followed her own demise.

But there lies my problem. People die every day, many of them young, many of them leaving children behind. It's sad, but it's rarely news. But Anna Nicole, whose fame was no more or less valid than, say, Paris Hilton's, commanded far greater attention. News helicopters circled the hospital where she was taken. Respectable cable news networks ran hours of coverage of her life and death. Here's a kicker: one network news program led the 6 o'clock broadcast with Anna Nicole's death; the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Iraq came in a pitiful fourth. OK, perhaps American soldiers are dying too often in Iraq to warrant better coverage, but the priority still seems misplaced to me.

Anna Nicole's family and friends have my sympathy. But I remain a little stunned at the importance placed on her death by the media. Those soldiers deserved better. Every butcher, baker, police officer and homemaker deserves as much. Heck, I'm not sure the recent death of former president Gerald Ford garnered so much attention. And that, my friends, is sad.

by Tom Knapp
10 February 2007