Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reflections On Brittany Murphy

Every year they find at least one blond girl to rip to pieces until she dies. She's like the sacrifice to the volcano. It's horrendous.

Brittany Murphy on life immediately after "Clueless":
“So funny, but it was hard to get a job for two years after that, everyone thought I was really Tai.”

1. Lose weight.
2. Dye hair.
3. Show them you're not a little girl anymore & can handle the juicy roles.



Clueless (1995): plays "ugly ducking" who gets makeover.

Freeway (1996): plays heroin addict.
Falling Sky (1998): plays alcoholic who tries to kill herself.
Prophecy II (1998): plays suicide victim.
Girl, Interrupted (1999): plays incest survivor with eating disorder who's into cutting and in a mental hospital; later commits suicide.
Don't Say A Word (2001): plays severely disturbed young woman in mental hospital.
Spun (2002): plays meth addict.
The Dead Girl (2006): plays dead hooker.

Deadline (2010): plays woman who has had nervous breakdown.
Abandoned (2010): plays woman with psychiatric issues.

"In playing such a dark and damaged character, the danger is as an actor you could bring some of that darkness back home with you. Murphy has always been careful not to. 'I don't like to bring unhappy energies with me back home' she tells, 'It doesn't serve my life at all."

What does a starlet do when she nears 30?

1. Lose more weight.

2. Show them you're not another aging starlet & can handle the juicy roles.
3. Injections in lips to look younger.
4. Maxim shoot.

"If you don’t have yourself, you have nothing to give."

2002: Saturday Night Live invites Brittany Murphy to host show

2009: Saturday Night Live eviscerates Brittany Murphy
2009: Offending Brittany Murphy SNL clip pulled from Hulu. With death comes clout and respect.

1. Twitter trending.
2. Wiki edits.
3. Perez gloat.

4. "I told you so."/"We feel bad about bashing him/her."
5. YouTube tribute vids.
6. Solid two weeks of media reportage.

7. Hagiography.
8. Oscar montage.
9. Set target on next troubled celeb who might kick bucket. Rinse. Repeat.

Brittany Murphy on her role in the movie "The Dead Girl":
"It's not an uncommon story. People choose their own paths in life and had she had had a better grasp on reality then she would have made something wonderful of her life. She just wasn't grounded enough."

"Cher, I don't want to do this anymore."

In the end, there is a young woman dead. Even with an autopsy, even with a narrative pieced together by medical experts, TMZ, and nameless insiders, we can't really claim to know what happened, what she was thinking. She was trying to make a living. Yes, the whole self-worth thing was bound up in that. But she was trying to make a living. And when she lost weight, she got roles. And when she got older, she had to try harder, had to literally stretch the limits of her body in order to compensate. Not because she was deluded, the same fragile young woman with the waif-like eyes that she played over and over again in the movies. But because she was in the industry since she was a child and SHE KNEW HOW IT WORKED.

Shall we ascribe a moral to it: pointing fingers at the media, citing a sexist culture that demands youth and thinness from its women no matter what their age and body type? Is this that inevitable People Magazine story, that cautionary tale? No, that all seems too simple, the equivalent of Lady Gaga's video "Paparazzi," a simultaneous campy condemnation and orgasmic celebration of celebrity culture. The women are dead or maimed in that music video, victims of a cruel celebrity system...but they look FABULOUS!

Brittany Murphy in "Spun"

From Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" video

We could have told a young Brittany Murphy that she didn't need to lose weight or use botox to compete and thrive in her industry; but the highest-grossing actress in the world is Emma Watson in all her skinny, nubile glory. Yes, Hilary Swank gets Oscars...but she is not a movie star, not really. She's not a star.

This is all a syndrome, a never-ending cycle that periodically scoops young women and men up and eats them. We all participate, in our very small, passive way: but we have enough problems. Don't blame us. Don't blame the tabloid editor. Don't blame an -ism.

This just is, that's all, it's all part of the larger meta-narrative. It sucks. And it just is. And when we all pass, there will remain the video clips, the discrete pulses of energy, our witty commentary, our told-you-sos, our anecdotes and Twitpics.

I guess that's where I am at my life, now. I just look at stories like Murphy's from the outside sitting before a pile of media, recognizing my own impotence to predict in any constructive manner, my own impotence in pointing the finger, my own impotence and armchair arrogance in trying to figure the Subject out.



  1. Yup, life does that to you Val.

    Can't say I haven't been in the same place for some time.

    Apparently cynical is the new witty.

    Or maybe it always has been.

    Don't know.

    Don't really give a shit 'n a half anymore.

  2. I'm sitting here, eating chocolate, totally blown away by your focus here, and wondering what to say. I guess I've seen quite a few comments on anorexia so far, but your post is the first to go "pow" like this. Thank you.

  3. i really enjoyed reading this.

  4. I always found Murphy's physical transformation on the screen to be totally jarring.
    I had the same reaction looking at her that I had looking at Michael Jackson.

    While the plastic surgery made her look attractive, it also made her look progressively vulnerable. Weaker and more compromised at each turn.

    Until we have this. She was also diabetic. There is only so much the body can take.

  5. I think you express the "feminist perspective" better than most. As in, you don't. You express something more universal and true, and really better serves that cause, and the cause of all existence, than any harsh rhetoric. Thank you.

    Brittany Murphy was one of those "teen movie" actresses/actors I always liked, because I thought they were putting something real into their performances. I was pleased to see her in Sin City, and pretty much everything else I ever saw her in. Another of those "teen movie" actors was Heath Ledger. Go figure.

  6. So what do we do? We can't just stop finding skinny people sexy.

  7. I wonder how her voice acting roles in "King of the Hill" and "Happy Feet" fit into this continuum. Could she have scored those roles as Clueless Brittany Murphy?

    Great post Val. Lots of food for thought.

  8. I honestly thought Lindsay Lohan would self-destruct before anyone else.

    This made me sad, because I genuinely liked her even though she did get progressively darker and weirder...and I liked the dance song she did with Oakenfold.

    And I feel bad because I've engaged in the same pointless speculation and also (stupidly) got annoyed because she probably won't get nearly as much press coverage as many other actresses...I feel she and Natasha Richardson are in that same boat of mysterious sudden death.

  9. Anonymous8:17 PM

    "So what do we do? We can't just stop finding skinny people sexy."

    Please don't go quoting evolution and survival of the fittest crap, because that's a huge strawman argument in this context.

  10. An interesting read. I have to be honest though, I am so completely out of touch with celebrity culture that I didn't even know who this was until just as I read this article. I know Brittany Murphy was dead (it was on the top of Yahoo) but I didn't even know who she was or what she was famous for.

    This article was well written though, I'll give ya that.

  11. "Please don't go quoting evolution and survival of the fittest crap, because that's a huge strawman argument in this context."
    Please don't go pretending I said something I did not, because that's a huge strawman argument in this context.

    Now what happened is really sad but really what are we to do? boycott skinny people? Bring attention to eating disorders?

    What about her agency in this? Am I a bad person if blame her even if it just a little bit? blaming a faceless society seems like the easy way out. I suppose we could blame the directors and producers that hire such people but then we would also have to blame anyone who watched the movies as well and the who's responsible game becomes so deluded as to be pointless other then to make us blamers feel better about ourselves.

    If she was sick did she not have anyone to look out for her? Is this the path she chose and if so how am I supposed to feel about that?

    She died. it is always sad when someone dies but I don't see what makes her death any more special then all the other deaths we suffer.

  12. I saw a story about Brittany a few years ago. I was impressed by how thankful and humble she seemed. So very sad...

    I just watched "Happy Feet" last week, the day before her death was announced. Yet more talent of which I had been unaware.


  13. Andre, it's the producers and directors who are responsible for what the people they hire look like on camera. This is really not a demand-driven problem. The same problem happens even more in fashion, where they seek out women who are very tall and very thin, and have them wear clothes that do not actually suit most women. (Art in comic books is also part of the problem.) Then we are bombarded with these images and feel fat, even if we are not. It is virtually impossible not to be confused about body image with the images currently dominant in the media. Feel flabby lately, with all the six-packs out there?

  14. Do we need celebrities to die in order to do all this soul-searching? Death is or should be a very personal thing. My best friend died at 31 of a cardiac arrest related to a drug overdose-- of prescription drugs he had legally-- after a short, very troubled life. I loved him more than just about anyone I have ever loved or will ever love and still feel, 10 years later, as if I'd taken a ride inside farm equipment.

    I live in Japan so I never heard much about Brittany Murphy and never knew much about her other than she'd done a voice on King of the Hill and had been in some movies. She wasn't on my radar. Then she died and as tragic as that is, I don't really feel a whole lot about her or her life or her death. Or Princess Di's or Heath Ledger's.

    It's not that I don't care. As a human being I care whenever I hear of someone else's personal tragedy. But I think of my friend, just an anonymous corpse in a hotel room, who lay there for 12 hours with his alarm ringing, whose body was found because the people staying in the next room finally complained to the hotel manager about the noise.

    And his brother, dead from alcohol poisoning two years ago, dead on his sofa for over a week before anyone thought to go to his damned apartment to see why he hadn't called anyone or gone to work in days. A whole week of no one really giving a damn.

    So to me, yeah, death should be a personal thing. It's very personal to me. Very personal.

  15. I have a lot of thoughts.

    Also, Emma Watson may be thin and attractive but she's naturally thin and attractive and certainly not overly so.

    Brittany did look anorexic after her personal makeover and I did feel sorry for her.

  16. Also, speaking for Americans we are too fat as a whole. Watch any educational film from the 60s and see how the kids look. They all look amazingly thin. I do believe Brittany did not look healthy, but pressure to be thin is not a bad thing. And I say this as an overweight male.

  17. Anonymous9:23 PM

    Show business has always been a generally despicable business, so the idea that it can literally kill people is no shock. Throughout most of history and in most cultures show-folk were considered the dregs of society. Here in the US, early child advocacy groups used to remove child actors and performers from their families because putting them in show business was considered cruel. I think we may be the first dummies to actually revere these people and hold that industry up as the shining example on the hill.

  18. There's a difference between being slender or in shape and just looking sickly and half-dead, though. There's a clear difference.

    Just as there's a difference between someone who is grossly obese or overweight and someone who has curves and padding. There are many extremes. It's sad that people just can't be accepted as coming in all different shapes and sizes and have to conform to some cookie cutter notion of beauty.

  19. Andre asked:

    "What about her agency in this? Am I a bad person if blame her even if it just a little bit?"

    No you are not.

    If Murphy made the conscious decision to work in a cutthroat business, it was her responsibility to watch her own health.

    One can rail at artificial standards of beauty but at this point in time they do put butts in seats. This or that producer can try to change prevailing opinions by promoting new images of sexiness (such as Tina Fey, "Sexy Nerd.") But the basic appeal isn't likely to be dissipated by superficial logic.

    Standards of beauty don't cause deaths like the Love Canal. People freely choosing to attempt living up to those standards may kill themselves--

    Or they may not, if they've careful.

  20. Gene Phillips

    I don't think your PoV is going to make you a lot of friends here.

  21. I think you're assuming a lot, Andre.

    Standards of beauty in and of themselves don't kill, no...but *unrealistic* standards do lead people with already spotty self-esteem to try and conform. I'm not personally saying that seeing some guy with washboard abs in a magazine makes me want to go starve myself...but imagine if I got a steady diet (pun intended) of that?

    Imagine if the washboard abs idea was pushed like the waif with big boobs room for a Jim Belushi or Kevin James in that world.

    I'm just sayin'....

  22. "I think you're assuming a lot, Andre."

    And what am I assuming? That she had any control or responsibility over her own life?

    "Imagine if the washboard abs idea was pushed like the waif with big boobs room for a Jim Belushi or Kevin James in that world."

    Yes I am protected by double standards... but I still think at the end of the day I still have control and responsibility over my own life. Do you think you would not? Also your argument hinges on the idea I could have no understanding because I am male. So what if I was a women? What if the argument was made by a women? Then they would understand the pressure right?

    Anyway if we can muscle up some anger at Hollywood for this I think we could feel even more rage for her friends and family who played a bigger part in this then even the directors.

    As for me? I think I will just give her agency the benefit of the doubt and assume that like the drunk who wraps a car around a tree and dies, that this is sad but not undeserved.

    Curse me for thinking ill of the dead.

  23. Does anyone here know that Brittany Murphy weighed 115 lbs at the time of death? That is a normal & healthy weight for a woman of 5"3...which is her height.

    I can't help but wonder if the whole anorexia rumor had anything to due with her role in Girl Interrupted. (1 of two chick flicks I loved. The book is better)

    Seriously people...research before jumping on the angry band Wagon O Doom

    By the way...I'm 5"7. My weight in high school was 115 lbs.Until I was recently injured & couldn't walk for nearly 2 years (injury in the army) I weighed 120 lbs. I don't have an eating disorder.

    You know...sometimes people just have something wrong with their heart & they don't know it until it kills them.

  24. I meant you're assuming people are going to attack someone for having a different opinion.

    It's a bit difficult to take someone seriously when they're automatically becoming defensive before anyone even responds. Cut people a *little* slack.

  25. P.S. I'm male and I don't claim to understand what it's like to be female.

  26. Also, and this is key, no one is saying it's not okay to be naturally skinny. My former boss (who called herself olive oyl in jest) is a 5'9", teeny tiny woman and I would honestly say she does not look anorexic or unhealthy. This is less about weight and body type and more about a manufactured "ideal body type" that has become ubiquitous over the last few decades.

    I am personally not claiming that's why Brittany Murphy's just an odd signpost in all of this (it's also unfair to assume she deserved it due to drug use, as well...which happened with Heath Ledger...accidents DO happen, why assume the worst).

    I kinda feel like people are reacting to points that aren't actually being made so maybe I should just stop right here.

  27. "I meant you're assuming people are going to attack someone for having a different opinion."
    That is how it works, or is this a different interwebs?

    "This is less about weight and body type and more about a manufactured "ideal body type" that has become ubiquitous over the last few decades."

    But this is about weight. I can prove it if you like.
    I also can't help but point out in this case that manufactured "ideal body type".... was healthy and good.
    Anyway I am just as guilty now as anyone. I assumed her death had something to do with weight myself.

  28. Lady Aliara, I didn't know she was 115 lbs. I don't think it makes any difference, though. I once read that healthy women can range from 6% to 40% body fat, but an individual woman isn't going to be healthy across the entire range. My mother is 5'2" and stable at around 160lbs. I'm the same height and overweight at 130lbs (110-115 is better for me). We'd both suffer if we tried to have the other's body fat percentage. Murphy could have been healthy or unhealthy at 115lbs, depending on her natural body type.

  29. You don't think a doctor saying she looked healthy should make a difference when we have people assuming a unhealthy body image lead to her death? The possibility of death being a heart attack or something outside of anyone's control is now much more likely then anything related to the more "entertaining" topics.