Mother of the Year: Kathy Hilton, Lynne Spears, Dina Lohan and Bad Celebrity Motherhood

Article excerpt

In the lives of many young people, that person [responsible for curbing bad behaviour] is a parent. But what if it's not? What if the whole family is along for the ride, with photographers and TV crews watching from the sidelines? Let's ask Nicky Hilton, Ali Lohan, and Jamie Lynn Spears in five years.

[Vanity Fair, November 2007]

Good grief; that's like Michael Vick giving advice on dog-rearing.

[Kelly Bermuda May 8, 2008--a gossip blog user who responded to the news that Dina Lohan, Lindsay Lohan's mother, gave public advice to Tish Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's mother, to "stay strong ... be her mom" after the Vanity Fair photo scandal. Michael Vick is the NFL quarterback who is serving a 23 month jail sentence for his role in a dog-fighting ring. Miley Cyrus plays the highly popular Disney character Hannah Montanah whose main demographic is pre-teen girls. In late April 2008, photos from a Vanity Fair shoot with Annie Liebovitz were circulated on the internet, the most controversial of which showed Cyrus nude, holding a bed sheet to her front while exposing her back and looking over her shoulder to the camera.]

"Moms gone wild:" the limits of celebrity and motherhood.

[1] In the August 19, 2007 edition of The Observer Magazine, Alice Fisher writes, "The mother/daughter relationship isn't easy, and stardom does little for this delicate bond. Especially when mothers become celebrities off the back of their daughters." In the article, Fisher mentions a series of American and British female celebrities' troubled relationships with their mothers; however, the article focuses on the mothers of a set of intensely famous American young-adult female celebrities who experienced a series of public image meltdowns--arrest, time in jail, alcohol/drug abuse, mental health problems, time in rehab--in 2007: Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears (I use first names in this article as a way of avoiding confusion since I will inevitably refer to various members of the same families). Alongside the ambivalent censure and promotion of these three young women as celebrities in the tabloids and celebrity gossip media outlets (such as magazines People, Us Weekly, OK, and Hello, as well as online sites such as TMZ and Perez Hilton) their mothers, Kathy Hilton, Dina Lohan, and Lynne Spears have been strongly criticized in the media for not raising their daughters "well" and for not taking immediate corrective measures when their troubles began. The critiques of the mothers' past and present parenting skills are invariably founded on the public perception of their most egregious crime--pushing their daughters toward celebrity in order to gain celebrity status (and money) for themselves. All three of these mothers have been accused of "cashing in" on their daughters' fame, by starring in their own reality TV shows (Lohan and Hilton) or authoring a book (Spears), thereby capitalizing on their roles as mothers of female celebrities. In these accounts, their apparent selfishness is the manifest sign of their bad motherhood and transgressive femininity, both of which can engender only more of the same in their daughters.

[2] My discourse analysis below includes broadsheet newspapers, tabloids, and gossip magazines, but I also refer to online celebrity gossip blogs and their readers' comments in particular in order to consider the ways that fans can participate in celebrity narratives by posting comments online. My intent is to analyze how consumers of celebrity gossip use the discourse of bad motherhood in order to negotiate their own investment in the young female celebrities' downfall narratives. The blogs also offer a space for users to moralize the celebrity narratives that they consume. In her article, "Sometimes You Wanna Hate Celebrities: Tabloid Readers and Celebrity Coverage," Sofia Johansson argues that "the social currency of tabloid celebrity stories is just this: they stimulate debates about fundamental moral and social issues, contributing to create an experience of community" (Johansson, 348). …