The trailer for Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club makes me sad.
It opens with Lohan looking like she waltzed out of a Eurotrash forgery of Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, the one where the goddess is standing naked in a seashell that’s rising from the ocean. Lohan is in a gauzy, blue, vaguely Grecian party dress, pouting for the camera, while in voiceover she says, “I’ve gone through so much in my past. People always have given me trouble for going to clubs, so why don’t I just open my own?” Cut to Lohan wearing big hoops and tons of pink eyeshadow. “Boss bitch,” she says, snapping her fingers.
When the trailer and premiere date for Beach Club, Lohan’s reality show coming to MTV on January 8, first dropped, my immediate reaction was holy shit, I can’t wait to watch. The Twitterverse seemed to share my enthusiasm. The first week of January is shaping up to be a glut of reality TV trash or treasure, depending on your feelings about the genre.
I’m not here to get high and mighty about the merits of reality TV (or lack thereof). Shows like Jersey Shore and The Bachelor can be really fun to watch. I have this dumb thesis that reality stars are our modern-day jesters, because their whole function is to entertain us with their outsize personalities and easily-resolvable drama. The way I see it, they license their public persona in exchange for a modicum of fame and a big fat check. It feels like a fair trade.
I’m also not interested in judging Lohan for wanting to collect that MTV money. She’s walked a very long, very troubled road in the last 15 years. We all followed the breathless tabloid coverage of her messy hijinks, while she likely struggled with drug addiction and mental illness. We made it grossly permissible for paparazzi to upskirt celebrities like Lohan, Britney Spears, and Paris Hilton and sell the photos to make a buck. I’m not privy to Lohan’s financial statements—looking at her lifestyle it’s apparent she’s not on skid row—but I respect the lure of a paycheck. Here’s hoping MTV is as generous as Oprah was in 2013.
Lest we forget, Lohan got famous when she was 11. Her parents were farming her out as a child model when she was three. There’s never been a point in her life when she wasn’t ensconced in the entertainment industry machine, and frankly, if we’ve learned anything from movies like A Star Is Born and Vox Lux, it seems hard to live your life in that bubble and stay a humble, rational person without real life smacking you in the face a few times.
It’s a shame Lohan’s not ready to address the actual issues she’s grappled with. That’s my main problem with those PAPER magazine profiles of Lohan and Amanda Bynes, her sister in child-stardom and public flameouts. Both pieces gloss over the messy stuff; they miss the opportunity to challenge Lohan and Bynes to face their shame and maybe even become advocates for young people also struggling with addiction and mental illness.
Lohan fled America and now spends most of her time in Mykonos, where her main luxury resort is located, and Dubai, where she announced plans to build a Lohan-branded island. She’s chosen to ensconce herself in uber-wealthy enclaves, where the privileged literally pay to insulate themselves from the world’s problems. In Greece, regular citizens are living through a devastating economic crisis. Refugees from war-torn corners of Africa and the Middle East are fleeing to its shores, by virtue of the country’s geographic proximity to those regions, desperately trying to survive. Despite hiding away, in theory enjoying a neverending beach vacation, Lohan has had a few public brush-ups with these issues in Greece, like in September when she approached a refugee family on a street, tried to take two children from their parents, and got punched in the face. Obviously, the incident makes her look bad. But Lohan also comes off looking like someone who wants to help, who knows she ought to help, but has virtually no practical know-how when it comes to real-world altruism.
All of this makes Beach Club all the more perplexing. Lohan’s foray into nightclub and resort ownership is real. Non-famous people can and do patronize her various establishments. And her impulse to retreat from public view and cultivate a tamer, more mature image is understandable, but it doesn’t really square with what we expect from reality TV—aside from the fact that the medium offers her enough control to orchestrate scenarios to her liking.
We don’t know exactly what Beach Club will be like. All we know is that Lohan is poised to become the next doyenne of reality TV drama, following in the footsteps of Lisa Vanderpump as a matriarchal boss both cracking the whip and stirring the pot. She’s playing the dress-up version of the savvy entrepreneur, without any of the hard work or sacrifice.
The show could be a tacky mess, like the TV equivalent of blasting an airhorn every time something seems “lit.” If that’s the case, Beach Club is likely to be the same old story when it comes to Lohan, with all of us rubbernecking in eager anticipation for her to fuck up. That makes us garbage people, for being spoon fed the same trash in 2007 and 2010 and 2012, and still having an appetite for it in 2019.
On the flipside, however unlikely it seems, Beach Club could be the hit that paves the way for a Lohan comeback. After slogging through years of drug abuse, drunk driving, arrests, rehab, and probation—and coming out the other side alive, it’s worth noting—maybe we’re terrible if we don’t give the newly entrepreneurial Lohan a fair shot.
I’m trying very hard not to wax philosophical about the fate of Lindsay Lohan—after all, there are many more important things happening in the world, like climate change and violent nationalism, for instance. But I’ve always felt a strange kinship with Lohan. I looked a lot like her in her Parent Trap days. I was an awkward, freckle-faced kid who wanted to be an actress. She’s a couple years older than I am, and she represented someone to look up to and emulate.
It’s a shame Lohan wound up with a rap sheet, addiction issues, and friends like Tiffany Trump. It’s also all our fault, for feeding the tabloid and trash TV beast for decades. It feels like we’re on the verge of a shift in the way we talk about famous people and the not-so-nice aspects of life in the spotlight, however. Perhaps if we show public figures that it’s acceptable for them to be emotionally vulnerable and honest about their struggles with mental health and sobriety, women like Lohan and Bynes will feel more comfortable using their platform for good. But in any case, for now we’ve got Lohan presiding over a gaggle of hot young things pretending to work at an expensive beach resort, almost certainly getting sloppy, all for our voyeuristic, escapist entertainment.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Kara Weisenstein on Twitter.