Virginia Heffernan, thank you. For years, I’ve felt alone in the wilderness, certain that the famous Dr. Drew Pinsky’s image as the good doctor is a lie, and that in fact he’s a sleazeball, but upon expressing this opinion, I mostly get puzzled looks from people. But you have come out in the New York Times and shared your discomfort with his tendency to dwell lasciviously on images of hurting, controlling, and punishing women, particularly for misdeeds of the sexual and partying sort. His fantasies about how he’d play Big Poppa in charge of disciplining Lindsay Lohan are typical of the Dr. Drew genre–faux concern for someone’s well-being acting as a poor disguise for classless pandering to his audience’s worst instincts. I’m just so relieved someone else has noticed it.
Granted, Heffernan’s article is about a larger phenomenon than just Dr. Drew, but also of the world he inhabits, which is that of the reality-TV/tabloid world. Her argument is that this is a world that runs on misogyny, a world where female misdeeds of vanity, addiction, and sexual acts, which we celebrate when performed by dudes, are treated like they are high crimes they simply aren’t. It’s a world where Michaele Salahi is compared to a murderer, when she’s a relatively harmless bubbleheaded clothes horse. It’s one where Lindsay Lohan brings on levels of hate that people can’t even muster for many genocidal dictators, when it seems like the only decent reaction to Lohan’s situation is pity that she’s in the grips of such debilitating addictions. The tabloid/reality-TV world has become a dumping ground* for American misogyny, a place where all sorts of ill will toward women for being women, which can’t be expressed anywhere else, can go.
All that’s good and true, but I wish someone would take the time to castigate Dr. Drew for using his status as a doctor to give credence to these goings-on. His lip-smacking gives a faux concern gloss to the sadism of this world. He does things like violate medical ethics by revealing–if only through extremely easy deduction– who on TV has herpes , but he plays it off as if it’s somehow educational for the audience. I’d argue that it’s the contrary. Reality TV and tabloids exist to make us feel better about ourselves by comparing ourselves to the hate objects that participate because they’re attention whores. We like to believe that we could never be like that. So when Dr. Drew does something like talk about how much herpes these people have, we don’t learn squat about herpes. In fact, we’re lulled into believing we could never catch something like that, because it’s solely the province of the “skanks” we laugh at on TV.
Same story with Lindsay Lohan. Dr. Drew’s comments aren’t illuminating for anyone about how to actually handle addiction if you or someone you love is afflicted. His fantasies of pushing her toward rock bottom just feed the audience’s seemingly endless appetite for images of Lindsay Lohan suffering. He reminds me of the doctor in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a man whose desires to punish and control are indistinguishable from his medical prescriptions.
*Not to be confused with the way that “dump” is used as a metaphor within reality TV. On The Jersey Shore , for instance, one woman was nicknamed “The Staten Island Dump” by the male house members, for the transgression of being almost as free with her affections as they reward themselves for being every night.
Photograph of Dr. Drew by Michael Smith for Getty Images.