In Defense of Celebrity Rehab

I watch it. You should too.

Drew Pinsky in Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew

I am starting to think I must be some kind of sociopath. Why? Because I am incapable of experiencing guilt, at least in the context of the strange phenomenon known as “the guilty pleasure.”

The notion of a naughty self-indulgence which simultaneously engenders both squishy delight and cringing shame has become a cultural staple. Google “guilty pleasure” and you get over 5 million thingies. Every time I open People magazine, which I do every week without any guilt whatsoever, I now encounter a celeb pulling back the curtain on an I-just-can’t-help-myself habit or obsession. This week So You Think You Can Dance hostess Cat Deeley tells People readers that watching America’s Next Top Model is her guilty pleasure. Oh, Cat! Behave!

Clearly Cat would like us to think that she spends the majority of her time listening to NPR, translating Ancient Greek and splitting atoms, and that her fondness for watching ANTM is an exceptional one-off low-brow tendency. I find this very disrespectful to Tyra Banks and would like it known publicly that I have always watched this show, sans guilt. As if that weren’t bad enough, I have also made guilt-free guest appearances on several episodes. Even after reducing one of the model contestants to tears—I helpfully told her that she was dressed like a hooker and that if she didn’t believe me she should take a walk down to the docks and cross-reference her ensemble with those of the other working girls—I am still 100 percent remorse-free.

The guilty pleasures of today’s guilterati never seem to involve anything genuinely foul. It’s usually something Carrie Bradshaw-ish like collecting shoes (yawn!) or ingesting the occasional cupcake. The notion of the guilty pleasure allows tacky celebs to phone in a little token regret about rabid materialism while simultaneously wallowing in it. You can castigate your cupcake and eat it too.

When I read these wholesome nonrevelations, I always think of the Pink Floyd song “Arnold Layne,” which tells the story of a dirty old man who delights in stealing ladies’ panties off washing lines. Now that’s what I call a guilty pleasure!

Here are a couple more suggestions: What about hacking Rupert Murdoch’s phone, just for kicks? Got an attractive neighbor? How about covertly watching him or her for hours through a telescope? Having a mood swing at work? Why not toss a handful of Ex-Lax chocolate in the boardroom snack bowl? If you would like to share one of your guilty pleasures—please make sure it’s at least “Arnold Layne” level—feel free to plop it onto the comments page below.

Michael Lohan (left) on Celebrity Rehab 

Speaking of pleasure and guilt: I sincerely hope you are watching Season 5 of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. Permit me to explain the tantalizing concept: A bunch of chemically-dependent, underemployed celebs—previous participants include Brigitte Nielsen, Dennis Rodman, and Eric Roberts—are tossed into a groovy, modernist rehab facility in Pasadena, under the supervision of Dr. Drew Pinsky. Some make real progress and some, sadly, don’t make it all: Jeff Conaway and Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr both went to the big reality show in the sky, subsequent to “treatment” on this show.

Given the grimness of the subject matter, my fondness for this show requires a little justification. Here goes: I actually find it very touching. Here are the tragic, poignant casualties of our everyone-can-be-famous society, baring their souls and struggling to understand the traumas that propelled them into attention-junkiedom (and other junkiedoms) in the first place. Amid the screeching and detoxing there are bursts of painful honesty. If you saw my old pal Janice Dickinson going through hell on the previous season, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

The current season is shaping up to be one of the best so far, and by “best,” I do of course mean brutally voyeuristic: Participants include Michael Lohan (Lindsay’s dad), actress Sean “Blade Runner” Young, and … drum-roll … the Long Island Lolita herself, Amy Fisher.

Time has not been kind to Miss Fisher. Her addiction? She has been medicating herself with alcohol in order to perform in triple-X porn movies. Bon appetit!

As I watch Fisher “battling her demons,” she calls to mind another nice-Jewish-girl-gone-bad named Amy. Might a stint on Celebrity Rehab have saved the talented Amy Winehouse? Spending time with a group of struggling lost souls, as opposed to singlehandedly playing the role of the U.K.’s No. 1 tabloid addict, might have been, as the Brits say, “just the ticket.” At the very least, a sojourn in Pasadena and the caring embrace of Dr. Drew would have distanced her from the liver-corroding pub culture of my homeland.

Dr. Drew is a very polarizing character in our house. While I see him as a savior and a fountain of wisdom, my Jonny, on the other hand, views him as an exploiter and, more horrifying still, a wearer of old-fashioned baggy Armani suits. He cites the doc’s decision to sling Heidi Fleiss and Tom Sizemore under the same roof—even though Tom was convicted of physical abuse during their messy break-up—as proof positive of Drew’s stop-at-nothing-for-good-telly approach.

Jonny’s ambivalence about this show is surprising, particularly given the plethora of Jonathan Adler product incorporated into the Celebrity Rehab set. Heidi Fleiss’ urine check was regularly performed right next to a fetching Jonathan Adler lamp. My Jonny and I derived so much pleasure from this surreal juxtaposition that we actually experienced a tinge of guilt.

Have a guilt-free week!