Dear Amanda Bynes, Cannabis Doesn't Make You Racist

A reaction to Paper Magazine's soft take on Amanda Bynes

Courtesy Danielle Levitt for Paper Magazine

Two compelling profiles were released this weekend, both covering off-beat women who never quite fit into Hollywood. The Cut's piece on Lena Dunham, infamous as much for her purposefully kooky manner as for her (at times) bizarre commentary, and Paper Magazine's unusual profile of late-90s Tiger Beat royalty Amanda Bynes. Both women turned 32 this spring. Both have profoundly misused their platforms. Both these women's stories trended heavily on Twitter, but only one profile was lauded. One apologizing woman was welcomed back with open arms, while the other apologizing woman was uniquely piled on.

Dunham is continually forced into the hot seat and held accountable for her misdeeds and The Cut's profile of Dunham is no exception. She's forced to reckon with her mistakes and—most brutally—herself. No one gives her a pass, not the journalist, not the public. She's generally disliked and she knows it. And, truthfully, many never wanted to like the Girls creator. Many refused to accept her as a writer, eternally cautious of her nepotism, and never wanted to endure her nakedness, her polarizing personality, or her relationships with humans (and animals). Most resent that she was given a platform at all, but Dunham's never had a pass—not a public one, at least—or a chance to win us over. She's no Amanda Bynes.

Bynes, on the other hand, is celebrated for her performances in All That, her teen variety show (The Amanda Show), and various teen rom-coms like She's The Man. Bynes wasn't like the bubblegum teen stars who lorded over us simpletons in the late '90s and early noughts. She was pretty—but not too pretty—and she was abrasive, but sweet. Her "girl next door" quality, and ability to poke fun at herself, allowed us to feel closer to her than other celebrities. She really wasn't like the other girls—she was funny (a quality that is still rarely admired in women). In her films, her personality and charm won boys over. She wasn't unattainable. She wasn't sexualized. She was, for a while, America's Sweetheart.

And as she grew up, she remained the criterion of child stars. She never partied with Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. She wasn't snapped flashing her crotch to paparazzi stepping out of a stretch limo, nor had to dissolve a 24-hour marriage (all staples of mid-2000s celebrity culture). Amanda was a role model, and she was exceptional in character. Until she wasn't.
If we look back at what the star did in the year leading up to her 5150 psychiatric hold in 2014—what really happened, why we really haven't heard from her in years—we'd recall that Bynes wasn't "canceled" because of her racy tweets about Drake murdering her vagina.
Leaving relevant and appropriate details out of a profile isn't just irresponsible, it's dangerous. It's a reporter's obligation to remain unbiased, avoid getting starstruck, and ask the difficult questions so readers can, well, read the difficult answers. It's also a journalist's responsibility to share details our fragile 2018 minds have certainly abandoned as rejected distant memories. If we look back at what the star did in the year leading up to her 5150 psychiatric hold in 2014—what really happened, why we really haven't heard from her in years—we'd recall that Bynes wasn't "canceled" because of her racy tweets about Drake murdering her vagina. While Paper and their subject may prefer to forget, we remember that she was forced offline not just for mentally-unbalanced behavior, but for racism, misogyny and bad-faith jokes about domestic violence.

In 2013, many may have called Amanda Bynes a has-been. She hadn't acted in years—she'd even publicly resigned (also on Twitter). But her "erratic" behavior was also pretty typical of the era of Seapunk. She dyed her hair turquoise and pierced her cheeks (we've all been there), so her presence wasn't troubling to those of us also living in New York City at the time. Then, later that year, she had a public meltdown on Twitter, blasting In Touch Weekly for posting photos of her that she insisted were fraudulent—photos of her smoking weed in bed in a bare apartment, where the photographers alleged her feet were cut and bruised and that she'd dabbled in hard drugs the whole night. She denied these accusations, firing back, "That's not my bed! Those aren't my toes! My toes are pedicured! I just did an exclusive interview with intouch last week, now they bought fake altered photos by that ugly black man in the photo or someone who knows him!" 

Days following her In Touch outburst, Bynes committed the eighth deadly sin and came for Rihanna. She deemed Rihanna so ugly she tweeted she wanted to name her new dog after the singer. The actress then declared Rihanna looked "so ugly tryin to be white," and stooped low enough to allege "Chris Brown beat you because you're not pretty enough." I don't need to express how painful and damaging comments like this were and are—a routine excuse of abusive men is that they hit women because they're not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not fun enough, not good enough. It's textbook misogyny, verbal abuse, and triggering for survivors. It's also Rihanna. She's off-fucking-limits.

Moving into summer, Bynes started beef with Drake. Months after notoriously requesting he “murder her vagina," she changed course and tweeted "He has the ugliest smile, ugly gums, uneven teeth ugly eyes." She apologized, but after news of her dispute broke, Amanda sent a tweet off to Perez Hilton stating, "the only thing sadder than your ugly face still writing stories about me is the fact that you think I'd even step foot in a room with that ugly faced black man." TMZ later received a video of Amanda covering her face with a scarf outside of her New York City apartment, scrutinizing a paparazzi, asking, "Is it the ugly black man? There's another ugly black man." She’s never really apologized for her racism, only for the pain she caused, telling Paper, “I actually am a nice person. I would never feel, say or do any of the things that I did and said to the people I hurt on Twitter.” 
In Amanda's profile, she doesn't just gloss over the hard truths about her fall from grace, she doesn't mention them at all
A month later, Amanda began what people could (falsely) remember as the beginning of the end: Calling, well, everyone ugly on Twitter. The retired actress addressed vile tweets to unlucky celebrities like Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus, Courtney Love, and Jay-Z.

This was when we began collectively speculating Bynes was suffering from mental health issues on top of substance abuse. Amanda experienced extreme bouts of mental inconsistencies between 2012 and 2014. She was, after all, arrested for a DUI in 2012... then tweeted at Obama to fire the cop who arrested her. Nearing the end of 2012, she had a DUI, three hit-and-runs, and an attempt to flee from police under her belt. And the trouble kept coming: Bynes locked herself in a Hollywood clothing store fitting room and refused to come out, opened up about her eating disorder, had another run-in with police after throwing a bong from a 34th-floor window, which led to a possible eviction, slut-shamed Miley Cyrus, and by mid-2013 was arrested and put on a psychiatric hold after setting fire to a Thousand Oaks home driveway owned by an elderly woman.

Doctors at the same LA-area hospital that treated Britney Spears diagnosed her as conceivably schizophrenic and, considered her "gravely disabled as a result of a mental disorder" implemented immediate emergency conservatorship (Note: Her lawyer later denied such a diagnosis). After exiting rehab, Bynes was stricken with another DUI, later revealing she'd been taking obscene amounts of Adderall. She then shacked up with a 19-year-old, announcing, "I am getting married and my boyfriend and I are going to be on the cover People magazine." By late 2014, she was caught for shoplifting—twice—and accused her father of abuse. Immediately after the accusation, Bynes rather infamously alleged her dad did not, in fact, abuse her mentally or physically—she just had a microchip in her brain (allegedly planted there by her father) that controlled her frequent online eruptions.

In Amanda's profile, she doesn't just gloss over the hard truths about her fall from grace, she doesn't mention them at all. She doesn't recount the racism or the jab at domestic violence survivors; it's almost as if she believes if she doesn't bring it up, maybe we'll forget it ever happened. But it did, and Bynes wasn't forced to reckon with her behavior like Lena Dunham. She wasn't challenged in the slightest. Throughout the interview, she sidesteps her transgressions by merely apologizing, but a non-apology is one in which an apology is given while the reason for it is conveniently left out.
Weed and Adderall don't make you spout vile, racist statements toward multiple people, time and time again.

She feigns ignorance (or maybe she is ignorant?) when she claims weed and Adderall changed her personality, asserting ingesting certain drugs and smoking weed "was like an alien had literally invaded my body," an alien that... made her racist? As with Roseanne Barr and her Ambien tendencies, we should all know this isn't just a proper excuse. Weed and Adderall don't make you spout vile, racist statements toward multiple people, time and time again. As someone who has grappled with prescription drugs (amphetamine and benzodiazepine alike), I can assure you popping pills does not make you racist. Yet, this is her odd justification for her behavior. And yeah, a bit shame-y to cannabis enthusiasts—and even pill poppers.

Today, Bynes doesn't say her psychiatric diagnoses is a lie, but she does insist they were made by armchair psychiatrists grasping at straws. Bynes may be fine now, as she claims to have been sober for four years (no small feat), but I refuse to believe it's because she quit smoking weed alone. In April, the Bynes family lawyer (she remains under conservatorship) addresses her mental illness when speaking to the press about the fake social media account (@persianla27) that's been terrorizing her for years (though it's been heavily rumored it is, in fact, Amanda behind the screen). The profile actually places mental illness in a weird, stigmatized vortex, along with the drug use. If we can't discuss it, we can't break a stigma.

This facet of the profile feels shame-y to me too, rather than helpful. Still, journalist Abby Schreiber did pat the celebrity on the back for the absolute bare minimum required of a human being, acclaiming her for her polite behavior on set. She complimented a crew member's red pants and purportedly appearing delighted at the sight of a toddler! This is all really fundamental stuff you learn in Kindergarten about how to get along with other human people but, again, this is an unusual profile. It's most reveled-in paragraph is commending Bynes in a bizarrely flattering tone for allegedly thrusting Channing Tatum into the spotlight.

But it’s not just Bynes, her team, and Paper who are at fault. It’s the social media reaction too. Gaggles of Twitter users were shouting the subject’s praises, ecstatic for her return. "We stan a legend," one tweet reads. Another tweet states, "Amanda Bynes is back and deserves an apology and a Netflix special," though I'm unsure what we're all apologizing for. Refinery29 called her a pioneer for "gross, girly humor" (Joan Rivers, I'm so sorry, sweetie), and the people really have spoken.

I can only hope the unrelenting social media authorities keep the same apologetic energy when Azealia Banks reemerges in four years pleading for a comeback. Or is Bynes getting a pass because she's white, privileged, and we feel that she's a part of our childhood, and thus, our identity?

Do we need Bynes back? Have we really missed her? Or do we just remember her in her prime as we remember ourselves in ours? The Mere-Exposure Effect is an authentic psychological phenomenon in which something becomes collectively designated as "good" simply because we're all familiar with it. It's why I personally love “Clarity” by Zedd so much. And because Bynes is a figurehead of millennial adolescence, perhaps it’s why we love her too. We remember her gutsiness in She's The Man when she teaches Channing Tatum how to treat a nosebleed with tampons. But, more than this, we remember who we were. We want her to be who she was, but she's 32-years-old now. And while I'm a big believer in change, I'm not sure I will ever be ready to see Bynes playing a detective or a nurse or a sitcom wife on a cable series.

I learned nothing from this profile. Bynes—who was likely was media trained—comes off as expressionless in photos and in text. She says all the right things to explain away her past tribulations. I wish Bynes had opened up and owned her many blunders, but it's obvious she's not there yet.

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