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.
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.
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!"
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
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.
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.