Last week, Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan each treated us to fresh iterations of one of the industry’s most enduring traditions: the Hollywood Smoke Signal.
Whether hand-planted in a favored media outlet or made available to the masses, the HSS is a highly-produced, seemingly-spontaneous publicity opportunity for a celebrity or executive to send a message.
One HSS we witnessed last week is not what everyone assumes. The other raises ethical, policy and potential legal problems.
When Lohan showed up February 9 for her arraignment on grand theft felony charges, she was wearing a Spanx-tight, thigh-high bright white dress that was universally criticized. Some said she hadn’t learned anything in rehab and that the dress was more appropriate for Bar Marmont than LA County’s Airport Courthouse.
Others suggested she was purposely channeling Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct” as yet another screw-you message to the legal system, just more subtle than what she’d painted on her fingernails last July.
I’ve got another theory.
Knowing every camera not covering the Egyptian demonstrations was focused on her, I’m convinced Lohan turned it into an opportunity to tell producers and studios: “I’m back, I look fabulous and I’m ready to work.”
Remember that Lohan lost the lead in the film “Inferno,” the Linda Lovelace bio that was supposedly going to jump-start her career. The best offer she’s allegedly received recently has been as a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.” For months, she’s mentioned her desire to return to acting.
What better way to get the attention of Hollywood decision-makers than to navigate the media scrum looking great and fearless? It wasn’t just the dress. Tabloids claim that in the lead-up to her latest court appearance, Lohan hit the salon to have her hair color freshened and possibly visited another expert to have her lips plumped. And I wonder if she might’ve had another enhancement too. Or else she was wearing a spectacular bra.
Also read: People of Egypt, Lindsay Lohan Applauds You
While I join those wondering whether lessons learned during her rehab are sticking or if she’s falling back into bad habits, when it comes to Lohan’s HSS I say: Good for her.
One day after Lohan’s most recent publicity – clearly timed to avoid taking a back seat to it – Sheen’s reps executed a stunt that would be one of the funniest HSSes ever if it weren’t outright jaw-dropping on multiple fronts.
Here’s what the media accepted blindly as fact: Sheen showed up at the UCLA basketball team’s practice, played for a bit with them and a few Major League Baseball stars also on hand, then at the invitation of UCLA head coach John Savage, offered the students “a stirring anti-drug speech” that won him “a standing ovation.” And apparently Sheen was so disappointed in his playing ability that he later hit the school’s weight room and returned the next day to work out again with the kids.
PR-perfect photos and brief video of the visit were of course released to the media. Interestingly in the footage the team doesn’t come off particularly excited about his presence. The video shows some lukewarm clapping, others shaking his extended hand. Most look perplexed why he just isn’t off scouting the girls’ dorm.
Why would UCLA permit such a stunt? Sheen has no association with the university beyond being sued in 1995 by a UCLA student who claimed he struck her in the head when she refused him sex (the case was settled out of court). He’s shown no passion for education; he was kicked out of Santa Monica High a few weeks before graduation for bad grades and poor attendance.
And Sheen’s no role model for overcoming addiction. After leaving his most recent inpatient rehab within days – stating there’s nothing wrong with him – he’s currently undergoing some voodoo treatment in the comfort of his own home.
And then there’s that awkward problem of hot and cold running porn actresses.
To understand what happened, I turned to what should be the best source, UCLA’s campus news source The Daily Bruin. Despite numerous searches on its website, however, there’s no mention of the incident.
The mainstream media proved no better. Only X17 Online and E! Online bothered to investigate further. A day after the Sheen stunt, a UCLA publicist told X17 he hadn’t been invited to speak but instead had been hitting balls with the pro players before practice, “went over to a group of our players on his way off the field and spoke briefly to them.” The publicist also told X17 that Savage was helping Sheen get back in shape.
The flack further dismantled the story with E! claiming that after Sheen finished with the pros, “as he was walking by, he saw the team and stopped to say hi. It was an impromptu thing.”
These comments leave a lot of questions unanswered. Among them:
Why was Sheen allowed on campus property – which usually has signs threatening trespassers with arrest – in the first place? Was he actually allowed into the weight room too and welcomed back the next day?
Did Savage tip him off to this PR opportunity? Did the coach get reprimanded by UCLA officials for not pulling the plug when he saw what was happening?
The school has an institutional policy obligation – perhaps a legal one too – to bar minors’ likenesses from third-party promotional situations. If sports staff saw this incident being videotaped and photographed, why didn’t they shut it down or demand the material be handed over?
Why did UCLA’s flack take a full day to respond, and then only reactively, to a story that made worldwide headlines within hours?
And finally, why did the Daily Bruin ignore a huge global story that occurred on university property and in front of its own student body?
UCLA has some explaining to do. Let’s hope members of the media bother to ask.