Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan, you hot mess
Love is private, personal, something you don’t really talk about outside of weddings, births, and occasionally funerals. Unless you want to be regarded with suspicion, or considered faintly ridiculous. Talk about love outside of the narrow social conditions where it is allowed to exist, and you risk making people uncomfortable, and nobody wants that.
But you start to really see the outline of this cultural discomfort about emotion when you put love next to an object that isn’t supposed to be loved. Put love next to something like a celebrity for instance, and you must surely be confusing it with some kind of debased, unserious fan-crush, the love of a brainwashed media dupe. And this all gets especially disconcerting when the celebrity you’re talking about is seen as a washed up train-wreck of a star like Lindsay Lohan: fandom is one thing, even some academics will argue that fandom can be empowering, aspirational, or even critical.
But there can’t really be anything positive or empowering to feel about Lindsay Lohan, and nothing critical, unless we’re talking about criticising her behaviour, or her latest look.
Say you “love” Lohan as some kind of ironic, winking pop culture reference without qualifying it and you’re safe. Or say you still kind of like her in a forgiving charitable way, because the idea of kicking someone when they’re down feels slightly wrong to you, or because all the criticism of Lohan starts to feel a little slut-shame-ey sometimes. But Love? Love is a bridge too far.
And perhaps Lohan’s worst crime is appearing to love herself. Google Lohan even these days and you’ll find paparazzi photos of her blowing kisses, showng off her legs, giving a wildcat grin, or a come-hither wink. She doesn’t look the way a woman in the public eye is supposed to look: where’s the modest smile, the carefully managed style, the unassuming but figure-flattering pose? And she certainly doesn’t look the way a star after a series of scandals is supposed to look. Where’s the shame? Why does she even go around showing her face given all that is said about her? Could it be she doesn’t realise she’s falling apart, friendless, alone, underdressed and unemployable?
Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan works to interrogate these gendered assumptions about when a woman should be visable and how she should behave in order to be socially acceptable. Claire Harris achieves this by turning our attention to Lohan, by framing her as an object of love and positive feeling, against the grain of contemporary media loathing and ridicule. But in doing so she also forces us to bear witness to her own love.
And this is what I find most challenging and thrilling about Happy Birthday Lindsay Lohan: the way it confronts cultural norms about the place of emotions and the everyday work of the performance of feeling. We trace a heart around the things and people we accept, but we rarely think about why or how we do this, or about what can get left outside those margins. Harris’ performance of Happy Birthday is a 24+ hour epic love letter to a reviled stranger, enacted every year for the past four years. Marathoning through every movie without stopping, including not just the lesser known but the less watchable, Harris offers a view of the labours of love: the uncomfortable, the grueling, the boring, and the endearing even after all this time.