Thursday, November 19, 2009

The money will roll right in … won’t it?

We may be verging into “Day of the Locust” territory here: A young, handsome, ambitious but vulnerable naïf rolls into L.A., eager to start revisions to the screenplay of his own life. And as it was for the characters of Nathanael West’s 1939 novel, it remains today, 70 years later. The dream of recognition dies hard, if it dies at all. Just ask Levi Johnston.

The excommunicated son-in-law of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who impregnated daughter Bristol Palin out of wedlock, has parlayed that dubious distinction into a public recognition the word “celebrity” doesn’t describe.

After spats waged in the media with the former governor, Johnston went on do numerous TV interviews related to the Palins, a commercial promoting pistachio nuts, a profile and interview in Vanity Fair, and a photo shoot for Playgirl Magazine.

Not exactly a Schwab’s drug-store discovery, but of such humble beginnings a career is born.

Or not.

◊ ◊ ◊

Invited to GQ’s Men of the Year party in Hollywood, at the Chateau Marmont on Wednesday, Johnston caught a plane from New York to L.A. on Tuesday … but not without being noticed.

Richard Johnson, the Page Six columnist for the New York Post: “It's official -- Levi Johnston is a first-class idiot. He was spotted Tuesday at JFK wearing sunglasses and refusing to stand on line with the "regular" passengers, including "Seinfeld" star Jason Alexander.”

“A spy on his American Airlines flight told Page Six: ‘He then made a big show of getting on first. He was seated in the front row of first class, looking like he was born to be there and waiting for some recognition. Jason Alexander was quietly sitting behind him.’ We wish Levi would just zip it up and head back to the Alaskan oil fields.”

Katharine Thomson of The Huffington Post reports today on the party. Simply everyone who was anyone was there. Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Sarah Silverman, Russell Brand, Quentin Tarantino, Olivia Wilde, Rainn Wilson, January Jones, Kobe Bryant, La Lohan. Oh, and Levi Johnston.

“Levi, who had on a vest, yellow pocket square and what appeared to be pancake makeup, wandered around the party with both his manager Tank (wearing a diamond earring) and a second beefy gentleman (wearing an earpiece).

“And no one cared.

“Levi was largely ignored by other guests as he wandered to get a soda (he's underage) and he checked his Blackberry while Tank hit up the buffet. An hour later, they were gone.”

◊ ◊ ◊

Needless to say, Johnston was savaged by critics, many of them in the comment space of The Huffington Post.

Weatherwaxx on HuffPost: “Perhaps if he had done something more remarkable than what any hamster could do, to wit, fertilizing a female of his species, he would qualify as a celebrity.”

Dissanayake, HuffPost: “We live in the greatest country on earth. Fame and money for a high school dropout, just for knocking up a governor’s kid. Wow!”

Jonjon358: “Pretty sad when Lohan is at a party and YOU wind up described as the night's loser.”

Some were more charitable:

SmootyBooty “saw him on [Larry King Live] when Kathy Griffin hosted. He's funny, smart, self-aware, and very cute. I think he's handled himself well ...”

Dlvme2: “You act like it was completely his fault that Bristol got pregnant - well it was not - It takes 2. Both of them are responsible. He did not ask to be lugged into the spotlight with the Palins. But since he is there why is he being blamed for making the best of it?”

◊ ◊ ◊

It’s tempting to chalk it all up to youthful indiscretion (followed closely by youthful arrogance), a young man caught up in the swirl of politics and publicity, and just trying to negotiate the whirlwind the best he can.

But no, some of this was a storm of Levi’s creation. He was bitten by our society’s other, older and more insidious H1N1: the fame bug — bitten bad enough that he’s already started to exhibit the divaesque behavior of someone entitled to the divine right of celebrities, but without doing anything.

He’s starting to be like the person described in the punk-era song “The Money Will Roll Right In,” written and recorded by Fang and since immortalized by Nirvana at the 1992 Reading Festival:

“I'm goin' to Hollywood,
they'll see that I'm so good
I won't care how I feel,
and I'll get to fuck Brooke Shields

I'll just sit and grin,
the money will roll right in …”

You can hardly blame this former apprentice electrician and hockey player for embracing his one brief shining moment. But in a city/industry known for eating its young and its old, Johnston may be the next unwitting victim of the starmaker machinery.

Warhol’s dictum obtains again: Everyone gets to be famous for fifteen minutes. You get the feeling that Levi Johnston may be playing Beat the Clock right about now.

Image credit: Johnston: GQ? Via The Huffington Post.

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