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Iconic, larger than life because ...

How to even begin to understand the blitzkrieg coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith and the week-long hearing in a Florida probate court to determine the disposition of her remains. How to explain the fascination this woman continues to wield for so many: a strange, perplexing contraindicated fame in life and then cable news 24/7 coverage in death, without commercial interruptions, something usually reserved for national crises. True, it's not without precedence (O.J. Simpson).

But back to Smith as a cultural phenom. She wan't famous for achieving anything in life other than having carefully crafted herself into an oversized doppelganger of Marilyn Monroe &

pendulous breasts, bleached blonde hair, and a voluptuous shape that yo-yoed from seriously chunky to svelte. So what is there about this iconic, full-bodied, ditzy blonde that so appeals? And it isn't just an appeal limited to the two inches of brackish water at the bottom of the rain barrel, those pale, creepy, prurient voyeurs who haunt late night adult bookstores. Her allure is democratic.

This buxom blonde bombshell image, created with total premeditation, must be part of our national psyche, deeply embedded in our popular culture, and begs the question: why?

Freud is reported to have said that a cigar is often just a cigar. But you have to wonder about our culture's fascination/fixation with the buxom part of the female anatomy to the point that men find them irresistible and women go to great surgical lengths to make same larger. Of late, if you've been paying attention to starlets and designer styles, ubiquitous during the red carpet awards season, cleavage is definitely in. And what is cleavage, really, but a tantalizing promise of what is not revealed. Interesting that there is no equivalent part of the male anatomy that seems to have the same overt attraction for women. Try and imagine men posing publicly in catilevered Speedos. It will never happen.

Perhaps this uber woman, currently in the person of Smith, is the lightning rod for all of our unresolved cultural issues &

for both men and women &

regarding what women are and should be: ultimate caregiver, provider of comfort, earth mother, nest builder, competent business woman, accomplished professional, trashy sex symbol, and always an object of grand curiosity and desire. Culturally, we suffer from chronic ambivalence when it comes to women in our tribe and it's made manifest in so many ways, Smith being just one.

It's possible that we have a need to create such symbolic figures as repositories of a host of conflicted emotions and a cache of unspoken needs. Reaching for a male comparison would be the cowboy, or, as we've come to know him, the Marlboro Man. We see the cowboy &

squinty-eyed, rough-hewned &

and project onto him freedom, self reliance, leathery resilience, and the capacity for decisive violence. In the extreme, he's the chopper-riding outlaw, tattooed, do-rag instead of a helmet, the easy rider, unemcumbered by kith or kin, who keeps his deep-throated motor always running. In so many respects he is the antithesis of what is required of most men if they are to hold down jobs, have a family, keep a schedule, and ascend life's ladder of ever greater responsibility. Perhaps Johnny Anger represents the "if only" wish list ("it doesn't get any better than this") that resides deep in men's psyches, appealing as well to some women who find the bad boy strangely attractive, a lingering genetic magnetism having to do with the predators just outside the cave and the need for protection.

And then there's the issue of celebrity in our culture. Or, more stongly put, our addiction to the famous. Smith was a celebrity, a star of sorts. Not an actress, only briefly a Playboy centerfold, bride of a wealthy octogenarian, spokesperson for Trimspa, and famous for being famous. But as we witness almost daily, fame exacts a price and countless celebrities (interesting word by itself) have fallen over an emotional precipice with the paparazzi, those frontline hunter gatherers of gossip, documenting every detail of their fall. It's endlessy fascinating and enough seems never to be enough. These beautiful people are consumed like fast food at the Golden Arches, their shimmer quickly reduced to flame-out cinders.

And not to forget the frantic, at-all-cost push by the un-famous for their fifteen minutes on the national stage: Youtube.com; Myspace.com; and so on. The most pedestrian can now become overnight sensations (the Andy Warhol 15 minutes) by merely brushing their teeth, flossing while gargling to heavy metal on a web cam.

It's hard out there for those who wish only to maintain a semblance of privacy and decorum. For the rest, well, there's always the camera phone.