Farrah: still a head of her time 

It's really OK that I didn't see the Farrah thing on David Letterman. The inane ravings of a former starlet don't sound like a surprise to me, and besides, I saw Peter Fonda's speech at the Florida Film Festival. One skinny, old celebrity famous for doing a single, unusually sexy project a hundred years ago, talking like their brain had caved in from drug use, is enough for anybody to take in one week.

Because tabloid reporters trail celebrities the way street sweepers trail defecating horses at Disney World, you didn't have to see Farrah's verbal hemorrhage to know all about it. Overnight she was on so many covers on so many impulse-buy racks, looking boney and cornered, that you got the impression these were true sick-bed ravings, so disturbing that at any moment they were going to take her away in what my mother sensitively refers to as The Cookie Truck.

Poor Farrah. If the tabloids all ran banner headlines every time you or I said something that begged a straight-jacket fitting, the world would be out of paper 10 minutes from now. But to top it all off, there was a seemingly minor post-Letterman incident that happened after she did the Conan O'Brien show. Farrah overheard a couple of women sniping about her in the ladies room and had the cojones to confront them. They said they were disappointed in her for making a Playboy video after she had triumphed over all that with strong feminist roles like the one she played in "The Burning Bed." Farrah was reduced to tears.

Big girls don't cry

Now I know it was just a second-hand conversation in a backstage toilet, but don't kid yourself. Plenty of important things happen in the bathroom, and this is such a parable that it might as well have been a scene in a movie on the Lifetime channel. It's the pitting of women against women, a divide-and- conquer move through which none of us win.

Farrah, after all, has been through enough that she shouldn't be crying in the bathroom over a few catty remarks. She helped to inspire a new word: "jigglevision." She was The Great Equalizer of junior-high girls, ensuring that not just some but all of us would look like Queen Doofus of Dorkoslavia in that haircut we all wore like a CCP uniform. Then, to prove she was a serious actress, she dove into movies like "Extremities" and succeeded. That's a big risk for someone who built a high and narrow career on being beautiful. She even played Raquel Welch's lover in "Myra Breckinridge" way back in 1972, long before the chicest accessory a girl could have was a girlfriend.

Then came the recent Playboy video. From the clips we've seen, it documents Farrah doing art. She does this by slathering her naked self with paint and rolling around on canvases that she then hangs in her home. (They are not for sale.)

This, more than anything she said on a talk show, might be evidence that she is one beer short of a six-pack or any other cute euphemism you might want to use for crazy. But it isn't exploitative, and it isn't responsible for the degradation of women. It also isn't art, which is the only really bad thing you can say about it. If she had stuck a couple of paint brushes in her cleavage, did a shimmy and came up with "American Gothic," or even a game of Hangman, that would be art. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Farrah thinks art is her breast prints. You are hereby excused from Art Theory I, since there really isn't any.

Splitting hairs

You are not, however, excused from Feminism 201, the "2" indicating that we're hoping to graduate upward and away from some of the arguments of traditional feminism that have pitted women against women in the past. The thinking in that bathroom seemed to be that being proud of your body and sexuality is in conflict with women's quest to be taken seriously. But all it does is put a self-imposed limit on our choices, the in-house equivalent of "She's asking for it" and "Who does she think she is?"

Farrah's Playboy video is a far cry from skinny models seducing young girls into look obsessions. Her Playboy audience is men, whose unabashed desire is something that she's going to make another mint exploiting. Instead of asking "How could she do it?," women ought to be asking themselves how come they could identify with her in victim roles, but not when she's an older, exuberant success making a choice to do something just because she felt like it.

Until women can allow each other to be beautiful, serious, sexual, funny, kind, demanding and smart all at the same time, all those things we applaud in men, we are going to continue to get pigeonholed -- and a divide-and-conquer downfall will be the result. That ain't no way for a lady to treat a lady. Women should finally be comfortable enough in their grown-up clothes to let other women have a little fun.

And sometimes, the most grown-up fun you get to have is with no clothes on at all.

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