On June 15, 2006 - almost four years ago now - Lindsay Lohan went out on the town in New York City, partying at Bungalow 8 nightclub with Sean Lennon and friends; afterwards, she kept the party going at Lennon's Greenwich Village apartment, turning on the charm with a gal pal and some long kitchen knives. About 4:50 in the morning, pictures were taken on a cell phone. Some time later the cell phone's guts gave up the goods, likely copied while the phone sat in an empty vehicle (or were they?). By x17's account, the photographs were then
The ensuing media frenzy was predictably hypocritical - almost all media sources decrying the pictures as "shocking", "troubling", "very worrying", etc., etc. while simultaneously running those same pics in their reports. Media was quick to suggest these photos implied suicidal behaviour, cutting or even a death wish. Some sources were far more caught up in the sexual angle, dwelling on how the girls were nearly naked or hot lesbians.
Initially, Lohan's friend in the photos was unknown, referred to by press as "a pal", "a girlfriend", or even just "some girl". Eventually her identity was revealed as Vanessa Minnillo -- former Miss Teen USA and co-host of MTV's Total Request Live. Speculation was rife Vanessa would lose her job as a consequence. Minnillo went on to distance herself from the evening; she "got caught up in the moment and thought it would be fun... they were only fooling around”. This distancing seemed to work for her and her involvement was blamed on "the booze or the drugs".
As for Lindsay, who was in rehab by the time the pictures were released, they were seen as yet more proof the young actress was dangerously out of control, setting a terrible example to her fans, lowering the bar for young women everywhere (famous or not). Surprisingly enough, further antics overshadowed even the knife play and it was soon just another forgotten scandal in a career which seemed to scarcely go a week without a new tabloid headline.
Though I am personally a fan of neither Lindsay Lohan nor Vanessa Minnillo, I must admit the first time I saw these knife party photos, I was mightily stirred and shaken: the young women's faces evoke an easy ecstasy and a drunken rapture while the knives evoked death, plain and simple, quick and bloody.
The dynamic of these two powerful forces drawn together - sex and death - is not something one expects to see played out in cheap gossip fare, much less played out to such great effect as in this remarkable handful of shots. The women appear beautiful, relaxed, ecstatic - they are brazen and play to the camera with half-closed eyelids and half-open lips, radiating confidence and sex, and a giddy energy at the end of a fun evening.
I did not forget these photos but examined them again from time to time. They were so unusual, after all - for celebrities, apparently unique*. I wondered what would cause these two Hollywood starlets to take up knives and begin this act - did some comment or incident earlier in the evening set a tone? Plant a seed? People get drunk or high every hour of the day, but most of those people do not pose for photographs with knives at their face, even when their inhibition is gone and their mind is blotto.
Were the women playing to an audience? Was Sean himself watching at this point, maybe even taking the photographs? As a boy, his mother wrote his then-missing half-sister "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)" - might he have a thing for knives himself?
Speculations on the event aside, what cannot be denied is the influence Lindsay Lohan (and Vanessa Minnillo to a lesser extent) had on millions of teenage girls and young women. Surely it was reasonable to consider whether this behaviour was something that might be echoed in the greater population; might we see a fad of sexy posing with knives? Could this develop into some kind of new MySpace cliche?
There were some examples of such echoing certainly. For a while, holding a knife for a photo was seen as a way of suggesting an edginess, an untameable, wild aura. Such effective props proved irresistable for certain performers seeking a grown-up angle. The inevitable clash between such posturing and the reality of being knifed to death can make for awkward exchanges - Katy Perry was shamed for a photo shoot in which she brandished a knife contrasted with local teens dying from stab wounds; her handlers' response was that, "the knife picture was done to give Katy more of a sexy harder edge". Katy's response was to be photographed holding up a spoon.
This meme was taking a serious hit, going down in flames actually as far as I could tell. Soon only assholes would pose with knives. If posing sexily with knives was going to make a sexy comeback, it needed a classy champion, someone sexy but with social capital - like, maybe Beyoncé? Sadly, Beyoncé played with toy guns instead, and what we got in the way of sexy posing with knives was Sandra Bullock's husband's girlfriend Michelle McGee, and her white power kneecaps.
One hopes we've hit bottom now. And that brighter days lie ahead, when posing sexily with a knife will connote nothing beyond the fission of sex and death, least ways nothing like Katy Perry and Michelle McGee. When women may press a blade to their cheek or to their lips... and feel not the blush of shame but that of enjoyment if not actually getting turned on? Come quickly tomorrow's tomorrow and spare us the slow forgetting of yesterday!
*yes, Angelia Jolie has a well-known history of collecting knives and even using them during sex. This is more about the visual fact of the knife appearing in the photograph however, the transgressive image and how it is quickly co-opted.