Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Debbie Gibson Poses for Playboy

A while ago I had the chance to see former teen pop icon Debbie, or as she prefers Deborah, Gibson appear in a touring production of “Chicago.” Now, it seems the whole world has a chance to see her appear in …well, nothing.

I just heard that Deborah displays more than her talent in the current issue of Playboy. The issue hit stores Feb. 11, so I guess I’m a little slow on the nudes…I mean, news.

Though I was too cool to admit it, mired as I was in the Smith’s melodic despondency and the coffeehouse communism of Billy Bragg, I harbored quite a fondness for Ms. Gibson at the height of her popularity.

Despite dissapearing from the pop-charts by the dawn of the ‘90’s, Ms. Gibson never stopped working. Her recordings have languished in obscurity, but she has made quite a name for herself in musical theater where she has worked for most of the last two decades.

In recent years, she’s made public pronouncements decrying the overt sexuality of current teen pop acts of the Britney and Christina variety. She told interviewers she’d never pose nude.

With that kind of success and those kinds of convictions, why would she strip for Playboy? A number of reasons.

Ms. Gibson is 34. While in most sectors of American culture to be a mere 30-something is to remain more or less a spring chicken, for a woman in the entertainment industry who feels her moment has passed, it is perilously close to the border of a land from which few dreams return.

Time and again, we’ve seen female entertainers turn up in the pages of Playboy trying to jump-start their flagging careers. It rarely works.

Gibson’s co-queen of ‘80’s pop, Tiffany, tried it years ago and since then her career achievements, unlike perhaps her most notorious photos, have been modest at best.

Child stars who, as they age, fail to maintain public interest sometimes claim their lack of opportunities stem from being eternally seen as a clean-cut kid. Posing for Playboy is supposed to show the world they’ve grown up and free the celebrity from the burden of her wholesome past. Instead, the decision to pose reeks of desperation, a confirmation of has-beenism, a declaration of irrelevance.

Let’s get this straight: it’s not about being naked. If I’d heard Ms. Gibson had posed for photos to appear in some artsy photography magazine, photos designed to illustrate the glory of the human figure; I’d be much less concerned. If she’d done a topless scene in a sensitive and thoughtful independent feature where she turned in an emotionally nuanced performance as well as her beautiful image, it would have been less of a big deal.

But, that’s precisely the point. While those venues would have given Gibson the opportunity to be just as naked as Playboy, they would not have given her, shall we say, maximum exposure.

Ms. Gibson scheduled the release of a new single titled “Naked” to coincide with the publication of her pictorial. Have you heard that? No, but you heard about Playboy, right?

And so it begins, a move designed to rev her career into high gear overshadows her actual work from the outset. Audiences see through all the talk about being “grown up” and “comfortable with my body,” and behold the cynical marketing campaign beneath it. I suppose posing for Playboy can be about covering things up as well as showing them off.

Yet, beyond the marketing, lingers another reason child stars like Ms. Gibson pose for Playboy in spite of its undeniable track record as a career killer. For people who experience worldwide fame at an early age, the rest of life can be a let down, a never-ending quest to recapture the spotlight that once warmed and affirmed every mundane moment.

The absolute rule of entropy, the certainty of decay becomes undeniable as we age. The grave haunts our days. Trying to preserve perpetually the privileges of a 17-year old star is a heavy burden to bear. You get to a point where you do what you have to, I guess. When the future seems barren compared to the past, what can you do but try to leave a trace as you fade away, to call they world to testify again that yes, you were beautiful once and young.

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