Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, and the Entertainment Industry’s Values

It’s true Lindsay Lohan was not exceptionally good on Saturday Night Live this weekend, though the Real Housewives of Disney sketch was brilliant and Kristen Wiig should definitely play a dissolute princess again at some point:

But the main thing the furor over her appearance on the show made me think about was why the question of whether Lohan could—and should—be working again is even close to as heated as discussions about Chris Brown and Charlie Sheen. Vulture wants to know why she keeps getting chances in the industry (and totally mischaracterizes her performance and character in Prairie Home Companion, for the record). Gawker treats the question of whether she was good on the show as a Zen koan in need of extensive contemplation.

Lindsay Lohan has absolutely had some issues. She appears to have had substantial problems with substance abuse. She stole some jewelry and was punished for her. She apparently behaved somewhat badly on the set of her movie Georgia Rule—Jane Fonda, who has not had such a hot streak picking projects herself lately, complained about Lohan. She’s potentially a lesbian in a climate that can be pretty limiting to the career prospects of gay women. She also has a notoriously dysfunctional family, who have placed obligations on her ranging from having to support her mother to dealing with her father who’s done everything from condemn Lohan’s relationship with Samantha Ronson to be arrested for battering his girlfriend. That’s quite a bit to put up with, but Hollywood’s had quite a nice little streak of rehabilitating women with similar issues. Britney Spears has a steady boyfriend, a resurrected career, and custody of her kids bad. Nicole Richie’s overcome both eating and substance issues to launch a successful jewelry line and have a couple of deeply adorable munchkins. Paris Hilton, the most notorious of a generation of Hollywood party girls, has quieted down. Given the extent of Lohan’s talent and the trajectory of her peers, it’s totally reasonable that she’d be given subsequent chances.

Charlie Sheen has also had some issues. Unlike Lohan, however, the harm he’s done is as much to other people as it is himself. He’s got substance abuse issues he’s been treated for repeatedly. He’s also shot, strangled, and thrown a woman to the ground. And if it’s true that he’s been largely professional and together when he’s on the job, throwing a months-long temper tantrum about his current and former employer and getting a $25 million settlement is at least as costly and distracting as anything Lohan ever did. And Sheen’s talent-based glory days are at least as far from his present as Lohan’s are from hers—maybe even further. It’s pretty bizarre that doing harm to yourself makes you a pathetic object of condemnation but doing harm to others earns you supporters who are eager to forgive you or regard you as a badass.