Nancy Giles: Why We Care About Anna

Former Playboy pinup and Guess? jeans model Anna Nicole Smith departs the Roybal Building in downtown Los Angeles Oct. 29, 1999, after she testified in bankruptcy court that her marriage to Texas billionaire J. Howard Marshall II, who was almost 90 and wheelchair-bound, was one of the most important events in her life.
Anna Nicole Smith died unexpectedly Thursday, setting off a media frenzy. Sunday Morning commentator Nancy Giles wonders why.

How could anyone not know that Anna Nicole Smith, semi-iconic something or other, died suddenly last week, just a few months after giving birth to a baby girl and losing her 20-year-old son to a drug overdose? And was she actually married to her lawyer, Howard K. Stern? Was he the father of her baby? Or was it a photographer ... or Zsa Zsa Gabor's current husband, the Prince? Or was she inseminated with her dead billionaire husband's sperm? Would Anna Nicole, or her estate I guess, be entitled to any of her late husband's fortune? And finally — who exactly was Anna Nicole Smith?

She was Vickie Lynn Hogan from Mexia, Tex. She was a ninth-grade dropout, then a single mom who worked as a waitress and topless dancer, and ultimately became Playboy's Playmate of the Year. She danced her way into a lucrative marriage with a really old Texas oil billionaire and inherited a fortune — and a big court fight — when he died less than two years later. She was blonde and bosomy with a blank expression and a red-carpet smile.

If she was brunette, flat-chested, and had a college degree, would so many of us have cared quite so much?

I don't mean to sound harsh — a woman is dead, her young daughter is motherless — but the attention paid to this tabloid star's demise is embarrassing.

It's a vicious cycle; does the attention and hysteria make the attention and hysteria more valid?

Are we watching because we're interested, or because that's what we're being fed?

I can see the newsroom frenzy: Let's see, there's the war in Iraq, but that's a downer; nothing's new in New Orleans; and Scooter Libby's trial —what is that all about anyway? Back burner that. We'll go live to Florida. Any video of Anna Nicole's body being moved?

It's the sad result of what Newsweek calls the "Girls Gone Wild Effect." Maybe it's time to stop rubbernecking the human train wrecks, and pay more attention to people who actually contribute something positive to our lives.

If every generation gets the celebrities it deserves we're in trouble — with all due respect.