Saturday, November 24, 2007

Semi-Private Lives

The Hulk Hogans may be getting divorced, a devastating development in the life of a family that has been fascinating VH1 viewers for more than two years on a reality series in some other America than the one I inhabit.

But their public pain recalls another family, the Louds, whose disintegration was seen in the early 1970s in a series, "An American Family," a landmark in breaking down what's private and what's public in our society.

The similarities are eerie. Hogan, the celebrity wrestler-musician, apparently learned of the divorce yesterday from a reporter in Florida, where his family lives. "My wife has been in California for about three weeks," he responded. "Holy smokes. Wow, you just knocked the bottom out of me."

In the earlier series, Linda Loud told her husband of 20 years to move out of the house on camera, a scene 10 million viewers would watch later that week.

Like the Hogans, the Louds were not the people next door, living a life of luxury in Santa Barbara, California that was several American Dreams away from "The Waltons" and even "The Brady Brunch" of late twentieth-century TV. The Hogans occupy a 20,000-square-foot Florida estate with more than 30 pets.

Both series featured flamboyant teenagers--Lance Loud, who dyed his hair silver and his clothes purple, and in this century, Brooke Hogan, who signed a $1.3 million contract as a singer when she turned 18, and Nick, a professional car racer briefly jailed for underage drinking and reckless driving

Back then, the Louds were denounced as exhibitionists and praised for pioneering a new openness in an electronic society. Today, when celebrity lives are routinely played out in public, the Hogans are not that unusual.

American fame has come a long way in those three decades, but some killjoys may wonder if it was worth the trip.

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