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Lindsay Lohan heads to jail: Harsh treatment or help at last?

Lindsay Lohan, set to begin a 90-day jail sentence Tuesday, has sparked debate over justice, entitlement, and a society obsessed with celebrity.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / July 20, 2010

Lindsay Lohan watch: Members of the media gather outside the Century Regional Detention Facility where the actress is expected to begin a 90-day sentence for violating her probation on Tuesday, in Lynwood, Calif.

Damian Dovarganes/AP


Los Angeles

The jail door clanks shut Tuesday on 24-year-old actress Lindsay Lohan – due to start her 90-day sentence for violating probation in a 2007 drug case by failing to attend court-ordered alcohol education classes. As she does, the tabloid paparazzi fall over themselves for the last, best flash shots, the evening fan broadcast shows lurch into overdrive with “Lindsay’s-last-minutes-of-freedom” stories, and even the “film at 11” local news folks can’t ignore the story.

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Channel 4 Los Angeles spent its first 10 minutes of news on Ms. Lohan, announcing that the "Mean Girls" actress had joked nervously in a late-Monday message on Twitter that "The only 'bookings' that I'm familiar with are Disney Films, never thought that I'd be 'booking' into jail ... eeeks."

With US troops committed to two wars, an oil spill wreaking economic and environmental devastation on an entire region, and North Korea instantly bankrupting thousands of its own citizens with currency reform, is the attention on Lohan worth anything more than a dismissing glance? Is this just one of many overindulged celebrities who have “dissed” the law one too many times and need to stop being coddled, or is this a “teachable moment” with tangible, real-life lessons for those who dig deep enough?

A bit of both, say sociologists, theologians, behavior specialists, and therapists.

“Of what is Lindsay really guilty?” asks Dr. Ben Agger, director of the Center for Theory at the University of Texas, Arlington's Sociology department.

“We, her titillated public, are the guilty ones – we who track her Twitters and consume the latest headlines about her private life lived publicly," he says. Our celebrity and media culture, which values presence and profile over substantive contributions, is at fault, he says.

"We who devour her should be doing the time," he says. "Shame on us! Is there a lesson in all this? In our postmodern moment, the boundary between fame and infamy has nearly vanished.”

Wherever one stands on all the above, the experts seem split on whether courts should be making an example of Lohan or not.

“For Lindsay Lohan to finally go to jail after having beat it so many times is to reinforce our American values: 'You reap what you sow,' " says author and radio personality Debbie Mandel.