Lindsay Lohan
Credit: Jonathan Leibson/

Back when I first heard that Lindsay Lohan would be posing nude for Playboy, I was sad. It seemed a desperate act for a once-promising young star, a final appeal for fame from someone with no other options. It seemed this could be Lohan’s last hurrah, the last time her name would grace a magazine cover (at least, until some sort of tragedy struck). But now, just one day after her Playboy cover leaked on the Web, rocketing Lohan to the top of Internet searches, I’m realizing this could hardly be the end for Lindsay Lohan. This, in fact, could launch the beginning of an entirely new career for the Mean Girls actress.

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not referring to that kind of career. No, instead, Lohan could use this opportunity to transform from good-girl-gone-bad to bad-girl-gone-entertaining. In this day and age — when audiences can’t get enough of booze-fueled disastrous antics of the Jersey Shore cast — it’s not unthinkable that Lohan could carve out a fruitful career for herself as a professional train wreck.

Let me explain: I spent years hoping for a Lohan comeback, waiting for her to emerge from her legal and substance-abuse troubles and land an acclaimed role — and respect — via an indie film, or a notable director’s passion project. But, following theft allegations, several arrests, and her inability to hold onto a role (hello Inferno!), it seems less and less likely that we’ll ever see her reemerge as an in-demand, A-list movie star. She still could, however, reemerge as an in-demand, D-list star. If the past 10 years of television has proven anything, it’s that Americans love train wrecks as much as they love their freedom and Baconnaise. It’s why The Osbournes revolutionized television. It’s why The Bachelor is entering its 16th season. It’s why Paris Hilton was a tabloid cover girl before she did anything at all. It’s why Courtney Stodden is a thing that actually exists and… oh god, why do I care about her?! Playboy might seem like the nail in the coffin for Lohan’s career, but it could just be the directional change Lohan needs for audiences to accept her not as a sad burnout, but as a professional train wreck.

And, as we’ve seen with the Kardashians, “professional train wreck” is a career in Hollywood. Professional train wrecks star in reality shows. Professional train wrecks make cameos in terrible movies. Professional train wrecks host TV shows on tiny cable networks. And plenty of celebrities before Lohan have used Playboy to start that very type of career: After posing in the magazine, Shannen Doherty got a genius gig as the host of Scare Tactics, appeared on Dancing With the Stars, and starred in her own reality show, Breaking Up With Shannen Doherty; Denise Richards proved to be chuckle-worthy on Denise Richards Colon It’s Complicated; Debbie Gibson and Tiffany snagged steady paychecks starring in Syfy movies like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and Mega Piranha; and Pamela Anderson, the woman who paved the way for professional train wrecks everywhere, starred in the campy V.I.P., cameo-ed in Scary Movie 3, and even inspired an animated series, Stripperella.

Of course, it’s up to Lohan to make this type of career a plausible one. And it requires a personality trait that the actress could very well lack: Self-awareness. (After all, Lohan was still talking about her Oscars future this past April on Leno.) Ozzy Osbourne, Paris Hilton, Denise Richards, Pamela Anderson, and (I hope) Courtney Stodden are all mildly entertaining because they’re in on the joke. They understand that they’re viewed as disasters, and do everything in their power to give America the train-wreck entertainment they clamor for. Take away that self-awareness, and you have Anna Nicole Smith, another Playboy cover girl whose train-wreck life turned fatal.

But I hold high hopes that Lohan is savvy enough to follow the right path. And, more importantly, she continues to be a fascinating figure to audiences — love her or hate her, at least you feel something for her. We might be seeing more than we ever have of Lohan in Playboy, but should she decide to be just as revealing about her personal life — with a sense of humor about her image in tow — we might just start laughing with her, instead of at her. And that would be kind of fetch, wouldn’t it?

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

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