Oprah's OWN drew solid ratings for the premiere of its Lindsay Lohan docuseries. Are we watching for the wrong reasons?

By Karen Valby
Updated March 14, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

The most honest words uttered in the debut of Lindsay, the new and deeply problematic docuseries about the troubled actress, came not from the maniacally self-absorbed Lohan or the show’s benefactor, Oprah Winfrey. Rather, they came from a fan on the street who was glibly effusive when asked to speak on behalf of the people. “I’m a big fan of Lindsay Lohan,” he said with a happy grin on his face, “both as an actress and as a media sensation.” Isn’t it just so entertaining when a young woman is so misguided and bent on destruction that she lands in rehab for a sixth time? As a culture we seem to value Lohan, and countless women before her, as little more than cheap spectacle, marveling at how far former good girls can fall from our manufactured pedestals.

The show was not without its odd voyeuristic pleasures. Show business has never looked so unglamorous as when Lohan’s smartly dressed assistant, whose former bosses range from Sean Astin to Prince, was tasked with packing up her floor-to-ceiling-stuffed hotel room. Earlier, Lohan’s storage unit of expensive junk was the size of an abandoned airplane hangar. I’m convinced that if this woman jettisoned 95 percent of her belongings and spent an anonymous year reading novels and going to meetings, she might just have a shot at enjoying her 30s. Instead she’s starring on a reality series whose viewers spent an inordinate amount of Twitter bandwidth snickering about the amount of side boob she exposed during the hour.

On the same weekend of the Lindsay premiere, news broke that Charlie Sheen had reportedly delayed production by failing to show up on his show Anger Management. Despite his breathtakingly insane history and smug lack of contrition, an ever-hopeful FX and Lionsgate had already ordered 90 episodes after the first season. Meanwhile, Justin Bieber stomps around the planet in his ridiculous trucker hat, racking up charges of vandalism and a DUI, and is photographed coming out of a Brazilian brothel. But boys will be boys, so their crimes and misdemeanors remain a sideshow rather than the main event.

But we eat our girls alive, gleefully scandalized by their gradual ruin. It’s a familiar career trajectory: We hold up a pretty thing like Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez when they’re young, delighting in their virginal innocence. Then we accuse our little ladies of turning into tramps as we leer at them in wet T-shirts or lacy bras in magazines, movies, or videos. From there it’s too often a stone’s throw to Britney Spears shaving her head or Amanda Bynes allegedly setting a fire in some stranger’s driveway — and the shocking realization that these girls have been driven so mad by their crass fame that they very well might kill themselves. Oh, the nauseatingly insincere headlines that would follow about the tragedy of misspent youth and wasted talent.

At the beginning of Lindsay‘s debut, Oprah told Lohan that her intention was pure and she wanted her to win: “I’m only interested in what is the truth.” And yet the breathless teaser for the series delights in hints of an unreliable Lohan falling off the wagon. Oprah can say she’s hoping for a win all she wants, but the truth is that she — along with the rest of us — is helping to ensure Lohan’s defeat by continuing to treat her disturbing life as entertainment.