Downward Spiral

Amanda Bynes Has a ‘Microchip’ in Her Brain. Why Are We Fascinated By This?

A series of deranged tweets about abuse and microchips grown concern for Amanda Bynes. But why are we invested in her downward spiral at all?

Update: On Friday evening, Amanda Bynes is reported to have checked into a treatment facility in Los Angeles under an involuntary psychiatric hold. Her parents will seek conservatorship over her affairs.

You know things have gotten bad when TMZ is afraid for your well-being.

In its publishing of a video of America’s collective stress-dream Amanda Bynes dancing like no one’s watching in a New York City clothing store where, indeed, everyone was watching, before allegedly attempting to shoplift a shirt, TMZ wrote, “If it were anyone else, it would be both fun and funny…but in Amanda’s case it’s desperate.”

It turns out that grinding on a bodyguard in a clothing store before trying to pilfer a blouse is the least concerning thing that Amanda Bynes has done in the last 72 hours.

In a series of unhinged tweets Friday, Bynes, in order, bemoaned that she needs plastic surgery on her face, requested that we all “hop off [her] dick,” accused her father of verbally, physically, and sexually abusing her, and then claimed that her father did not do any of those things—the microchip in her brain forced her to make those accusations, but it was her father who ordered the microchip be implanted.

The first allegations of abuse against her father were that he “was verbally and physically abuse [sic] to me as a child,” before escalating to more graphic details. She said that he “asked me if I wanted to have sex with him and I did not know how to respond and I said no and then I was forced to live with my dad which was a total nightmare.”

She went on: “My dad fondled himself in front of me so many times that I started recording him on my phone in hopes of catching him.” She claimed, too, that her mother knew about all of this, and refused to take action. “My mom knows that my father’s literally and physically incestual towards his own daughter and the fact that she never called the police on him embarrasses me to no end.”

Her parents released a statement in response, first through their lawyer, saying they were “heartbroken by these false accusations.”

In a later statement to the website Hollyscoop, Bynes’s mother, Lynn, said, “I am heartbroken today for my husband of 47 years. Rick has been the best father and husband a family can ask for. He has never abused Amanda or our other children physically or sexually. These accusations are absolutely horrible and could not be further from the truth! These allegations stem from Amanda’s mental state at the moment. They have no basis in reality. It saddens me beyond belief that my husband’s character could be slandered in such a way.”

Of course, this all happened before perhaps the most alarming, worrisome tweet was sent from Bynes’s Twitter account. “My dad never did any of those things,” she said. “The microchip in my brain made me say those things but he’s the one that ordered them to microchip me.”

Yes, a microchip.

All of this follows a dramatic few days in the relationship between Bynes and her parents. According to TMZ, Bynes attempted to flee New York City after learning that her parents were on their way to her in order to convince her to enter a mental health facility, after reports of erratic behavior spread rampantly on celebrity gossip blogs. Bynes attempted to fly out of town from LaGuardia Airport, but was kicked out of the terminal after allegedly screaming at a ticket agent when the flight wasn’t leaving quickly enough.

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Up until last month, Bynes had been under the ruling thumb of her parents’ conservatorship, court-ordered after the former child star was put under a 5150 psychiatric hold, after being ruled a danger to herself or others. During the time of their conservatorship, Bynes attended classes at a California fashion school and stayed sober and out of the headlines.

Just weeks after the conservatorship ended, Bynes was arrested for a DUI, moved back across the country to New York City, and recommitted herself to deranged tweeting on her official account.

Her tweets, as they were at the height of her previous mental spiral, vacillate between tragic self-consciousness:

Apparent delusion:

And paranoid denial of any of reports of erratic or concerning behavior:

It’s the kind of apparent breakdown that creates a swell of worry. We thought Bynes had already hit rock bottom a year ago. If she’s starting to fall again, where will she land this time? It’s also the kind that sparks a shift in the way we relate to these news stories. There’s a moral evolution from our instinct to point and laugh at a celebrity’s foolish behavior—a national pastime as hallowed as baseball and baking apple pies—to wanting to give her a hug.

The same people who laughed at her spiraling insanity weeks ago hit some ambiguous threshold where they read stories about her not to mock, but to fret about her safety. When the story stops being funny and starts getting concerning, we’re washed over with a wave of guilt for our possible complicitness in her dangerous behavior. Did giving her the attention in the first place contribute to the breakdown? Are we part of its cause?

Amanda Bynes isn’t just walking around in silly wigs anymore. She’s crying for help. Even if she thinks it’s her microchip that is doing it.

Our fascination with Bynes is a strange one. We’ve long chronicled celebrities’ breakdowns, evolving our relationship with them from gawking to genuine concern. But there’s typically news value in it, and an important conversation that is sparked from it about the dangers of our obsession with celebrity and of our addiction to the clichéd narrative of their rise and fall.

With Britney Spears, we were watching how fame can destroy the biggest celebrity in the world, and witness firsthand the cost that the pressure of that has on someone. With Lindsay Lohan, we were watching the horror show of self-sabotage, and grappled with our role in feeding into it. And, more recently with Justin Bieber, we caught a glimpse of how insular the celebrity bubble can be in this new digital age, and how incapable a star can be of seeing out of it.

But here is Amanda Bynes, an actress who no longer acts, a fashion designer who hasn’t been designing, and a celebrity who has stopped making industry appearances. What are we getting from this? Why are we still so invested?

As we watch her breakdown via leaked videos to TMZ and her own 140-character delusions, perhaps we need realize that there’s no return on the investment in the chronicling of her breakdown. It’s time to stop investing, because it’s Amanda Bynes who needs the payoff: the anonymity she so clearly needs to get better.