TV Features

This Haunts Me: Amanda Bynes as Nickelodeon's "Ask Ashley"

The two public images of Amanda Bynes, that of the early aughts and the face-tattooed version of today, seem irreconcilable.

All That

Growing up in the simpler times of the '90s, we had candy commercials featuring anthropomorphic humans, toys that jeopardized children's lives, and Nickelodeon raising latchkey kids to become the well-adjusted millennials who would later invent Instagram.

Alright, so maybe times were tougher than we thought. Maybe we should've seen today's tumultuous issues coming. From the climate crisis and political division to historic economic crisis and coronavirus panic, it's easy to idealize the past, but the '90s were actually bonkers in their own right. For instance, look at Nickelodeon's sketch comedy series for kids, All That.

Among the illustrious careers launched by the 11 seasons of All That are Keenan Thompson (of current SNL fame), Nick Cannon (of former WIld 'N Out fame–but, face it, mostly being married to Mariah Carey), and...Amanda Bynes. Oh, Amanda Bynes.

Now known for her strange and erratic Twitter threads, public struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and subsequent criminal charges, court appearances in odd wigs, and threatening to sue the NYPD, TMZ, and her own family, the 33-year-old actress has shadowed her early successes with public meltdowns and bizarre outbursts (after all, once Courtney Love tells you to "pull it together dude," it's time to invest in a few adult coloring books and download some meditation podcasts–also find a therapist).

After resurfacing in the spotlight with a broken engagement, a judge ordering her to undergo psychiatric treatment, and announcing she has her first "baby on board" with a picture of an ultrasound, Bynes represents that bygone era of Nickelodeon innocence, crystalized in butterfly hair clips and slick lip gloss. How did we get to these down and out face tattoo days?

Once upon a time in the early days of MySpace, the elder millennial actress was a teen idol with her own Nickelodeon show, The Amanda Show, a sketch comedy series styled after late-night talk shows. Years before film critic Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "manic pixie dream girl" (and went on to regret it deeply) Bynes embodied that quirky, frenetic energy as she embraced goof ball characters and rejected the hot-girl-Paris-Hiltonism that was invading pop culture at the time. To many, she was a joy to watch as she tackled slapstick comedy sketches and mocked ditzy girl stereotypes, even earning repeated comparisons to Lucille Ball.

The two public images of Amanda Bynes, that of the early aughts and the face-tattooed version of today, seem irreconcilable. But in fact, there is one perfect image of Amanda Bynes' past and present, a comedy sketch of perfect contradiction that's been overlooked for decades: "Ask Ashley."

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One of All That's recurring skits was the simple premise of "Ask Ashley," in which Bynes plays a child advice expert who sits on her doll-covered, pastel bedding and reads aloud letters from all over the country. The asks are juvenile and absurd, in the general vein of, "Dear Ashley, Why won't my pet fish take a walk with me?" or "Who's that girl staring back at me in the mirror?" Bynes-as-Ashley usually wore lacey sweater sets, Mary Janes, and a pigtail full of ringlets as she sat cross-legged on her bed and smiled sweetly, saying, "Our first letter comes from…"

Every millennial who grew up watching All That, with one of the most diverse casts in the incredibly white landscape of '90s TV, remembers Bynes' chirpy voice reading aloud every greeting of "Ask Ashley" and then pausing to croon her catch phrase, "Th-at's me!" And of course they remember the pay-off of the whole sketch was Bynes-as-Ashley's reaction to the silly questions: Raw, unfiltered rage.

That's right. While Bynes-as-Ashley sat beneath the adorable yellow letters of her name above her bed, she convulsed with fury as she waved her arms and shamed the letter-writer for their utter lack of sense. "FISH GOT NO FEET! AND YOU GOT NO BRAINS! WHAT KIND OF STINKIN' FISH OWNER TRIES TO TAKE THEIR FISH FOR A WALK? MAN!" And then the child actor would heave furious breaths to quell the storm of anger inside her before suddenly replacing her furious grimace with a grin. Then she'd calmly read the next letter; repeat.

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The schtick is funny: a lovely little girl turning into an absolute rage monster and then back again within a blink of an eye. It's also an echo of an unfortunate facet of '90s humor, which was to casually mock and satirize mental health disorders and marginalized identities, from joking about thin females being "like, anorexic" to calling distasteful things "gay" as a synonym for "stupid."

And in that light, "Ask Ashley" perfectly captures the legacy of Amanda Bynes, as the public has taken it upon themselves to rampantly armchair diagnose the actress with everything from personality disorders to mood disorders, like bipolar depression. In a strikingly composed interview with Paper Magazine in 2018, Bynes said, "It definitely isn't fun when people diagnose you with what they think you are. That was always really bothersome to me. If you deny anything and tell them what it actually is, they don't believe you. Truly, for me, [my behaviour] was drug-induced, and whenever I got off of [drugs], I was always back to normal. I know that my behaviour was so strange that people were just trying to grasp at straws for what was wrong."

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Today, while the actress remains under a court-ordered conservatorship for her own well-being (yes, like Britney Spears of #FreeBritney fame–more so than her music at this point), Bynes has yet to publicly share her diagnosis (if any); although prior to her Paper interview she once tweeted that she'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but deleted the post soon after. She also has yet to comment on why, just this week, she was ordered by a judge to check into a psychiatric facility for treatment.

So all we have are two flashbulb moments: the successful, smiling teen idol in low-rise flare jeans and blonde highlights and the erratic woman tweeting that the Obamas and Drake are "ugly" and yet she wants the latter to "murder my vag*na." There's a vast disconnect between the two versions of Bynes, and–while substance abuse and possibly mental illness define the space between–we see nothing but a performance that forces a grimace into a grin.

Amanda Bynes Fox News

CULTURE

Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman. static.giantbomb.com

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did. i.imgur.com

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny. i.redd.it

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid. images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper. nyppagesix.files.wordpress.com

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.

OF COURSE. i.imgur.com

That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.

Implications

So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.

B.S.

Amanda Bynes Splits from Fiancee of 3 Weeks

We just want to know if she's okay.

Amanda Bynes' nearly-month-long engagement has reportedly come to an end.

Her former fiancee, Paul Michael, confirmed the rumors to In Touch yesterday but specified that he still loves Bynes and considers her to be his best friend. Bynes met Michael in AA class only a few months ago—shortly after breaking up with a previous boyfriend, according to her family—and the pair's romance blossomed quickly with Michael popping the question after only knowing Bynes for a brief period of time. Bynes announced the engagement with the photo below. (It quickly came to light that the ring Michael proposed with was $49 on Amazon).

Their love story was not only brief but complicated. Bynes' family reportedly didn't approve of the match, and since Bynes' mother serves as her conservator, Bynes can't get married without her consent. Whether or not this obstacle factored into the demise of the relationship is anyone's guess, but it's safe to say we'll all be refreshing Bynes' social media awaiting an update from the star.

This news is only the latest in what seems like a never ending stream of information that forces us to ask: "What exactly is going on with Amanda Bynes?"