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FROM CHILD TO WILD

We've seen young stars self-destruct before. Why, Lindsay, why?

What to make of Lindsay Lohan, the Party That Never Ends?

We expected it, didn't we? Because we've heard this song.

So. Many. Times.

First comes the Kmart ad, then the TV show, then the Disney movie, then the squeaky First Album (which sells 82,000 copies the first week, I love you fans!), then sixth-graders in Wichita, Kan., laminate your photo from Seventeen and write your name on their three-ring binders. Then comes the adolescent movie, and the ka-ching, and the red carpet and . . . Who is she wearing?

Beautiful, Lindsay.

(click-click-click)

Gorgeous. Yeeeahhh!

(click-click-click)

Lindsay, over here!

(click-click-click)

The spotlight is hot, the sunglasses are bigger than normal-people sunglasses, the body guards shout "Make way!" and the inner-circle forms.

And man, what it must feel like to Google yourself and find the first bazillion hits are all about you - You! - and not an influential African-American inventor or a patent researcher from Houston.

Along the way the freckles have vanished, and with them the Reality-Check People. Everyone feeds the beast now, because everyone close is along for the ride. All that stuff you told Regis about staying true to yourself sounds so lame, because who are you?

"As humans, we must fit into a close-knit social system to succeed, yet our primary aim is still to look out for ourselves above all others. Lying helps," writes David Livingstone Smith in his book Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. "And lying to ourselves - a talent built into our brains - helps us accept our fraudulent behavior."

So the psycho-meter tilts toward Danger! (There's a reason Michael Jackson lived at Neverland and believed that sharing his bed with kids was okay.) That no clinical diagnosis has hit the atmosphere is surprising. Post Fame Traumatic Disorder, or something.

"Fame can be an incredibly toxic thing," said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "It can be like narcotics. It can be one of the most deliciously pleasurable things available; better than being rich, better than anything. But it can be very dangerous."

Then mistakes are made and cars are wrecked. Daniel Baldwin talks about you on Fox News. You e-mail your innocence to Access Hollywood.

The story is as old as Hollywood (cue Candle In The Wind), but studios had better control on stories back in the day. What's new is the intensity, maybe the frequency.

"We had fan magazines and gossip magazines'' in early Hollywood, Thompson said, "but we didn't have the kind of voracious, incredibly hungry gossip industry we have now.

"It would be impossible to cover up an arrest of Lindsay Lohan today," he said. "In 1930, you could have."

So we hear it again and again, Paris and Britney and Tara and Nicole . . . until we're numb.

It's easy to sympathize with the internal conundrum: thriving on feedback from fans, but resenting the fact that you need it to survive. There must exist a great deal of pressure in that equation: underlying insecurity, attachment disorder and an unhealthy dose of narcissism.

Especially as you try to mature.

"I don't wanna be 20," a pouty Lindsay told David Letterman a few years ago.

"I'm not gonna be able to use the teenager excuse anymore," she told Ellen DeGeneres around the same time.

Something bothers us about Lindsay. We liked the freckles.

Paris Hilton looks calm in the spotlight. Comfortable even. Britney Spears seems too far gone.

Lindsay is still somewhere in between. She puts her head down and clutches her chest. Hurrying. Defensive. Innocent?

"You're beautiful, Lindsay!"

"Sooo sexy, Lindsaaay!"

(click-click-click)

"Let her get to her car."

She looks up and smiles in the video clip taken after her accident, and we're all there, co-conspirators, watching through the glass.

We don't know exactly how to feel. We see the Mercedes against a tree. Then the running. The cameraman panting.

"Put the f---ing camera down, bro," someone shouts. "Seriously.''

What's that sound? Birds? Birds are chirping. The sun is coming up, but it's still dark.

Lindsay runs toward a house. You don't know whose house it is. It's still too dark. The camera lights are off. Lindsay Lohan looks like a shadow.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at (813) 661-2443 or bmontgomery@sptimes.com.

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To see Lohan's car crash and aftermath, go to www. tmz.com and youtube.com.

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