Monday, 7 January 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On... #20: Fahrenheit 90210

Well, well, it looks like I've gone full circle.

You may recall that this little feature began when I decided to turn from mocking celebrities to looking at the deeper problems in our pop culture universe. In fact, my very first post was about Britney Spears and how MTV/Viacom were a bunch of bastards.

Well, just when I thought I was out of talking about Britney, they pull me back in! (Complete with poorly constructed Godfather 3 reference)

In case you finally moved to that cave in Sumatra and I'm the only website the bats will let you get, Britney's back in the news... as if she's ever out of it, because she was... well... out of it.

I'm of the Dennis Miller school of thought, I won't make fun of her because I don't want to be the last person to make a joke about her before she pops herself. She's obviously suffering from some form of mental illness combined with a substance abuse problem.

No, I'd rather talk about what I call the bottomless tabloid chum bucket we are all sloshing around in.

But first, as usual, a little history.

There has always been a deep interest, a sense of schadenfreude, if you will about the foibles and failures of the rich and famous. As Arthur Schopenauer once said:
Neid zu fühlen ist menschlich, Schadenfreude zu genießen teuflisch.

It goes back to the time Zag the caveman chuckled when Tog, the inventor of fire, stepped in his own invention and inadvertently invented the Lindy Hop.

epicaricacy is especially keen when the star system was born. About the same time that was created two kinds of media emerged. First there was the studio-dominated 'puff' publications, magazines, newspaper articles, and radio pieces designed to make the celebrities in question look good and maintain their studio groomed image.

Then there was the dark side.

Shady publications, printed on cheap paper, who specialized in tales of Hollywood decadence and vice, who usually tried to have the word 'Confidential' in the title.

These publications were never welcome around Hollywood, considering that their bread and butter was to dig up tales of addictions, infidelities, and proclivities that would shock Mr. & Mrs
Average American.

The shadier tabloids were the bane of the studios, and were often small shoe-string operations run by colourful hustlers who were always skirting bankruptcy, libel suits, and sometimes physical intimidation.

Many of these operations waned in popularity with the decline of the first star system, some shifted from Hollywood dirt to tales of alien abductions and bigfoot sightings. Mostly because bigfoot doesn't have a lawyer, yet.

Then things started to change.

Stars were back and they were everywhere.

Entertainment Tonight (the TV equivalent of Photoplay magazine) and new publications started to profile celebrities in a publicist-friendly way. They started to catch on.

Soon other entertainment themed shows emerged.

Then came all-entertainment cable channels.

Then came the dark side.

Tabloids, used to cover lurid tales of sex-changing aliens and government conspiracies involving Noah's Ark, started to imitate their predecessors and began looking at the side of celebs that their publicity machines didn't want you to see. These began to sell like hot cakes in a town where they really love their hot-cakes.

Now this would have re-started the war between the studios and the tabloids but two things changed.

1. The tabloids and the studios were often related on a corporate level thanks to the convoluted structures of many modern media conglomerates.

2. The concept of 'any publicity is good publicity' was somehow taken as gospel.

Soon the puff-piece shows began to leaven their coverage with darker pieces about stars in rehab, or failing marriages.

Publicists allowed most of this to go on, thinking that any exposure was good for their clients.

But there were a lot of weekly magazines, hundreds daily newspaper sections, half a dozen daily TV shows, and several 24 hour cable networks to feed with 'exclusive' scoops about celebs falling down.

This coverage even extended to the more 'serious' cable news outlets, because their corporate parents owned the tabloid outlets, and used the hard-news outlets to extend their brand.

Thus you get constant Britney coverage. Thanks to MTV, which made Britney and is going to profit from breaking her, which is owned by Viacom, which owns CBS, and Paramount, who also produce the Dr. Phil show, and guess what, he's injected himself into the mess as well.

This constant bottomless tabloid chum bucket has even accelerated the classic 'rise and fall' story arc we associate with celebrities.

Take for example British singer Amy Winehouse.

She literally appeared out of nowhere and declared the biggest thing to hit pop music since Elvis shook his hips.

All that on the basis of one song, called ironically Rehab, and nearly constant coverage of her eating disorders, drug/alcohol addictions, her marriage to a man jailed for assault and attempted bribery of a witness, and her inability to coherently complete a performance.

Hell, I have yet to actually hear the entire song Rehab, or see the video, or any song/video of hers outside of snippets played during reports of her erratic if not downright meshuggah off-stage behaviour.

We used to see someone rise and fall, now they've pared it down to just the fall.

Now this is starting to bite back.

Record sales are down, movie sales are flat, and many of the so-called top stars couldn't fill the only rocket ship off planet if Earth was about to eaten whole by a giant alien blob.

People are getting sick of it all. Even tabloid sales are relatively flat, which is why they all savagely fight to outbid each other for the most trivial 'scoop' massive check flying like bullets in a Sam Peckinpah film.

Do the corporations who own the tabloid media think about changing, or at least toning down their behaviour to save the golden goose?

Probably not.

It's the only reason that Kardashian woman has a TV show, so some corporation can market her eventual meltdown/rehab trip sometime next year. If Hollywood can't provide enough stars to fill the bottomless chum-bucket, the tabloids will just have to make them.

Despite the often lavish check book journalism practised, tabloid mags and TV are cheap to produce and easily profitable.

So too, apparently, are stars.


  1. "You can't shame or humiliate modern celebrities. What used to be called shame and humiliation is now called publicity. And forget traditional character assassination; if you say a modern celebrity is an adulterer, a pervert and a drug addict, all it means is that you've read his autobiography." -- P J O'Rourke

  2. Now we have the new breed of the myspace stars, such as Tila Tequila who is famous foe what?

    Getting a lot of friends on myspace, her music sucks and her reality show is no different than every other show hosted by some forgotten 80's icon.

    I am now waiting for the "Goatse" man to get his own show, maybe he can have a variety show with Tubgirl.