Sunday, 28 June 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #313: The 5 Stages of Gossip

I try to avoid celebrity gossip on this blog. Not so much out of a sense of moral superiority, but because after living in the 24/7/365 celebrity culture that surrounds us, I've come to realize that famous people are fundamentally boring people.

Too many follow predictable patterns of rise, fall, comeback, and crash, and usually for no better reason than common stupidity.

But I would like to take a moment to talk about the business of gossip.

Gossip, especially about the rich and the famous, is as old as civilization itself. I'm sure on a back wall of an ancient ruin in Iraq someone scratched Xerxes is cheating on his concubines with his catamite in cuneiform.

Of course that went into overdrive with the birth of the modern film industry. Hollywood created "more stars than in heaven" and while at first the studios kept the gossip under some semblance of control, they couldn't control it completely.

Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper became legends as the first modern gossip columnists, reporting on the sins, both mortal and venal of Hollywood's new elite. Walter Winchell soon followed, putting the power brokers of Washington and New York in his sights as well.

One thing that these groundbreaking gossips learned was that they didn't get ahead by being liked, they got ahead by being feared.

Celebrities had to kiss their ass or find their careers being slaughtered with rumor, innuendo, and sometimes outright slander at the hands of this unholy trio and their acolytes. Lawsuits were pointless, since the gossip's expenses were covered by their publishers, whose lawyers could tie up litigation for years.

This industry burst from newspaper columns, and the occasional fly-by-night gossip rag, to take over first the tabloid newspapers, luring them away from reports of Bigfoot and gruesome crimes, then mainstream "general interest" magazines, and TV shows from Entertainment Tonight to TMZ.

Gossip also became coin of the realm of the internet, leading the transformation of failed actor, turned freelance writer, turned receptionist, Mario Lavendeira into gossip king Perez Hilton.

Hilton's specialty was going lower than any other before him. His trademark was scribbling penises, or white-dots (for cocaine) all over poached paparazzi pics of celebrities, outing closeted (or just suspected of being closeted) celebrities, and putting general acceptance of the gay community back about two decades by embodying every negative stereotype you know, and making up a few new ones.

Of course his career is following the usual arc of a gossip monarch, he's just doing it way faster than the others, probably because of the lightspeed nature of the media itself.

1. NOVELTY: Most of the major gossip "stars" become gossips because of their failure to become celebrities based on anything like talent o
r ability. So they dig up some dirt, create a public image: Hedda Hopper- big hats and faux moral superiority, Walter Winchell- the "hard living" newspaperman, and Perez Hilton- The catty hairdresser stereotype. This novelty, coupled with the celebrity dirt people crave leads to initial success. This success leads to...

2. POWER THROUGH FEAR: Soon people start to fear appearing badly in the column or blog, so they start kissing the gossip's ass. The gossip starts getting invited to parties with the beautiful people, and treated like they were one of them. However, they are not one of them, and somewhere deep down they know this and this breeds deeper resentment. They start to take the power they have accrued, and the fear it crea
tes, and they develop...

3. POWER MADNESS: The whole business of gossip transforms from just reporting the rumours to making and breaking people. Those who don't pay obeisance to them will be destroyed. Be it an actor Hedda Hopper doesn't like, a politician Winchell considered a "red," or a beauty queen that has the same religious beliefs as the president Hilton voted for.

4. CONSEQUENCES COME CALLING: When you make your living shoveling shit, the wind is going to change and some shit is going to blow into your face. It's a law of nature. Hedda Hopper got kicked in the ass by Spencer Tracy, Louella Parsons had more drinks thrown in her face than you can shake a stick at, and Walter Winchell eventually became a pariah from the people he wanted to hobnob with.

Hilton's hissy fit certainly didn't help his case. By going on the internet before going to the police, he trivialized the incident to one of his own stories, and the childish use of a homophobic slur, alienated the gay community that was already trying to distance themselves from him.

5. CRASH & BURN: With the consequences coming fast and furious, the sources of gossip tend to dry up. Hopper and Parsons eventually ended up just regurgitating press releases, and became "quaint and old fashioned" by the standards of their former acolytes. Winchell lost all his sources, all his clout, and ended up printing his column on a mimeograph in his apartment and handing it out on the street to passersby.

It's the cycle of life, and Perez is right in the middle of it, and he can't even see it.

1 comment:

  1. One thing that these groundbreaking gossips learned was that they didn't get ahead by being liked, they got ahead by being feared.

    Seems there's a metaphor there for gossips and the mob. You know, celebrities are charged "protection money" (though probably not in the form of actual cash) or else...

    Though the mob was probably less slimy. And more respectable.