As if America didn’t already have enough crises—a deep recession, two overseas wars, Howie Mandel starring in a second TV show—it now faces the abrupt decline of one of its most important industries: celebrity gossip.
Have you read the Internet tabloid sites lately? On a recent day, these were the top headlines at Usmagazine.com:
• Miley Cyrus on First Car: “I Didn’t Get the One I Wanted”
• Mel Gibson: Britney is Doing “Great”
• Scarlett Johansson: Married Life is a “Very Beautiful Time for Me”
You call this gossip? I haven’t read anything less titillating since the scale at Oprah’s house.
Today’s celebrities ought to be ashamed. With every Britney-is-doing-great day that passes, these straitlaced superstars besmirch the legacy of their depraved forebears, who understood they had been entrusted with a sacred duty—a duty to help the civilized world find its moral bearings by publicly demonstrating illegality, immorality and proper grooming etiquette for a mug shot.
It wasn’t that long ago that the gossip industry was thriving—thanks largely to an unholy trinity of paparazzi fodder. In late 2006, Elliot Mintz, spokesman for Paris Hilton, revealed his client had formed “an alliance” with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. Mintz described the trio as “three extraordinarily powerful women who generate a tremendous amount of attention, money and adulation.” At the time, it seemed easy to imagine what form this tabloid-fuelled “alliance” would take:
The Scene: Headquarters of the Alliance of Sexy Superstars, Beverly Hills, Calif.
An alarm sounds.
Britney: There’s a party in progress at a West Hollywood club—and we’re not there!
Paris (glancing down at herself): She’s right!
Lindsay: Those poor people.
Paris: This is a job for ASS!
Britney: We’ll need to change into our superhero outfits.
All three remove their underpants.
They speed to the scene, stopping only to marry and divorce a defenceless boy bander and reveal their naughty bits to the paparazzi. And passersby. And a squirrel that Lindsay thought looked kind of interested. They arrive at the club.
Together (touching pinkies): Sexy Superstar powers, activate!
Britney: Form of . . . a supersexy pop star!
She is transformed instantly into the 2002 version of herself.
Lindsay: Shape of . . . a skanky female celebrity!
Her skirt actually extends in length by two inches. Plus now she’s wearing a top.
Paris: Form of . . . a shallow, dim-witted nymphomaniac!
There is no discernible change.
Leaping the velvet ropes in a single bound, they enter the club. And the world is safe again for Cristal at a 600 per cent markup.
Days after Mintz’s remarks, a drunken Tara Reid would take the stage at a Chicago nightclub on New Year’s Eve—and, as midnight approached, fail to successfully count backwards from 20. Three hours later on the West Coast, a bloated Spears would pass out in public. Truly this was the golden age.
But now the U.S. is suffering through a severe recession of public inebriation, public nudity and public shaving-all-the-hair-off-your-head-for-some-reason. The gossip highlight of this past New Year’s? TMZ.com revealed photos of Mark Wahlberg taking a leak while golfing.
At a time when we need their degenerate antics the most—both as an escape from reality and as stimulus for the crucial celebrity-lawyer segment of the American economy—the rich and inexplicably famous are letting us down. We get Angelina and Brad, who work as UN ambassadors, when what we really need is Whitney and Bobby, whose domestic life required UN intervention. Courtney Love is sober. Cameron Diaz is giving guest lectures on the environment. And J.Lo has been married for almost five whole years—to the same man. Experts now predict that by 2015, American production of celebrity-based debauchery could fall behind that of Britain, Australia and Amy Winehouse’s tour bus.
Listen up, Hollywood stars: we don’t begrudge you the opulent mansions and the oversized entourages and the multi-million-dollar paycheques you get for standing in front of a camera and farting on cue or spending three long, hard days with your tongue buried in Halle Berry’s mouth.
But we demand something in return. We demand tabloid fodder worthy of a blaring cover headline featuring the words “Out of Control” and a blurry photograph of you punching a cop or exposing yourself publicly, preferably to a nun. That is the basis for the anti-social contract that binds us.
Celebrities of America: in this time of crisis, ask not what your country can do for you; ask who you can do for your country. After all, our sense of decency isn’t going to violate itself.