In America, "Hollywood" and all its inhabitants (i.e. celebrities) are the shiny, pretty things that draw interest much like royalty in other countries. The only thing we like more than watching them reach the stars is watching them fall back down to earth again, which I'm afraid says much more about what's wrong with us, rather than what's wrong with them.
Celebrity "news," as in who is dating whom, who is pregnant, who said what about whom, and the like are distractions from real problems and progress, as are any snarky "celebrity blogs" written for no other reason than to leech off the famous by tearing them gleefully to shreds. That's why you're likely to stop random Americans on the street and find many have absolutely NO clue who represents their district in Congress, but can name of all the Kardashian clan. More people vote for Reality TV talent shows than for the president of the United Effin States. This dumbing down of our nation is no accident. Hal Sparks and his band Zero 1 covered this succinctly in their hit "Animal."
The only thing you know is what I tell you
The only thing you buy is what I sell you
And you can't hear it if it isn't on my station
The doctor's afraid that you'll no longer be his patient
Make the poison sweet so you can swallow
I'm filling you with food that makes you hollow
And every story turns into a paper dragon
A million words but only one that you can hang on (hang on)
I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow
And to tell you how voracious our appetite is for the monster of celebrity, we create "stars" out of fairly unremarkable people in the Reality TV spectrum, who haven't an iota of unique talent. They're generally pretty, provocative and drive our insatiable lust to tear down those who we perceive in stations of life higher than our own, including any unfortunate soul enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.
We have collectively decided in some psychotic way that we are entitled access to celebrities simply because we watched TV, bought a song on the Internet or paid for a movie ticket. (Hint: We aren't.)
But where there's a demand, there will always be a supply... and that's where these gossip-mongering, glorified peeping Toms come in.
In full disclosure, however, I have to confess that I was once part of this media machine. I worked for a "celebrity photographer," which walked a very thin line of "the paparazzi." The distinction came down to this: if you were invited and approved to attend an event where celebrities understood this kind of press was expected, you were part of the "press." If you were stalking and ambushing celebrities when they were just trying to live their lives, you're the paparazzi.
My boss wasn't the kind to hide in the bushes or ambush celebrities in the airport, but her colleagues definitely were. I attended more than one event, shocked and dismayed that these rude fucking assholes (who deserve every iota of that contempt) would hurl insults at celebrities just to get them to turn and face them so they could snap a shot. They didn't care if the pictures they got weren't smiling and happy, because certain publications had a market for EVERY photo you can imagine.
Rag mags who perpetuated celebrity gossip LONG before the age of TMZ would fax their very specific requests. They wanted "fat" pictures of females, or angry, shocked, surprised photos of those going through personal crises. And we would check our catalog to see if we had anything that fit the bill, because a photo placed is money earned. And we could sleep at night because these photos were taken with celebrity consent. If there was a bad photo among them, it was just their tough luck.
In this age of Instagram, most of us have our images scattered far and wide across several media platforms, but generally we can control how these photos are used. Even if your dickhead friends post those embarrassing Facebook photos for shits and giggles, tagging you for a joke, you can simply untag them and move on with your life.
Now imagine having little control past posing (or hiding) from a photo and having ZERO say in how they are used beyond that, even if it includes your small kids, and you'll understand why so many celebs beat the crap out of these guys.
My boss justified her participating in this speculation machine by saying these particular magazines didn't print gossip they hadn't somehow researched and knew to be true. So it was manipulated, but not necessarily inaccurate. I'm not completely sold that is true, especially since there are so many "well-known" secrets in the industry that never see the light of day. What drove the celebrity "news" then is what drives the celebrity "news" now: whatever will drive the advertising dollar. It doesn't have to be true, the conjecture and speculation just has to be titillating enough for you to click the link and drive traffic to their website.
I officially broke ties with places like TMZ over the way the "breaking news" of Michael Jackson's death was handled. Everyone wants to break the news first, but gossip-mongers don't need actual "facts" to print the "possibility" of a major news story. So for hours no one knew the truth, keeping everyone who might care about such a thing waiting for confirmation over the rumor - myself included. And the ironic part? It was nobody's goddamn business.
Michael Jackson was an icon with a legion of loyal fans, but NOT ONE OF US were entitled to hear about his death until HIS FAMILY decided it was time to announce it. If that were you or me, we'd have been livid that this "news" broke while we were still trying to process the loss of a loved one.
That was the day I realized I was feeding the monster. We were all ravenous animals chasing after the titillating tidbit of a shocking celebrity death, so much so that we actually legitimized TMZ and their selfish, greedy agenda to feed/feed/feed what we were willing to gobble until we choked on it.
After that, I avoided TMZ like the plague. The whole idea of what they do had become distasteful. I'll never forget that day in my office in 1998, when the news broke that Phil Hartman's wife had murdered him in the same house where their children slept, only to later shoot and kill herself in the family home. It was such a tragic ending or a seemingly decent man, but there was no time for those in the "industry" to mourn. Everyone scrambled to get photographers on the scene so they could get THE shot of the gurney wheeling Hartman's body from the scene.
I feel sick just thinking about it. Had I been in a much stronger emotional place, it would have driven me to find a new job. It was callous and opportunistic and heartless - basically the opposite of what I know as human decency. This wasn't just a photo of someone looking "fat" - this was a major tragedy. And for people in my industry, it was one more opportunity to make money. A LOT of money.
Talk about vultures.
Last year I went to the Dark Shadows premiere so that my son, who had drawn a photo of Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, might get his drawing signed by the person who had inspired him. Sadly I was reminded of the ravenous glut of celebrity hounds thanks to the autograph mongers (don't EVEN get me started,) who are just as rude and entitled as the paparazzi. But this is what happens when you exchange people for profit.
Writing about the secret lives of celebrities (my own, not real folks,) gave me the opportunity to exorcise some of that animosity and disgust. Sadly, it's part and parcel with fame, so much so that not a whole lot of people can empathize with the celebrity who "chose" to be in the limelight.
But just like dangerous stalkers in GROUPIE, the paparazzi driving so much of the conflict in FIERCE are depicted exactly as they should be: completely unnecessary complications people must survive in order to do that which they love. They're the bad guys, the antagonists, who feed into this idea that celebrities are public domain. If you're like my characters, who happen to live and love in that world, this is a GINORMOUS pain in the ass. Having any private life at all usually means you have to play the game to some degree, even if it's not validating their speculation with vehement denials that would only fuel the fire. Letting a rumor run its course until some other story comes along (and it will,) is very often a common line of defense, even when it means millions of people you don't know will judge and hate you as a result, which would jeopardize your very livelihood because you, essentially, are your brand.
If you can imagine living your life this way, and how much it would S U C K, then congratulations. You've grasped the larger idea of celebrity gossip and have elevated to a great mind. You're also ready to read how Jordi Hemphill navigates this tricky terrain when the rest of her world is falling apart.
EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT* of EPIC, the conclusion to my New Adult coming-of-age FIERCE trilogy. (*May contain spoilers for readers new to the series.)
After a shower and some breakfast, I killed time waiting for Maggie to come over for our exercise session by sending a text to Vanni. I needed his input on what to do about my birth mother. He was a fellow orphan like me, so he had been my closest confidante throughout the process I began when I came home from Iowa.
“I’m scared,” I confided in the text.
Though I knew how busy he was juggling the new season of Fierce, he was quick to reply. “You’re fearless,” he corrected.
I laughed. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
“I know you better than almost anyone,” he reminded. “I see you, Jordi. I always have. And I think you should do it. You’ve spent too long and lost so much to carve out this future for yourself. Don’t let regret stop you now.”
I was still torn with what to do by the time Maggie arrived in her sweats, carrying a towel in one hand and a DVD in the other. When she produced said DVD, I dissolved into hopeless laughter just reading the title. “Belly dancing? Are you serious, Mags?”
She waved away the rest of my giggles. “As a matter of fact, I am. Scoff if you want but there are a lot of health benefits to belly-dancing, and I thought it would be a fun way to strengthen your core, release your stress and relieve your back pain.” I glanced at all the women on the jacket of the DVD, all of whom combined probably didn’t weigh what I weighed. They were slight wisps of femininity, with a fluid grace that made me feel like a thundering hippo in comparison. “And look completely and utterly ridiculous,” I added.
Maggie took the DVD from my hand. “Who’s going to see but me?” she asked with a pointed look.
I shrugged. She was right. We moved the furniture from in front of our big screen TV and started our new workout. The beginning was fairly generic, warming up the body the way I’d become accustomed to warming up before a workout. Some of the moves involved the hips and pelvis more, and I tried not to think of how utterly ridiculous I must have looked. It wasn’t so much a dance, but a serious of exercises. Within a few minutes, I realized that it was, in fact, a low-impact workout which wasn’t too intimidating when slowed down and broken into simple steps. Once the tempo increased, I was able to pull off the movements in a way I never would have expected.
I guessed I had all the numbers on Fierce to thank for that.
Unlike the dance numbers on my reality show, however, the belly-dancing actually felt more organic. When I said as much to Maggie, she said, “It’s designed to work with the body rather than against it.”
After two more routines, we brought the workout to a close. Maggie left the DVD with me before she was off and running back to the studio. Out of curiosity, I cued up some additional workouts on the DVD, just so I could see what I was getting myself into. Since I was still feeling pretty good, I decided to walk through some of the different steps. It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I might have feared. In fact, it was even kind of fun.
There was a smile on my face as I grabbed a glass of water flavored with cucumber and mint, opened up my computer and checked my social media.
As usual, letting the “real world” invade the sanctity of my hermit hole was my one-way ticket to a bad mood. I found that Eddie Nix was trending, along with Shelby Goddard. Curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link, which was a candid shot by PING to announce how chummy Eddie and Shelby were now that he’d moved to Tennessee to go to school. Miles O’ Rourke was also quick to post his opinion on how the cozy couple seemed to be comforting each other through their troubles, being run over by that big ol’ train of celebrity.
@MilesKnowsItAll Sources close to the couple say they’ve been inseparable since Eddie landed in TN.
A pic was posted alongside, showing Eddie escort Shelby toward a restaurant, her head down and his arm up to shield her.
@MilesKnowsItAll Looks like our dear Shelby finally found a true hero. #eddieandshelby
I felt bile rise in my throat as I stared at the photo. She looked dainty and small in his strong arms, much thinner even than the last time I saw her. She looked all of twelve, and it hurt my heart to realize that she had been thrown back into the shark tank that was her family home in Tennessee. Worse, a barracuda like Eddie was determined to hitch his wagon to her broken cart. Despite my common sense screaming at me, I decided to dig a little to find out exactly what was going on. It was even worse than I could have predicted. Eddie was taking political science classes, no doubt to cozy up to Coy Goddard, who had recently thrown his hat in the ring to run for state senate.
He was a lying, no-good, snake in the grass. And poor Shelby was the defenseless mouse about to be ingested. I opened up my desk drawer and withdrew the security DVD that would stop all his lies and his nefarious plan right in his tracks. I could send this to her for no other reason than to protect her from trusting the wrong person – again – but I knew it would come at a great cost. My tapes with Jace would be released far and wide, and I could only imagine how the media would receive that.
It made me think about my song and my stupid, silly attempts to belly dance. If that tape got out, I really would be a colossal joke for anyone out there who had an opinion.
And I already knew that just about everyone did.
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