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November 15, 2006

Airplanes and Celebs

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Long airplane flights ... All that time to kill ... Hey, why not do some reading?

Still, the constant on-board whooshing noise ... The cramped quarters ... Since concentration doesn't exactly come easy in such circumstances, going through the classics isn't a workable option. What to spend in-flight reading-time on?

The Wife meets the cross-country-flight reading-material challenge by picking up a minimum of four celebrity-scandal magazines. Not all that expensive a habit, really: There are always new ones trying to compete, and the new ones all price themselves at $1.99.

"But why buy so many celeb-scandal mags?" I asked the beloved as we settled into our seats yesterday. "Given that they all seem to package the exact same news-and-gossip bits, why not just buy one?"

"They are all the same in many ways," she granted. "But I had to buy this one to get Reese's point of view, and this other one to get Ryan's. You get the idea."

Flying between coasts yesterday, The Wife spent two hours snoozing and three hours happily immersed in her celeb mags. When she's thumbing through the trash rags, she's really immersed in them. What does she get out of the experience?

"They give me everything that movies today don't give me," she told me. "Trash, glitz, craziness, and campy make-believe that I can pretend to have a little emotional involvement with. They're basically all about glamorous people making fools of themselves. If the movies themselves offered more of more of this kind of thing, I'd be a moviegoer."

I'm sympathetic: God knows that it's been far too long since Hollywood turned out juicy trashfests like "The Betsy."

Still, when I look at The Wife's celebrity-scandal mags I'm unable to lose myself in them. I spend my time instead wondering who in hell most of the people in the pictures are. George Clooney, Sharon Stone, and Jennifer Lopez I recognize, of course. But who in god's name is Mischa Barton? And why would anyone care about her? As far as I can tell, Mischa Barton radiates absolutely nothing.

Though The Wife has a much greater appetite for celebrity trash than I do, it isn't as though I was able to look down at her airplane reading from a lofty perch. My own reading as we crossed the country yesterday was Karrine Steffan's "Confessions of a Video Vixen."

I bought the book carelessly, expecting it to be an EZ-readin' look at the life of a rock-video backup dancer. What wouldn't be interesting about that? Instead it turned out to be a garish brag-session / cautionary-tale by an ambitious young woman who made a life for herself as professional arm-candy to the hiphop world.

Yikes: The beatings, shriekings, pill-poppings, coke-snortings, booty-swivellings, Cristal-swillings, pole-dancings, dick-suckings, trick-turnings, and VIP-room-misadventurings never end. Well, almost never. Once in a blue moon Karrinne recalls hazily that she has a child, and stops in for a visit with the kid.

I stared at the book in horror and disbelief. I found reading it to be like surfing back and forth between a rap-video channel and the Jerry Springer Show. And Karrinne herself seems like a character out of Theodore Dalrymple, only one who somehow wound up in Hollywood instead of in prison. I'm not the world's most uptight person and I enjoy pop books far more than any literary person should. Even so, I not only recoiled from the vulgarity, I failed to develop any fondness for the book.

That left me wondering if I'm just not of the right generation. After all, I am a big fan of Pamela Des Barres' Boomer-groupie classic, "I'm With the Band." Would some younger people find Karrinne Steffans as entertainingly sweet as I found Pamela Des Barres? A lot of Amazon reader-reviewers give the book a thumb's-up, so maybe that is indeed the case.

All this musing suggests a new list-game to me: Celebrities whose real-life (or at least tabloid) antics you enjoy following even though you never actually attend to their professional work.

Hmmm: Who's on my own personal list? ... Well, it would definitely include Kid Rock. I have no idea what kind of music Kid Rock makes, but I do love the way he shows up in tabloids wearing hats, smoking cigars, and smiling blearily at Pamela Anderson. Now that's a rock star. The Wife adores following Lindsay Lohan's ups and downs. She describes Lindsay as "the perfect out-of-control, car-wreck diva-mess."

Together, The Wife and I remain faithful fans of Britney Spears. We'd never listen to her music, of course. But Britney's appearances in The Star and The Enquirer provide reliable tacky fun. Brit's such a determinedly trashy Southern girl, isn't she? And, bless, her, she's never not true to herself.

Our current fave tabloid personality these days, though, is Mr. Britney. How can anyone compete with Kevin Federline for unselfconscious shamelessness? K-Fed may or may not have a gift for rapping and singing -- how would we know? But for providing the tabs with ego-addled acting-out to gasp at and cluck over, the man has a giant talent.

Who are you own favorite current celebrities to follow? Especially among those whose work you'd rather kill yourself than watch or listen to.



UPDATE: It's evidently Descend Into the Gutter Day, and not just at 2Blowhards. Analyzing the Paris Hilton phenomenon, Kay Hymowitz introduces the words "fuck," "ho," and "skank" into the pages of the august City Journal. (Link thanks to ALD.)

posted by Michael at November 15, 2006


I'd put Britney and La Lohan at the top of my list in the same way you do. I don't follow their "work," but I always pause to read when I come across an example of their latest antics. I'm ashamed to say that I actually know who Mischa Barton is, though.

Posted by: Rachel on November 15, 2006 1:13 PM

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. There is something farcicaly, grotesquely decadent about Jolie's transworld adoptions, isn't there? Larry Auster had mentioned that her father, Jon Voight, once said that she's mentally ill.

I used to like Brad Pitt. To me anyway, he had a kind of guy-appeal. But now can't help but see him as a shadow of a man. So diminished in Jolie's radiance, walking half a step behind, carrying her adopted babies...

Posted by: PA on November 15, 2006 1:39 PM

Oh, Angelina for sure. The only interesting thing about Pitt is Angelina. Suzy Hansen, writing for The New York Observer, described Jolie's appeal perfectly:

Better yet, Angelina Jolie fits the star’s bill: We want to be like her—for a night.

She has brought back the big, beautiful, silty riverbed of American romance: queen of the photo op, good-will ambassador for the U.N., free-loving promiscuite, rippling action hero, adoptive mom, daughter of a Hollywood duke of the 70’s, Oscar winner...

In an Ayn Rand kind of way, although better-willed, she constitutes complete freedom, both kindly and voracious. She’s a little libertarian and an altruist sex bomb, a man-eater and a boy-raiser. No one thinks Ms. Jolie would have their back. She’s a lone vessel.

Still, rather than feeling threatened that someone like her walks the earth, plenty of women feel liberated by her for a complicated reason: Despite her packaging, she manages to move and feel like a man. And she somehow communicates the fact that she might act on those feelings.

This strange androgyny is why straight women often say they’d choose Andro-Angie for that one lesbian love affair they keep meaning to have. One consensus is that she’s the hottest: Ms. Jolie’s been compared to the incomparable Ava Gardner; critic David Thomson once proclaimed her one of the only women onscreen, along with Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow, to actually "seem to want to do it on screen"; and she wasn’t cast as the stunning Gia Carangi for kicks.

Even when men claim they don’t find her attractive, there’s a distinct sense that they’re either feeling threatened or being contrarian. Or maybe that they sort of find the thought of all that Angelina Jolie-ness exhausting—What will she want from me? they seem to say."

Posted by: Lee on November 15, 2006 2:55 PM

I must admit---for the first time in AGES I bought "People" recently, and it was 100% for the trashy cover headlines, which included Keith Urban breaking Nicole Kidman's heart as he enters re-hab, Paul McCartney getting trashed by his trashier-than-anyone-could-have-imagined Heather Mills (Paul's daughter hates Heather so much that when she vomits she calls it "heathering"), Ryan and Reese and "what really happened", and Chris Evert getting her second divorce. Ahhhhh, sooo much more fun than those dumb covers about people being happy and getting married!!

As far celebs I am fascinated by even if I don't like?? Lessee---yes, Brangelina is definitely on the list, as, actually, is Jennifer Anniston. Charlie Sheen. Demi Moore. Tori Spelling and Jenny Garth used to be on the list, along with the guy brats from "Beverly Hills 90210", except they are all so out of it now that it doesn't matter. Britney. And, actually, Madonna---I actually like a lot of her music, but find her thoroughly repellant, and therefore fascinating. OH---Kirstie Alley's endless weight loss--yuck. I would say Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, except...I don't even really find them very "fascinating." They are more just endlessly vapid and boring. Faith Hill and whoever-the-hell-she's-married-to. Oh...and Gwyneth Paltrow. Honest to God, has ever such a fuss been raised about someone who basically gave one decent performance???

Posted by: annette on November 15, 2006 3:23 PM

Oh, fabulous. The other reason you need four celeb mags is, they don't have all that many words in them. I usually buy Vanity Fair as well for the world-count post-celeb reading (and if it gets thrown away unread, no great loss).

As a foreigner it has taken me a while to catch up on who everyone is though. Misca Barton has been escaping me for years. And as soon as I had Jessica Simpson down, she disappeared. This is why Britney is so wonderful, she just keeps on coming!

Posted by: Alice Bachini on November 15, 2006 3:32 PM

I enjoy watching the latest round of Hollywood anexorics: Nichole Ritchie, Kate Bosworth, Keira Knightley. I wonder endlessly: who told these girls that looking like a divorcee of a certain age was a good look? Who told them that they should try to imitate bobble-head dolls? (The answer to all of the above I already know, of course: their scary stylist, Rachel Zoe, who, if she is the 35 years old she claims, has lived hard, hard, hard!)

Posted by: CyndiF on November 15, 2006 3:34 PM

If faced with the choice of watching a DVD of the first three seasons of Hee Haw or jumping out of the plane, I'd honestly have to think about it for awhile.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on November 15, 2006 3:47 PM

I am baffled at the interest in these magazines...My wife similarly is drawn to them, and she can't seem to read enough about the cadre of celebs that you highlight. As a negative externality of having the magazines around, I (unfortunately) also end up quickly thumbing through them.

These mags are the equivalent of white bread.

Posted by: totuus on November 15, 2006 4:18 PM

Ah, Michael, your beloved is a woman after my own heart. I am legendary within my academic department for being the queen of trashy stuff, and I love my tabloids and gossip sites online. Why? Dunno. It amuses me. And I come by it honestly -- I recall my grandmother coming out of her room crying, and when I asked what was wrong, she said, "Dean Martin and his wife are getting divorced! And I thought they were so HAPPY!!!" Clearly, I got the gossip gene in my family.

Love the Federline trainwreck. The Spelling battle of the titans. Ooh, the Anna Nicole web of lies. It's a terrific way to keep your mind off of the possibility that your plane could go down at any moment.

Posted by: missgrundy on November 15, 2006 4:27 PM

have no understanding of the celeb tracking sport; it all seems incredibly boring and predictable to me.

At gun point, I might read about royal "indiscretions" (for the contrast of appearances and base human vices underneath), but who cares about some pumped-lipped trashy actress? She's trush, and naturally behaves trushy: where's interest in that?

Posted by: Tat on November 15, 2006 5:59 PM

Chacun a son gout, Tat -- which, by the way, Robbie Williams has tattooed on his chest.

Posted by: missgrundy on November 15, 2006 6:53 PM

But, Tat, part of the fun is seeing how low they can go--especially where Britney and Paris are concerned. BTW, missgrundy, I think our attitude towards celebrities has changed a lot since your grandmother's day. We don't cry nowadays when a celeb marriage breaks up, schadenfreude is the order of the day. I remember sitting in a doctor's waiting room not long after Bing Crosby died when White Christmas came over the speakers. An older woman started crying: "I can't believe, he's gone," she said. I remember being amazed because a) he was this old irrelevant guy (to me) and b) because of the apparent depth of her feelings.

Posted by: Rachel on November 15, 2006 7:17 PM

Did he, now?
See, that's way too much informaion for me.

Posted by: Tat on November 15, 2006 7:45 PM

I totally agree, Rachel -- we know too much dirt about everyone nowadays for us to have the deep emotions people used to have about their "stars" (and what an ass Bing Crosby turned out to be in reality -- ). Schadenfreude is right on the mark. I think we like to see that all the money and fame in the world *doesn't* buy happiness. Plus all the other interesting things -- the clothes, the hook-ups and un-hooks, the catfights, the secret surgeries . . . it's an alternative to rereading Madame Bovary or Henry James yet again . . .

Posted by: missgrundy on November 15, 2006 8:08 PM

Want to go to an incredibly funny, if somewhat raunchy, celebrity watching site?

Go to: What Would Tyler Durden Do (don't ask me what that means, I haven't the foggiest). Comments can be spray the computer funny.



Posted by: ricpic on November 15, 2006 8:31 PM

I have to agree with Tat as well. Even though I do buy the things when flying. It is all pointless predictable trash. I guess some of us just like that some of the time :)

Posted by: Alice Bachini on November 15, 2006 9:53 PM

"Hordes can't get enough of reading confessions, notebooks, etc , because in their malice and spitefullness they rejoyce in humiliation of their betters and weaknesses of the powerful. They adore discovery of perverse. "He is base like us, low like us!"
No, lying scoundrels: he is base and low but not like you, he's different..."

[A.S. Pushkin, writing about the loss of Lord Byron's notes in 1825]

If I am to be branded a nosy scoundrel, at least the object of my indecent curiosity will be someone worthy. Not Brangelina.

Posted by: Tat on November 15, 2006 11:58 PM

Tat - Don't be so bloody high minded.

Think of it as an escape valve from everyday pressures.

Now sleep, deep sleep. When you awake you'll be a normal base slob, like the rest of us. Click.

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2006 1:18 AM

"In an Ayn Rand kind of way, although better-willed, she constitutes complete freedom, both kindly and voracious."

Unlike of some of Rand's characters, Jolie's choices don't appear to involve the resolution of any conflicts, internal or external.

It's easy to do what she does when you have the gift of natural beauty and have also come by extraordinary wealth early in life. Jolie won life's lottery. She has plenty of discretionary income to spend on one thing or another. I suspect the choices she maks about how she disposes of it are pretty much arbitrary, and the celebrity star machine that follows her around will lap up and approve of what she does, whatever it is, whether it's frivolous or socially conscious.

I have zero interest in celebrities, in fact I detest them and the whole phenomenon of celebrity.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on November 16, 2006 3:00 AM

Rick, morning or night, autumn or spring, I'm never one with the crowd.
Paraphrasing the classic, I'm a base slob but not like you. I'm different.

And to relieve my pressure, I require something considerably higher in intoxicating content than celeb magazines.

Posted by: Tat on November 16, 2006 10:49 AM

I just want to know what part of my brain is missing that makes me completely uninterested in the entire celebrity whirl. People at work dredge up these names, or I run across them on the internet tubes, and I'm completely and totally ignorant not just of what these people have done lately, but even who in the heck they are. Frankly, I'm horrified that so many fellow Americans are so voyeuristic about these trained circus poodles. I've sat here for a few minutes while I read these comments, and I can't think of a single "celebrity" whom I would miss if they were picked up by space aliens tomorrow.

I'll tell you this, though...I'm glad it's the way it is, since it seems to be such a deeply vital part of our economy. Who says the magazine is dead? And what would all these famous people do with themselves if it weren't so? Can you imagine the megalomaniacs trying to hack out a living in a normal job? The horror...

For airplane diversions, give me the poorly-written serial-killer/police-procedural potboiler, or the poorly-written, cardboard-cutout spy-man of mystery potboiler.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on November 16, 2006 11:22 AM

Mark Steyn muses about the celebrity culture on the occasion of Liza with a Z's wedding:

It is the genius of America to have disestablished not just the church but the aristocracy. Instead of the latter, we have pop peers and movie marquesses and video viscounts moving through the ersatz rituals of their class purely for the amusement of the masses. What an inspired notion. And, by turning her wedding into a grand convocation of the weird, washed-up and wrinkled, Liza only emphasized the benefits: For one day even the hippest hip-hopper will be no more than Little Anthony, with or without his Imperials.
One of the great advantages of a celebrity culture is the way it siphons off so many of the narcissistic and dysfunctional into areas where they can do the least societal damage.

Posted by: Rachel on November 16, 2006 11:36 AM

MvB: I think you're misreading the Amazon reviews of Steffans Video Vixen book. I found them fascinating and recommend readers follow Michael's link.

Posted by: jult52 on November 16, 2006 1:49 PM

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