Fun

Gossip Girl

A not-completely-unapologetic love letter to tabloids.

Illustration by Beth

Last spring, I got invited to a party thrown by People magazine. It was at a bar on a high floor of a fancy hotel, with views of the Hudson River and the High Line beneath us. The room was crowded with celebrities both bookish (John Hodgman, Chris Colfer) and not (some Real Housewives, Tony Danza). I couldn’t care less, though, because I was more interested in the new issue of People that was available for free. It was the week after Drew Barrymore’s wedding, and she and her new husband were on the cover. Drew’s wedding album! I stuffed one copy in my bag and started reading another one immediately, leafing through to get to the pictures of her dress. Is it any of my business what Drew Barrymore wore to her wedding? Of course not. But I had to know anyway.

I am an otherwise mostly sane 32-year-old woman, but when there’s a celebrity breakup–Tom and Katie, Rob and Kristen–I turn into a gossip-hungry lunatic. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know any of these people personally. I know their important biographical details and box office smashes. I know about their honeymoons and their dog-walking routines and which gas stations they frequent. I know all of this because I’ve been coaxed by gossip magazines to think that I somehow have a right to spy on famous people for no reason other than that their jobs require them to be in front of a camera. Even though I know it’s disgusting and wrong, I can’t get enough. I normally don’t believe in “guilty pleasures,” but tabloids are a pleasure that I actually do feel guilty about.

Gossip magazines, though they may seem like the bedfellows of well-lit and false-eye-lashed reality television shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, are as old as the hills, and much older than The Hills. Us premiered in 1977, and became the country’s favorite weekly in 2000. Almost a century ago, Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons duked it out for the position of queen bee of Hollywood gossip, writing blind and not-so-blind items about the stars of the day. When I was a child, the most entertaining part of any trip to the grocery store was when I got to spend a minute or two reading the headlines of the National Enquirer, which was as likely to report a sighting of Bigfoot or Elvis as it was a starlet’s cellulite. Their gossip always seemed completely fabricated, surrounded as it was by reports of UFOs. That kind of libelous news actually seems far less sinister than the kind we have today, with everything happening in real time on the internet. For every video Zooey Deschanel posts of herself singing on HelloGiggles, an act of endearing and cozy comfort with her audience, there are a thousand posts on Perez Hilton and the Superficialist, with actors and actresses looking pissed off at the stranger taking their picture. There is an enormous gulf between what people in the public eye choose to share (Zooey’s songs) and what they would rather keep private (Zooey’s divorce). It’s a confusing time to be a culture consumer, because we’re given both the self-disclosed intimacy of Twitter as well as the gigantic zoom-lens imposed intimacy of Kristen Stewart and that married guy sucking face in his car.

Jodie Foster wrote a beautiful piece for the Daily Beast about her Panic Room co-star Stewart’s current predicament—which, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is that she cheated on her boyfriend with a married man. She’s 22. Cheating is not good, especially not with a married man. Her boyfriend, who happens to be her co-star Robert Pattinson, her lover until the END OF TIME, broke up with her. End of story, right? Not if you’re a movie star. Kristen and Rob (can I call him Rob, just because she does, and it’s what his friends call him?) are co-stars in the Twilight movies, and the last one is coming out in a few months. That means they are stuck together for the foreseeable future, their fates and calendars joined at the hip. To make matters even worse, the glossy gossip magazines and websites won’t leave them alone, posting new pictures every chance they get—and we gobble it up. Perhaps you didn’t screech with a sick pleasure when you saw the issue—such a messy human drama unfolding!—but I did. In her piece, Jodie reminds us that “just to set the record straight, a salary for a given on-screen performance does not include the right to invade anyone’s privacy,” but I’m not sure anyone is listening to her, because all of us are crazed in our need to find out what happens next. Will he take her back? Will the married man get a divorce? What will Kristen do? Will this lead to a Linsday Lohan–style downward spiral? And have you seen the latest pictures of Amanda Bynes?

Because, oh yes, we’ve seen this all before. We’ve seen that adorable pistol Lindsay Lohan devolve into a specter of who she once was. We’ve seen her passed out, in car accidents, in court. We’ve seen her dressed up as Elizabeth Taylor, another actress who slept with a married man (more than one), and then steal him away for her own. It is said that Hollywood has no new stories, and just recasts them over and over again, dressing them up in new costumes, and perhaps that is also true of the stories off screen.

Two days a week, I work at a bookstore. Last Friday, Molly Ringwald came in to sign copies of her new book, a novel in stories. Molly and I, much to my continued amazement, are friendly both on the internet and in the world, and I was delighted to have her in the shop. As she and I were chatting, Molly signed the copies of her book, and all was well—until a creep with a giant camera started clicking away in the corner of the room. We all asked him to stop, but he didn’t. Eventually, Molly’s badass publicist forced him outside, but then he waited there, like a big-game hunter, until she came out.

I felt ill. It was invasive, and rude, and I couldn’t stop it from happening. I asked Molly if photographers bothered her often, and she said yes. She didn’t say more, because she didn’t have to. It was an unpleasant fact of life, that aggressive people would get in her way and take her photograph, whether or not she wanted them to. That photographer would then try to sell those photographs to various outlets, and they might end up in a newspaper or a magazine, maybe even in an Us Weekly that I would get excited about buying in an airport or on impulse while standing on line at Target.

Maybe the problem is that when we see the headline “Stars: They’re Just Like US,” we simply don’t believe it. It doesn’t matter if their hair is greasy and unwashed, or they’re wearing sweaty clothes after their Pilates class. We don’t actually believe that the stars are like us, because we see them on screen, because we’re looking at their photograph in a magazine, because together we have decided that we care what they buy at the convenience store (bottled water!), and whether they’re three seconds pregnant and haven’t even told their closest friends yet. Maybe we need to be standing at the next pump in the gas station when a star is snapped, or be behind them on line, buying tampons and milk, in order to believe that they are flesh and blood. (Of course, when the photos are printed, and only their shopping basket is displayed for millions to see, how are we to know that we were really there at all?) I feel sorry for Kristen and Rob, and for Lindsay, and for Molly, for everyone who has to put up with a camera in their face. But whose fault is it, if even I can’t turn away? ♦

19 Comments

  • Hunter September 10th, 2012 11:32 PM

    I was RAISED on tabloids. I think they really shaped who I am today. I am enamored by popular culture. A lot of people with other similar interests as me will shame me for this, but why? Why is it bad that I genuinely like the Kardashians (Well, Scott, mainly.)… All I know is that I cringe when anyone says “I don’t have a TV.” and says it’s because it “rots your brain” Puh-lease. My brain is working fine.

    • Jes September 12th, 2012 12:02 AM

      “Well, Scott, mainly.”

      I SEE I HAVE COME ACROSS ANOTHER FOLLOWER OF THE SCOTT. ALL HAIL LORD DISICK!

      • paige.xo September 12th, 2012 3:35 AM

        seriously, he makes the show.

  • Daniella Ben-Bassat September 11th, 2012 12:12 AM

    I love US Weekly too. So much that I drew every page of an issue! Check it out – http://www.amigospublishing.com/2011/08/us-weekly-available-online.html

  • Abi September 11th, 2012 12:36 PM

    Love this article.

  • all-art-is-quite-useless September 11th, 2012 1:40 PM

    YES. I should hate magazines like that but… I love them.

    Also, do you love “real-life” magazines? you know, the ones about supposedly real people, just members of the public, that weird things happen to and they get an article about them? With headlines like “OMG, I want to marry my dog!” or “THE SICKO BOYFRIEND THAT [insert awful/sickening/bizarre thing here”? Well, I love them too.

    • paige.xo September 12th, 2012 3:36 AM

      yes omg. magazines are the best thing ever.

      • Cutesycreator aka Monica September 15th, 2012 1:03 PM

        I’d love to read a LTBTE: Magazines article on Rookie!

  • joenjwang September 11th, 2012 5:02 PM

    Here is a different opinion to Jodie Foster’s (for balance!):
    Nathaniel R. responded with the assertion that every job comes with its personal toll and that the one that comes with acting is prying media attention:
    “I think everyone with a little perspective understands that the enormous salaries movie stars can command for only a few weeks work (remember Kristen Stewart made $34.5 million last year which is more than most of us will earn in a lifetime) are not paid to them for simply “giving an on-screen performance” as Foster states. The obscene salaries are in fact mortgage payments on Stardom. The crushing stacks of money can then be used to restore some Sacrified [sic] Privacy equilibrium in the form of bodyguards, impenetrably secure mansions, private jets, plenty of time to oneself in luxurious remote locales, and so on…”
    They’re both right. The attention is doubtless difficult for actors, and there’s no special moral justification for it—and yet, it is crucial to the very nature of acting. Actors differ from us in yet another way: they’re photographed not just taking out the garbage or walking the dog; they’re photographed having sex (or, rather, persuasively pretending to do so), committing murders (rather, doing a convincing imitation of a murderer), leading nations, fomenting revolutions, saving the planet from intergalactic marauders, and doing all sorts of other things in the realm of the extreme.

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/08/kristen-stewart-jodie-foster-and-med

  • youngfridays September 11th, 2012 6:33 PM

    I stay away from tabloids, I don’t have any interest in celebrities personal life, I love learning about their achievements or what they have done – but I really don’t care who they are dating or what they are doing. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. End of.

    faithmrljak.wordpress.com

  • kdev1018 September 12th, 2012 2:29 PM

    I think what makes tabloids so interesting is the celebrities in them become a character type. As we grow up we are taught to read and identify with the characters in our favorite books. Tabloids are good solution to a that quick fix of reading about a “real life” character. It is an endless stream of information, that leaves us thinking, what is going to happen next?!? What will be the fate of Rob and Kristin is similar to our reason for reading Twilight. Will Bella and Edwards relationship work out? The line between fact and fiction gets blurred because we get the same type of feeling and excitement from Tabloids. There’s also less commitment involved in reading a tabloid versus a book and they’re available in so many places.

    That said, it sucks to be one of those real life characters, because suddenly the mundane tasks in your life become a fascination for a whole lot of people. But it could be worse…

  • girlswithsecrets September 12th, 2012 4:40 PM

    “Maybe we need to be standing at the next pump in the gas station when a star is snapped, or be behind them on line, buying tampons and milk, in order to believe that they are flesh and blood.”–THIS, YES! Actors/singers/etc are just people whose jobs mean they are in the public eye almost all the time. Many of them pursue their career, not because they want to be hounded by cameramen when they’re in line at Starbucks, but because they are artists who love what they do. They do not deserve to be treated the way that they are. A “regular person” (IE: doctor, psycologist, secretary, barista, etc) would be able to call the police if strange men took photos of them everywhere they went, yelled at them on the street, jumped onto the roof of their car, and spread lies about them on the internet. Yet a celebrity must be subjected to all of this with no right to argue? More people should read that wonderful Jodie Foster argument and try to understand how painful it must be for young artists to grow up having their every embarrassment published for the world to see. EVERYONE is a human being, actors are no different. I guarantee this entire site would be in an uproar if Tavi or any of the Rookie girls were suddenly being snapped “with no makeup”, followed on the street, bashed in slanderous tabloids, or videotaped tripping on the street. That’s because I think there is a level of intimacy and respect on this website, and the writers/photographers/artists involved are regarded as passionate artists, not fame-seekers. That level of respect should be attached to other artists as well.

  • brynntheredonethat September 12th, 2012 6:27 PM

    You know, I have the same problem, but oddly enough I seem to be more interested in the boring stuff — like are you eating lunch right now? What are your favorite books? What random thoughts do you have? When do you do your grocery shopping? It’s like I’m so determined to understand them as every day people that when someone’s like “SNOOKI’S PREGNANT” I shrug it off, because it’s such an outlandish and unexpected story. Not that I don’t care — I just care more about the everyday stuff, I guess.

  • lifeo September 12th, 2012 7:00 PM

    Love this article. It’s funny, I didn’t really twig on to just how grotesque and downright bizarre the whole idea of gossip stories were until I got away from them- the last straw was when I saw a post by P!nk politely asking the papers not to print pictures of her kid (it’s worth a read- http://www.pinkspage.com/us/news/important-note-pnk). Next day? Was flicking through the pages and saw that they’d taken quotes from the article as well as paparazzi shots with a jubilant headline celebrating the baby’s unveiling! They knew exactly what they were doing!

    I’ve had a few years of just not reading a single story or even bothering to peer down the aisles, and it’s been great and I feel a lot better about myself (both in terms of my body and not having to compare celebrity figures with my own and in the mind for not funding such a cruel industry). The idea that you can construct an ongoing plotline to a celebrity’s life is just outrageous. Can you imagine going through a break-up like that? While the headlines shout that you’re going through a ‘break down’ or ‘want him back’, photos of your bleary mug as you pop down to the shops are beamed across the world as evidence. Whether you were hurting inside or chilled about the whole thing, it must be so distorting to be placed in this artificial soap opera.

    Sorry it’s long, just something I’ve really been thinking about lately!

  • barbroxursox September 13th, 2012 1:17 AM

    Wow, this is one of the only Rookie articles I can’t really connect to. I really don’t care that much about celebrities. I’m not like anti-tabloid, but I just don’t really care what celebrities are doing most of the time, with the exception of a couple beautiful people like Paul McCartney and Johnny Depp. And even then, I don’t care THAT much.

  • saramarit September 13th, 2012 1:09 PM

    I don’t buy the tabloids but I’ve developed a habit of reading Perez Hilton’s site over the last few months, mostly to follow the Kristen Stewart stories. I think our interest in tabloid gossip is somewhere between the concern we’d have for someone we know in real life (we feel like we get to know celebrities through their films or music or interviews) and watching a soap opera on tv.
    I actually wish people in the public eye had more privacy, I don’t think I’d miss reading about their personal lives. And paparazzi photographers should be outlawed!
    Mostly I wish the press would write about the really interesting things that people do, not just in the field of music, acting and modeling. Thank goodness for Rookie and other publications like it.

  • LeatherStuddedFae September 13th, 2012 9:47 PM

    I don’t know. :)) If you’ve been around technology, I guess gossip is quite inevitable. When I was an eleven year old girl, I used to LOVE knowing about celebrities. And when somebody talks bad about my favorite celebrity, I’d defend him/her. But I’m over it now. :))

    Every now and then though, when I go on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and other social media websites, I always see something about celebrities. When I do, I can’t help but click the button that would show the whole article about that celebrity. But then I’ve learnt that they’re also people who just do their jobs because they either love it or they think they need it. Media doesn’t always give the whole story and there’s probably something else behind it. Who knows?

    But if I were an actress(Pretty sure I wouldn’t be :)) ) I’d want to be respected. So that’s what I’ll do for them.

  • girlpirate September 17th, 2012 10:29 PM

    OOMG! YOU WERE THERE?! I watched John Green’s video about it!!

  • Resh October 4th, 2012 3:09 PM

    Absolutely agree! In my case, the “tabloidsickness” is shown in how I am continuously stalking One Direction on http://www.onedirectionhotspot.com . Just can’t help it!