Celebri-spiral™: Enough Already

Our culture is in a celebri-spiral. We're conflicted over our ridiculous, growing celebrity culture consumption via magazines, websites, and TV shows. In 2007, my love/hate conflict made me take to the blog-o-sphere. All writing on this site © Dave Singleton 2009.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

February 28, 2007: Stop the Celebri-spiral Presses! Amanda and Peter Together In Real Life?

Award show season is over, but not before it's leaves us with this Tsunami of a celebrity rumor. Jack Wagner and Heather Locklear, who played lovers in Melrose Place, may be dating, according to a new report. Here's the scoop:

Heather Locklear and her former Melrose Place co-star Jack Wagner shocked guests at the Beverly Hills Hotel when they showed up holding hands for an Oscar party. Locklear, 45, and Wagner, 47, both appeared on the hit drama in the 1990s and have apparently kept in touch since the series ended. The new celebrity couple made their debut together at Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg's The Night Before Party on Saturday.

It pains to me admit how much I like Melrose Place. I want this rumor to be true so bad for reasons I don't fully understand. Do you remember the MP finale when Amanda and Peter faked their own deaths, married on a tropical isle, and headed off into the sunset? What can I say? Is art meeting life at the intersection of Celebrity and Rerun? Is the book title wrong? Maybe love is like an 80s song.

Amanda Woodward belonged with Peter Burns, not with mean mobster Jack Parezi, sexy but insecure Jake, or slow-eyed Kyle. Peter Burns deserved better than crazy Kim, sassy Sydney, or Taylor, the big-lipped stalker who grated with her standard refrain "but baaaaabbbyyyy."

To quote from Jack Wagner's 80s sugary pop hit "All I Need," which I now think he sang with unrequited lust for Heather:

Yes it's true we've all been hurt before
But it doesn't seem to matter anymore

It may be a chance we're taking

But it always comes to this
If this isn't love we're making
Then I don't know what it is

All I need i
s just a little more time
To be sure what I feel
Is it all in my mind?
Cause it seems so hard to believe

That you're all I need

Romance is alive, people! It's never too late. Hope is a renewable resource. Love is not the weapon of mass destruction that we've been led to believe. Get out there! Find your costar from the 90s and maybe that's all YOU need. Celebrate good times, c'mon!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

February 27, 2007: Favorite Oscar Moment

This was my favorite mini-moment at the Oscars. So fun to see the celebs relaxed and playful and not so scripted.

Monday, February 26, 2007

February 26, 2007: And the winners are...Lesbians, Queens, Divas, Dictators, Foreigners, and Al Gore

Lesbians, Queens, Divas, Dictators, Foreigners, and Al Gore...was it the Oscars or the next Democratic Convention?

When Melissa Etheridge won best song for her "I Need to Wake Up," from An Inconvenient Truth, I was on my 2nd Red Bull of the evening. I agreed with her, and, in fact, want her to do an entire CD about inconvenience. Include truth, rage, friendships, love affairs, celebri-spirals-all inconvenient at times. But I concur with her song, not just about
America's need to respond to the looming global warming crisis. I need to wake up from celebrity pop culture.

Oscar night 2007. I was conflicted, occasionally investing higher emotions in environmentalism, the fact that an out Lesbian hosted, and sending good vibes to the celebrities I admire. But mostly, I fought the feeling that I've moved on from the unabashed excitement and vicarious spotlight the show once provided. Of course, it's not completely gone. I loved small moments that made stars seem real and "relatable," like Spielberg snapping a photo of Ellen with Clint. Wow, Steven is a real person, who laughs at silly things and knows how to work a digicam. But then I felt like a moron for thinking obvious things like that.

I knew that Cathleen was watching alone at home in New York, and we had plans to text and post live commentary on a Google blog she set up. I knew, too, that our pop culture email group was home watching, ready to send quips at a moment's notice.

Thank God for TIVO, which let me zip through the Red Carpet pre-show at time warp speed. It's an insufferable, sycophantic parade. I watch to see the expressions on stars' faces and hear what they say. I'm tired of pretending that I care what they're wearing, unless it's Cher in a unitard or Bjork dressed like a goose. Occasionally, Beyonce and Helen Mirren caught my eye with their sauntering style, and I noticed Clive Owen and Will Smith looking sharp in their tuxedos.

But mostly, I fast forwarded, especially after Joan Rivers kicked the two-hour ego-a-thon off with a tribute to herself for inventing the red carpet as we know it, much like Al Gore claimed to invent the Internet. You're no Marie Curie, Joan. You are so botoxed, you can hardly squeeze out a few jokes and the five-minute riff on tacky Anna Nicole Smith "jokes" (can't believe you went there) are flatter than your original chest.

My bullshit detector goes off on Cameron Diaz as she’s interviewed. She seems scripted and wants to make it clear why she's there since she wasn't nominated for anything. If you are not nominated, don’t spend thirty minutes talking about how these awards are all about supporting the community. Yeah, they are..when you’re not nominated. As Alan Arkin said, "Losing builds character. Anyone can win.” But I suppose that’s only comforting for nominees. She’s trying way too hard and kicking off my schadenfreude gene. I’m thinking that I’d say the same thing if in her position and that makes it worse. I wouldn’t leave that red carpet until I was 100% sure that every media outlet knew how gracious, selfless, and full of good cheer I was.

I’ll leave the fashion commentary to the fugly girls. No one does it better than them.

Instead, I’m focused on the top ten moments (I love top 10 lists. Read my Grammy Award Top 10 Lessons from 2007) that made me choked up, moved, disgusted. In other words, here’s what made me celebri-spiral during the endless Oscar-thon:

  1. International worldwide talent excites me, but I can't understand what anyone is saying. What's next: subtitles? When Penelope Cruz, Catherine Devenuve, Ken Watanabe and all those Pan Labyrinth winners speak, I feel like Archie Bunker, talking back to the television. Speak English. Bitter Pan’s Labyrinth envy makes me think things like, “those people come here and steal our jobs. Put up a border.” Dave, Dave, Dave. Talent always finds room. Increase the overall pie. Don’t gripe about the size of your slice.
  2. Hearing Ellen, dressed in a series of fancy pants suits and what look like sneakers, comment that “Without blacks, gays, and Jews, there’d be no Oscars,” is a seminal moment. When I was a kid, at first unaware, then later, hiding my gay identity, I projected a lot onto the Oscars. It was a three-hour immersion into glamor, excitement and vicarious overwhelming acceptance, at a time when I had none. But it was all mysterious, unspoken connection. Now, here is Ellen just literally coming out with it. No more closet. No more secret society of gay people. No more need to escape my current environment to immerse in the Oscars?
  3. My entire body recoils when Gwyneth Paltrow struts out on stage as if she’s queen of the world. She slinks, struts, and looks down on the rest of us. Sharon Stone once remarked (paraphrase), “I don’t see how that girl breathes in all that rarefied air she stays in.” Recoil # 2: cuts to her in the audience, looking sullen and spoiled. It's irritating that Gwyneth wants to show us she can speak Spanish, to go with her new Brit accent. I’m clearly having some sort of issue with her this year. But I can’t help it.
  4. My heart swells when Al Gore wins. Seeing Al and Tipper makes me want to turn back time and put them in the White House. I met Tipper during the campaigns and just loved her. Al deserves every bit of good he gets out of his newfound brand leadership of global warming. New rule of Oscar: don’t let Al Gore see you in anything less than a Hybrid, even though (shush), most of them don’t save you a gallon of gas unless you drive a Humvee. Along with everyone else in the room, my attempts at celebri-detachment fail. I am in love with Al Gore tonight.
  5. By the time Jodie Foster leads the dead people tribute, I want to die, too. It’s almost midnight and the red bull has worn off. But I am intrigued by her almost-choked up (it's Jodie. She's not going there; not for Hinckley, not for America, not for you) reference to losing her friend Randy Stone, the producer. I immediately Google to find out that he died suddenly of heart failure at age 48. Hmmm. Married to Barbra Streisand’s sister Roslyn for two years in the 80s. Friend of Jodie. Founder of the brilliant Trevor Project, which I support. Now I am really curious. I hardly give a look to passing images of Jane Wyatt and Peter Boyle.
  6. Seeing Jackie Earle Haley, former child star of The Bad News Bears, freaks me out. He’s my age and I remember being a kid thinking he was cool. His performance as a pedophile in Little Children was brilliant, scary, and oddly moving. But he’s creepy looking. He’s had a long road. It’s a wistful feeling, like seeing a childhood friend who you know just isn’t the same person anymore.
  7. Alan Arkin wins, proving that the old man always has the best shot as Supporting Actor. But my father died earlier this year, so it’s hard to watch his acceptance speech without wishing my Dad had been as funny, porno-watching-overly-earthy, and full of heart as Alan's "Dad" in Little Miss Sunshine. Poor me, dad never trained me for a beauty pageant, shared his porn, or drove me cross country in a VW bus. Oscar shares my pain.
  8. Lesbian intrigue abounds. Ellen, of course, with shots of her mom and girlfriend Porta de Rossi. Melissa thanking her wife Tammi. Jodie Foster, queen of the quiet power lesbians. During the costume awards, I can't help but wonder about Lesbian rumors dogging Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway. Then the winner is announced and my inner dialogue starts (Oh my God, Edith Head lives!!! But she's foreign. At least she's definitely a mannish lesbian. But no, she thanks her husband. I am so confused.) After you think there can be no more lesbians, two more strut out, John Travolta and Queen Latifah. You're the one that I want, indeed.
  9. Sherry Lansing getting the Jean Hersholt Award elicits reluctant admiration. She comes off as Superwoman. But it’s so calculated. So planned. So lacking in any real emotion, from Tom Cruise’s intro, to the film of her good works to her speech. As she walked off the stage, I felt guilty. I really need to volunteer more.
  10. I see dead grandmothers. I see them everywhere. Only they don't know they're dead. I feel like I am onto Jennifer Hudson, who thanked her dead grandmother. When it doubt, steal Jamie Foxx’s speech. I want to tell her to stop faking surprise. You have won 23 awards. It may be a blessing (favorite word # 1), but it’s not a surprise (favorite word # 2). I don't buy her ingenuity anymore. Watching her sing Beyonce's song Listen made me defensive of Beyonce/Deena; it was like seeing parallel universe Effie White as perpetrator, not victim. I wanted to hear Beyonce scream, "Listen, my ass. I. Am. Irreplaceable. And. You. Don't. Know. About. Me."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

February 25, 2007: Gimme My Damn Oscar!

While everyone else in Hollywood is getting corseted, spray tanned, and bejeweled, you just know that Martin Scorcese, the Susan Lucci of Oscars, is pacing, cigarette in hand, arms waving, talking to some "suit." That cigarette is not his first of the day.

Give him his damn Oscar. End the long national tragedy.

He's been nominated five times previously for best director. But like La Lucci, he's been the bridesmaid who missed the bouquet more than once. This year's nom is for the (surprise) violent movie "The Departed." His first nomination in 1980 was for the "Raging Bull," which really should have delivered the gold. Other directing nominations included "The Last Temptation of Christ,""Goodfellas,""Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator." Notably, he was not nominated for 1977's "New York, New York," arguably his most violent film of all, especially when Robert De Niro whacks pregnant Liza Minnelli in the back of a cab, forcing her into labor, amid much cursing and Liza-shrieks. Could 2007 be the year we right this wrong and give this man his due? But first, why do I care?

While I am getting ready for a night of vicarious...something, I am thinking about why people love the Oscars so much, trying to understand why we project our hopes and dreams onto this one night, this one award.

The attention we never got, recompensed by five minutes at a podium? The applause for a job well done? The glamor and pageantry focused on you? Being made a fuss over? Looking and sounding sharp? Being envied (Hello Trim Spa ad)? Doing something the world considers so very meaningful, at least for that night, when they show their dramatic appreciation for your art? Some combination of the above?

Tonight I am watching alone to just enjoy the full "vicarious thrill" experience, which gets muted at Oscar parties or with other people.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

February 23, 2007: Happy Birthday Drew Barrymore, Child Star Survivor

Drew Barrymore turns 32. Doesn't it seem like it should be 132? When was she not in the picture?

From the cute little girl in ET to crazed, wild 12-year-old (Dakota Fanning, are you watching?) to ingenue to mogul to future travel writer. Go Drew. You are making me have a celebri-spiral, because I am buying into what you say, though I know it's all spin, spin, spin. But you have great timing.

This week, while celebrity culture lost its mind, you went to Hawaii with your friends to celebrate, and laughed as paparazzi chased you through LAX. You didn't care. Whatever. Peace out, bitches, I am going on vacay.

Occasionally, you get melodramatic, like during 9-11 when you repeatedly wailed that you didn't know how to do your job. Well, who did, sweetheart? But that's OK.

A celebrity who notices that there are other redeemable things to be in life. A famous person not throwing tantrums or behaving badly. An ex-rehabber who seems to have it together, and can maybe offer a little celebri-hope. That's worth a post.

Now, in your Jane interview, you thumb your nose at Hollywood and consider life, love, and what's really important. Some notable excerpts from mediawiredaily.com:

“I’ve got one wacky family…I understood early that we were not going to have stability. You just have to find your own way and not sit in sh-t and cry about what you think you don’t have. Get over it.”

“Beyond any [romantic] relationship I’ve ever had, my friends are the ones who have been consistent rocks in my life. They make me feel like everything will be okay.”

ON HER FATHER AND GROWING UP WITHOUT HIM…“My dad was a free bird and didn’t want to be a dad—he was gone from the start. Somehow I grasped that as a kid and didn’t hate him for it. I still don’t. I loved the way he was such a lover of things. I would visit him, and he’d talk about how when he went on his 4 a.m. walk, he could feel the blades of grass under his feet and could tell which ones were broken. When he said that, it brought up an emotion of, ‘I’m just glad there’s someone in the world like this—a real free spirit.’ Even though he was a hippie, he was a fuckin’ rascal. I like that combination because I can only take peace and meditation for so long. I want a little bit of mischievousness.”

ON STAYING ACTIVE…“I’m such a workaholic and so fucking on fire all the time, it bewilders the shit out of me…If you’re interested in something, you have to act on it. When you get ideas, don’t just let them be fleeting thoughts that flow into the universe, so that later you look back and think, ‘God, I wish I had done something about that.’ Just go for it and never be afraid.”

ON HER MOTHER…“I think my mom is a good person. Maybe we haven’t had a traditional relationship, but as I get older, I’m able to enjoy her more, because I’m not looking at her as a mom but more as a friend.”

ON HAVING A FAMILY AND GETTING OLD…“I would definitely like to have a family one day. I don’t know when or with who, but I don’t picture myself alone and bitter…When I get old, I am not going to be wearing polyester pants. I’m going to wear old Levi’s and Birkenstocks. And hopefully I’ll have enough hair to wear braids.”

ON POLITICS…“I wasn’t raised in a household that talked about politics…I’m a Democrat and a liberal but I will vote Republican if I think it’s for the better candidate. There are Republicans out there I really respect.”

ON WHAT SHE WANTS HER KIDS TO BE LIKE…“I would love for them to become adults who have a positive effect whether that’s through kindness or if they are scientists or humanitarians or entertainers … if they give something back. The last thing I want is a selfish child.”

Sexy yet sane. I relate to what she says. She was never high on my must-see list, but she just went up a notch. Now if my non-celebrity friends said the same smart things, just not in a magazine, would I give them the same credit?

Friday, February 23, 2007

February 22, 2007: Hung Over After a Week of Toxic Pop Culture

After this week of sad, bald, and crazy Britney "The Hulk" wielding an umbrella on a paparazzi SUV, Anna Nicole's decaying dead body starring in a week-long courtroom farce that was cheesier than her reality show, and Hillary vs. Oback embracing the politics of personal destruction by slugging it out in Hollywood a year before primary, I feel nauseated, hung over, exhausted and dirty, like I just got back from a week in Vegas. And yet, I cannot resist this one last video.

OK, but now I am done. It's a celebri-spiral hangover, akin to stumbling home at dawn down the blinding neon strip of tawdriness, trailed by bags of broken Vodka mini bottles, puffs of stale smoke steaming out of my tattered clothes, and a trio of hookers in ripped fishnets asking me for more money

Now I just want some peace. I think I'm going to read Dickens tonight. Then of course, Sunday is the Oscars. So I better get my emotional stylist in gear and start a celebrity culture attitude makeover pronto - at least by Saturday night - if I am going to be ready for Joan, Melissa, Ellen, and the awards by 6 P.M. ET Sunday.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

February 22, 2007: American Idol-The Bitter Climb to the Top Begins

"Never be afraid to share your dreams with the world. Because there's nothing the world loves better than the taste of really sweet dreams."

I'm thinking of American Idol tonight as we get to know the top 24, then watch the unchosen (note the choice of word. No one is a loser in America if 45 million people see you do..well, anything) skulk off one by one. How innocent they all look right now in their press pictures.

This post is dedicated to them and to everyone vying for fame and fortune
. Think not of what they'll do to reach those two elusive goals. Dwell not on the personal lives they'll leverage, and the grand, increasingly creepy tradition of media barter, as they claw for the brass ring. Factor in no odds, because odds are not with them, as Simon duly and fairly notes.

I hope they stay focused on what they want to say, sing, write, and create. It's a hard road and often confusing for the masses who equate fame for fame's sake and artistic contributions to culture, two very different beasts. But maybe it's good to have a sense of humor about these things. Thus, my contribution is an ode to bitterness from despair.com; it's for critics who make a career out of eviscerating artists and for artists who endeavor to create despite critical evisceration.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

February 21, 2007: It's Not "The News." It's "The Bad News"

Today, I was feeling guilty about celebri-spiraling until I looked at the CNN headlines.

It's not "the news." It's "the bad news."

In addition to Anna Nicole live courtroom drama and bald Britney in rehab, these are CNN's top headlines right this minute:

Iran defiant as nuclear deadline expires

New poison gas blast kills 2 in Iraq

U.N.: Philippines military responsible for killings

Thousands flee deadly fighting in eastern Congo

18 drowned in India school outing

Suicide car bomb kills 8 in Najaf

Howard rules out Australian troop withdrawal

'Sport killings' of homeless on the rise

U.S. admiral questions Iran's motives

Deadly toxic bomb hits Iraqi town

Iran close to enriching uranium

No wonder so many of us turn to entertainment escapism, even sordid, pulp fiction nonsense like the wrangling over Anna Nicole Smith's baby daddy, body, and potential estate windfall. Everything else right now is a total buzzkill.

For a change of pace, visit Goodnewsnow.com and Happynews.com. They may feel a little corny, but that's because we're so damn cynical and conditioned to expect atrocity, like a perverse pack of Pavlov's dogs, salivating over daily rations of misery.

Or, just get the sad news made fun from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. They do a yeoman's job of getting the key news across without making me reach for the Zoloft, Vodka, or remote.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

February 20, 2007: 1st Photo! Paris Hilton Welcomes Britney Back to the Clubs

Exclusive! 1st Photo! It's sweet to see Paris welcoming Britney back to the Roxy Nightclub in Los Angeles last night, where bald-buzzed Brit greeted her friends with a chagrined hick wail, "I shaved mah hairs off, ya'll!"

OK, maybe that's harsh. But may I remind everyone that cashing in on Cele-britney knocked Iraq off the front pages?

I am pissed. Appalled. Wanting someone in charge to please take the bad candy away from me.

But no, instead I view pictures of Britney in a cheap Peggy Lee wig, hitting the clubs again. My bad.

If I am going to read about this, I like coverage like the letter on Arianna Huffington's blog. At least it probes to ask what happened so that Brit can offer her story as a cautionary tale. Turn it into something redeemable, when it's now just a sad punchline for a lot of us.

It's admirable and smart that some talk show hosts are making a point of not joking about Spears. It's a meltdown, pure and simple. It's a terrible impulse we have to go after the vulnerable. But she could stay home and have a nervous breakdown. Why did she need to do this when she knew cameras were rolling? Video footage show her bodyguards making sure paparazzi got clear shots of her hair-raze and tattooing. Last night, she was back at the Roxy nightclub with "friends."

The New York Daily News offers a reasonable 10-step program to recovery. At least they're moving on from gossipy shock and awe to gossipy wry hope. There's muted progress for you.

As for Spears' leftover locks: On Monday, eBay removed the salon owners' weekend bid to sell the hair, so the owners created buybritneyshair.com to accept bids. The minimum: a cool million, with "a portion" going to charity, the site says. Esther the salon owner in Tarzana is the luckiest bitch in So Cal this week, if you ask me.

So what happened after the Iraq resolution went before Congress the same day Britney went bald? Maybe Nancy Pelosi should shave her head and tell us. Until then, read this.

Monday, February 19, 2007

February 19, 2007: Fame Junkie Becomes One Himself

Looking for some sort of Presidential celebri-spiral to honor the holiday? You've come to the wrong place. In honor of President's Day, I am hoping that a village in Texas will reclaim their missing idiot, who remains ensconced in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That would warrant a celebri-ation, not spiral. But I don't see it happening.

Coming soon, there will be Rudy, Barack, and Hillary celebri-spirals, I am sure. I'd just as soon elect Oprah and be done with it. But today, I was drawn to CNN's coverage of Fame Junkies, the book by Jake Halpern. I loved his book.

Now I love reading this interview and finding out that he became addicted to fame while on his book tour:

The book was published January 10, and by earlier this month, the frenzied book tour ended and Halpern found, much to his surprise, that he was in no hurry to get off the fame train.

"We live in rural New Mexico, and my wife's a doctor who does work with the Navajo. I came home from the whirlwind to a house where tumbleweed literally blows across the street, and I felt a sense of -- almost -- withdrawal," he says. "It passed, but the irony was not lost on me."

Which was one reason he was intrigued by the subject in the first place. The pursuit of fame has become an all-encompassing drive for many people, and Halpern wanted to see why.

Now he's had a taste. Let's hope he doesn't shave his head, nightclub with Paris, or move to the Bahamas with Howard K. Stern.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

February 18, 2007: The Sunday Talk Shows-News or Spin Cycle Gossip?

As my mea culpa for a week of celebri-spiraling, I decided to watch the Sunday morning talk shows, which focus on politics. Maybe I'd learn something new about policies that affect our country, insights into our elected leaders, and inner-beltway analysis of important legislation before Congress.

This would be penance, I thought. But it didn't exactly turn out that way. Here's what I found:

Meet the Press. Tim Russert hosted White House mouthpiece Tony Snow, a former TV reporter who's learned the tricks of the trade from both sides of the media fence. Now he's on the inside, no longer grilling. Instead, he's sidestepping and spinning, if you ask me. He totes the party line-with a clear, direct broadcaster's tone-about Iran, Iraq and North Korea. I am so tired of this administration and it's talking points!

Here is a sample that we have heard repeatedly:

MR. SNOW: Well, the president also understands that—look, the way the president’s put it is pretty simple. If you ask the American people, do you like the way things are in Iraq right now, the answer is no, we don’t. We think they ought to be better. We would like to see more success. We want the Iraqi government standing up in terms of taking a higher profile on security, taking a higher profile on reconstruction, being more serious about political reconciliation and reaching out to its neighbors, doing the hard work of becoming a democracy that can stand on its own. So we understand that sentiment...I—look, the president understands that war’s tough, they’re unpopular. He doesn’t like having to be at war and would love to be able to return the forces home. But the cost of leaving before we’ve succeeded is too high for this president or any president to risk.

This Week. Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper extra-ordinaire and, of course, I have a gripe against him for his anti-gay stance. Even so, I really don't need to spend time with him and his wife, Ann, to talk about his presidential campaign, why they decided he would run, and how she’s doing with her multiple sclerosis, diagnosed in 1998. It feels very manipulative that he'd bring his wife out now, to start building his national image. She also helps deflect tough questions.

Late Edition. Wolf Blitzer welcomed Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist who is also a master (or mistress) of soundbytes, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, New Mexico Govenor Bill Richardson, and - ready for it? - Penn Jillette, entertainer and magician (that was how he was billed.) They debated who could win in 2008 and if "the West" will play a large part. Well, of course it will. As will the South, East, Midwest, and North.

Fox News Sunday. Lucky us, Newt Gin-grinch (you heard me) told host Chris Wallace on Jan. 21 that he’ll run for president only as a “last resort.” Whose last resort, don't you wonder? Gingrich has said he won’t make an announcement until September. Hold your breath, people. He is a master of soundbytes, and seems to miss the celebri-pol spotlight.

Face the Nation. Bob Schieffer discussed the "axis of evil" (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) with Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Democratic presidential candidate who just stuck his foot into his mouth a few weeks ago by calling Barack Obama clean and articulate, and Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, the committee’s ranking Republican. Did we learn anything new about a potential war with Iran or the standoff with North Korea? Not really. Then we heard from news leader Doyle McManus and Josephine Hearn, who covers Congress for The Politico. As one listing noted, you may remember her from the memorable headline on her story: “Sanchez Accuses Democrat of Calling Her a 'Whore,' Resigns from Hispanic Group.” Now there's some politics we can all get our minds around! What did I learn? Polls like Rudy Guiliani over John McCain, probably because of his 9-11 popularity. Big surprise.


After a few hours of channel surfing and TIVO'ing, what did I take away from all this?

Bush is cagey and one-note about his Iraq policies. The administration is being secretive about Iran and North Korea. Tony Snow is defending Bush at all costs, because that's his job. The vast right wing conspiracy can't wait to "swift boat" Hillary. Barack is riding a wave of goodwill that could crash onto shore if he makes one mistake, since he has no record to speak of to back him up. Rudy Guiliani is still riding the 9-11 wave. Pundits are speculating about who's the likely Presidential nominee for Dems and Repubs. The hosts of these news shows are forceful and direct in their questions, but where exactly are the news and insights? Do we learn anything new?

Mostly, I heard lots of spin and speculation. Last time I checked the definition of speculation, it wasn't so very different from gossip. I am not sure my "mea culpa" was radically different from celebri-spiraling.

Sometimes the political news is sharp, insightful, provocative, revealing, and hard hitting. But not always. Sometimes, it's just dressed up gossip. Sometimes, cronies can't help but give us other a break and let the spin cycle run indefinitely.

I leave you with this quote I found that made me laugh as I considered our political news landscape, and the uneasy confrontation that should (but doesn't always) exist between journalist and subject:

I hate newspapermen.....I regard them as spies.....If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast. - General William T. Sherman

Saturday, February 17, 2007

February 17, 2007: Blind Items Rehash: Whodunit?

I can tell when I've completely given into the dark side of my celebri-spiral. You know those times. The love/hate wrestling stops, and the celebrity dance begins. Instead of fighting the feeling that tabloids are dirty and wrong, instead you just go for it and:

1) Shamelessly read TMZ.com's coverage of Britney's shaved head, new tattoo, and eight misbegotten hours in rehab on Friday.

2) Dip into Mark Steines' ET mud pool, find out what the bodyguard really knows, and adapt my version of the Lord's prayer to read, "Give us today our daily coverage of Anna Nicole."

3) Let go of sneer to feel impressed by Posh Spice's ability to scout real estate while coordinating a striking new outfit every single f*ing day. I looked like hell when I was hunting for my home-the stress! It was all I could do to coordinate a sweater, jeans and Starbucks in the real estate agent's car without spilling. I am grateful that Team Beckham rolls into Los Angeles very soon.

But the true indication that I am in the grip of something heinous and biting is visiting The Little Known Blind Item Rehash website. Sure, sites like Gawker, Best Week Ever (a excellent show with a shout out to fabulous producer Ann Cohen), and Defamer all run blind items regularly. But no site aggregates them and posts anonymous, "allegedly" true responses.

Cut to the chase, people. Stop the guessing game. Go to the Costco of blind gossip and get your voluminous needs met now in this warehouse of low-brow efficiency.

I fault Jossip for these tidbits (in ital) that sparked my curiosity. They make you wish Nancy Drew and Hedda Hopper had their own reality show:

-Which pretty-boy British import dismayed his date when she caught him with his hand on another fella's behind?

I am going with Jonathan Rhys Myers. During the filming of Match Point, Scarlet Johansen said he was much more interested in shoe shopping than her breasts. You don't need to call in Matlock to solve this one.

- Which shaggy-haired rocker with a perky pop-star girlfriend has the nightclub circuit buzzing that he's been taking guys home with him late at night?

Ummm, John Mayer, didn't you tell Rolling Stone you bought gay porn? We thought you were joking but, hey, if you want to think my body is a wonderland, go for it. I need to be home by 2 A.M.

-Which famous athlete isn't as interested in women as his fans believe? He has been able to keep his sexuality under wraps, but the question is for how much longer.

The easy answer is Lance Armstrong. As much as I'd be fine with that, it's someone else who's on the DL, but slipping. One clue may be the word "wraps." It's leading me to boxing, wrapped hands, and perhaps to a certain metrosexual Spanish fighter whose eyebrows are a little too shaped, if you ask me. The other option could be the recently deceased Barbaro, rumored to be lame in more ways than one. His handlers say neigh, but I hear otherwise.

- Which recently ballooned Hollywood actor should probably be slimmer, considering how well-catered his parties are with cocaine? There's a reason he needs two glass coffee tables in his hotel rooms.

Fight it out between Tobey Maguire and Val Kilmer.

Friday, February 16, 2007

February 16, 2007: Newsweek's Bad Girls. Lessons for All of Us?

I don't want to let the week go by without commenting on Newsweek's cover story Girls Gone Bad: Paris, Britney, Lindsay & Nicole: They seem to be everywhere and they may not be wearing underwear. Tweens adore them and teens envy them. But are we raising a generation of 'prosti-tots'?

The author’s point is that these so-called bad girls reflect a girl's need for excitement. The takeaway for parents is: listen more. Understand where the need is coming from first before you condemn it.

That's fair, and in a world of snap judgments and supply-and-demand culture, taking a step back to understand "demand" before bashing "supply" is not a bad idea.

The author is insightful enough to acknowledge that she, and other concerned soccer moms, are avid purveyors of all things celebrity, which makes them part of the problem. Kids learn by example. She suggests to parents that they limit their gossip, and not make popularity the only worthwhile goal in life. She also advocates listening more to what’s behind the love of Britney, the idolization of Lindsay, and the attention paid to Paris. What are the real needs (i.e. popularity, freedom) being served vicariously?

I'd like to add that the lessons to learn are not just for teenage girls, the ones Newsweek worried over this past week. What’s applicable for all of us who read US and race to YouTube for the latest televised celebrity scandal?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

February 15, 2007: Anna Nicole and Round-The-Clock Coverage

If you weren't having a celebri-spiral before, chances are you've relapsed like I have with Anna Nicole Smith's death.

It's terrible. I'm following every detail with the suspicious and unending zeal of...well, I'll just say it: Nancy Grace.

It started within minutes of her collapse in the Florida Hard Rock Hotel. Of course, the story has sex, money, death, drugs...all the stuff of a steamy novel. It makes regular news seem so boring, no? No wonder the Iraq war has fallen off the top stories list on CNN. The most grateful person in the nation right now has to be Lisa Nowak, NASA's fatal attraction poster girl, who has been granted a media reprieve to, hopefully, check herself into pepper-spray-diaper-misuse-and-jealousy-issues rehab.

The Anna story, and its players, are fascinating. The legal issues surrounding this woman's messy life may, indeed, be precedent-setting. But I am more interested in the media coverage, and how over-the-top it is. Want to see a journalist crossing the line? Look no further than Mark Steines of Entertainment Tonight, who traveled with Howard K. Stern back to the Bahamas and filmed his reunion with Anna's child and his feelings about the media blitz and what will happen next to Anna's body, estate, and legacy. ET and Mark have been on the scene with Anna and Howard for over a year, chronicling every birth, death, and feud. ET defiantly claims it doesn't pay for interviews, but doesn't answer whether or not they pay for videotapes and photographs, both of which have played a huge part in ET's Anna Nicole coverage. Media blood money is changing hands. You just know it.

Every news organization is angling for a hook. Estranged mother Virgie Arthur is in Good Morning America's backpocket. Access Hollywood is so pissed to be left without a major player that its angle is who's making money off of dead Anna Nicole? Larry King, Nancy Grace, and other television news arbiters have spotlighted so-called "Anna friends" whose credibility would be questioned by anyone not desperate for a hook.

Pressure, pressure, pressure all around. But what does all this media pressure mean for us?

In his Media Mix column, Peter Johnson cites the media debate, especially this aspect which I think is so relevant:

These days, all media are under increasing competitive pressure from 24-hour cable news and websites, and that means paying close attention to pop culture — in all its forms.

Some media critics decry the media's obsession with Smith and her death. But as coverage of entertainment and scandal stories plays an increasingly important role in modern-day journalism, those who practice it are increasingly unapologetic about the time and resources they devote to such stories.

"No matter what you thought of her bizarre life, which we covered little of in recent months, her death was untimely and stunning," says Jim Murphy, executive producer of Good Morning America. "The story of what she represented, an overexposed personal life, is very much a part of the American story today."

Says Robert Lichter, a George Mason University journalism professor: "Media now seek out the lowest common denominator, and Smith was the lowest common denominator." But Lichter understands her appeal. "The media can't resist when something serious happens to someone frivolous. She had everything the media look for in a story: money, sex and dieting. Her death is so irresistible because it lets people mourn and gloat at the same time."

What it means is endless coverage, not prioritized well, and certainly not objective. How did we get here?

The answer is complex, but Tim Rutten, in his Regarding Media column that ran in The Los Angeles Times, asked the pertinent question: how did Smith's death hit page 1? What I found most notable in his essay is the fact that serious news outlets increasingly rely on Internet traffic to determine top coverage worthiness:

He writes: "The late Murray Kempton once described editorial writers as 'the people who come down from the hill after the battle to shoot the wounded.' Nowadays, media analysts are the guys who follow behind them, going through the pockets of the dead looking for loose change...The mainstream journalistic coverage of Smith's death is among the first such stories driven, in large part, by an editorial perception of public interest derived mainly from Internet traffic. Throughout the afternoon Thursday, editors across the country watched the number of "hits" recorded for online items about Smith's death. These days, it's the rare newspaper whose meeting to discuss the content of the next day's edition doesn't include a recitation of the most popular stories on the paper's website. It's a safe bet that those numbers helped shove Anna Nicole Smith onto a lot of front pages. What makes this of more than passing interest is that serious American journalism is in the process of transforming itself into a new, hybrid news medium that combines traditional print and broadcast with a more purposefully articulated online presence. One of the latter's most seductive attributes is its ability to gauge readers' appetites for a particular story on a minute-to-minute basis. What you get is something like the familiar television ratings—though constantly updated, if you choose to treat them that way."

Earlier this week, I wrote about a covert example of journalists crossing the line of objectivity and how celebrity trumps the old rules of what's fit to print or air. Anna's story is the most obvious extreme we've had in years.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

February 14, 2007: Morning Shows Part Deux-Smarmy and Overly Sanitized

Another writer this week is questioning morning talk shows, but with a slightly different perspective.

In her New York Times article 'We’re Not Dating’: A Morning Show With Sex on the Brain (2/8/2007), Virginia Heffernan agrees that morning talk shows are all about celebrities, with a typically glossy and cleaned up sheen, but she asks who exactly is this audience so in need of stripped down and sanitized morning puffery?

Her focus is on two relatively new morning anchors who are breaking with tradition by bringing their personal lives to the forefront. From Heffernan's article:

"He’s smarmy. She’s contrived. He leers at girls like an old stage ham. She talks about freezing her eggs and getting her breasts done. Together they’re Mike Jerrick and Juliet Huddy, Fox’s new morning pair, who use their unholy chemistry to pervert the breakfast hour on “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet.” We owe these two a warm, warm welcome.

Each makes innuendos about the other’s sex life and off-camera carousing, and in every episode they come across as teenagers or freshly divorced 40-somethings after their first Long Island iced teas. In the spirit of Valerie Cherish of “The Comeback,” I reflexively thought at first, “I don’t want to see that.” Especially not in the morning.

But as I watched more and more “Morning Shows,” which meant missing Hour 12 or whatever of “Today” and the whole hour of “Live With Regis and Kelly,” I began to doubt not my initial conviction but my mental autonomy: Have I been conditioned not to want to hear gruesome double entendres with my toast?

What is it about the hours before 10 a.m. that make a person want nothing but news, traffic, family values and sanctimony? And, really, what has brainwashed us into thinking we need our homeroom teachers married?

The openly single hosts of “The Morning Show” are far and away the program’s stand-out feature. Certainly no one will tune in for the brown and off-brown set, brightened by some o’er-the-river-and-through-the-woods Currier and Ives window backdrop, which makes no sense at all. (In summer can we expect to glimpse children at the swimmin’ hole?)"

I love how she ends the piece:

"This is a kind of marvelous city duo — and a nice breakthrough for morning shows. No giggly hot mom like Kelly Ripa; no model of rectitude and self-sacrifice like Ms. Vieira. And no good old Reege. Or good young Matt.

Instead they’re a little sleazy, Mike and Juliet. And a little lonely. Morning shows have long been seen as having two audiences: busy, important people on their way to work, who want to know news, traffic and weather, and stay-at-home mothers and housewives, who like mellower segments about relationships and household economy.

Mike and Juliet suggest that morning shows, at least those that start at 9, might have another audience: single people who have been out late, talking about “American Idol” and drinking, even, only to wake up alone, in no important rush to get anywhere. That’s probably a lot of us. And we have mornings too."

Damn right we do. Some of us listen to Howard Stern and other real-talk radio programs. But morning talk shows remain the sacrosanct domain of celebrity-loving, sanitized Stepford.But for how long?

Reports like Wake-up Call to A.M. News: Moms Tuning Out suggest that the valued 25-54 year-old mom demographic may be growing tired, and can get their celebrity fix quicker and easier on the Internet:

"When her children were young, Jenny Lauck used to flip on Today or Good Morning America as she brewed her morning coffee and tended to her babies. But several years ago, the 34-year-old mother of three stopped watching the morning shows. After getting TiVo, she had no patience to sit through multiple commercial breaks during a live newscast. On top of that, the segments began to seem more and more frivolous. 'Watching morning television for me is the equivalent of reading People magazine in the dentist's office,' said Lauck, who writes for websites from her home in Santa Rosa, Calif. 'They don't have anything new or particularly relevant to my life. It seems like a lot of fluff. I feel like I can get information faster and cleaner on the Internet.' Lauck's not alone in souring on network news programs. In particular, this season has seen a significant erosion of the morning shows' demographic sweet spot: 25- to 54-year-old women."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

February 13, 2007: Morning Talk Shows Part One: Celebriganzas

Every day I wake up and turn on The Today Show. Watching self-proclaimed "America's First Family"-Matt, Meredith, Al and Ann-is so ingrained in me that if I channel surf and land on GMA's Diane and Chris for more than a minute, I feel like I'm cheating on my spouse. Let's not even talk about what Katie's departure did to me.

But this past week, I realized that morning talk shows are part of my celebrity culture conflict.

Are the hosts of these celebriganzas (my new term for overblown celebrity events) objective journalists or simply celebrities who cross the journalistic line to make themselves part of the story? Or, are they a hybrid.

I am used to programs like The Today Show focusing on celebrities. For better or worse, celebrity is the engine that drives all the morning shows. But what happens when TV reporters fan the flames of their own celebrity by exposing their private lives?

All this week, watching The Today Show and The NBC Nightly News cover "Trading Places: Caring for Your Parents" in America by having hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, and Meet the Press' Tim Russert, I was moved by their personal stories and struggles, especially since my Dad died recently after a long illness and intense family care. While it was billed as "examine the challenges as many American families confront the responsibilities of raising children while at the same time face the challenges of caring for their elderly parents," the draw was clearly the news stars' personal stories with their own parents. Seeing the journalists become the story, however, reminded me how journalistic lines have blurred.

I cite this as an example since it is, perhaps, the nicest and certainly most honorable crossover coverage. It's a serious topic sensitively depicted that, ultimately, will help adults dealing with aging parent issues. But it makes the journalist part of the story. I'll be keeping my eyes open for other examples during the year. Do any stand out to you?

To the other extreme, there are entertainment journalists who cross that line all the time, and end up looking like overzealous, preening fans with cameras. Anna Nicole's death has brought out journalistic mud wrestling like nothing else in recent times.

Monday, February 12, 2007

February 12, 2007: The Top 10 Lessons from Grammys 2007

There are lessons to be learned from every awards show. That's why it helps to approach my celebrity intake with a purpose-driven attitude (P-DA). This P-DA helps me overcome the sinking feeling that watching one more self-indulgent awards ego-fest is like climbing onto the water slide of my celebri-spiral.

So, for you and for me, in a moment of rationalization that outdoes Imogen Heap’s (pictured) decision to wear a garden in her hair and a Koi pond on her body, let me share my top 10 lessons (in bold) of what I learned from Grammy 2007’s big winners:

1. Mary J. Blige: Do not thank 55 people and God. Choose. She thanked everyone but the glue company who helps her fake nails stay on her fingertips. Then when you say your peace, don’t get all high school on us and say something like, “Tonight we celebrate the better human being because for so many years, I've been talked about negatively. But this time I've been talked about positively by so many people." Keep It Short and Don't Try to Right Your Teenage Wrongs.

2. Dixie Chicks: Just like Bush had the world's goodwill after 9-11 and blew it (which you then infamously spoke about), you had the chance to garner the world's goodwill by saying something smart, intelligent, and wise, send some love to your current fan base (me), and impress others, as your album did the Grammy voters. But, no. You had to act like brats. Natalie Maines had to stick her tongue out and quote The Simpsons. You couldn't get a cohesive thought out. The only thing you giggle out ("OK, I'm ready to make nice!") diminished your song and album title. If You're Known for Being Outspoken, Be Articulate.

3. John Mayer: If you’re going to date Jessica Simpson, don’t act so surprised when the media is interested. You’re way too pasty-faced to crack wise as you adopt a rat-pack pose. Demure and Deflect Personal Inquiries with Class.

4. Ludacris: Maybe he needed to clean his grill, but something made him snarl, "So y'all telling me, all I had to do was cut my hair to win a best rap album? Is that what y'all telling me?" Was something stuck in there? Forget to polish? As rapper Paul Wall, who also makes grills for clients T.I. and Big Boi, says, “Wearing a grill does not replace proper dental care and hygiene. The worst possibility is to have a dirty grill.” Clean Your Grill and Don’t Be Snarky.

5. Beyonce: To the left, to the left, all the weaves you own in a box to the left. Flawless hair is more important than staying on perfect pitch throughout your song. I saw no peakaboo “weavetracks.” Your hair moved thirty seconds after your body, as a good weave should. One point off for wearing a white flower that looked like an Elephant Man growth coming out of your head. Otherwise, Brava! Keep Your Weave-master Close. She is Your Best Friend on Grammy Night.

6. Christina Aguilera: Your voice is incredible. In the immortal words of John Lennon, let it be. You don’t have to perform vocal hystrionics to impress us. The war with Britney is over. You won. You don’t have to make press room comments like, “No judgments, but how could that ho not wear panties? I always wear mine.” You don’t have to try so hard. Screaming Does Not Make You Janis Joplin.

7. Justin Timberlake: You are the poster boy for surviving a boy band with your integrity intact. It’s a club of one. Enjoy it. Work your talented self all over the rep carpet and the stage. Video your face as you sing, making your nose look humongous and my eyes get Blair-Witch-dizzy from the shaky close-ups. But don’t hug Fed Ex when the cameras are rolling or when they aren’t. Ewwww. It’s like you got hit with the skank wand every time you dip into any part of Britney’s world. Fake hugs are like watching car wrecks. Fans can’t turn away, but you look stupid. Skip the Fake Man-hugs.

8. Shakira: Despite the fact that only ten people knew who you were, you came out shaking your golden lion’s mane in a gold lame, spangly midriff baring suit that looked like a costume from the I Dream of Jeannie Las Vegas Reunion. You writhed like Courtney Love on Ritalin. You growled some lyrics no one could hear. Dare I say you “Cuchi Cuchi’d” your ass all over the stage, but for what? To Be Taken Seriously, Avoid Looking and Acting like Charo.

9. Carrie Underwood: Just because you won Best New Artist over current unexplainable darling Corinne Bailey Rae, who could put a meth addict to sleep with the hazy drawl of hers, don’t get cocky. I get you even less than Norah Jones, who I don’t get at all. But you won because voters like a system of checks and balances. Yes, we’ll give the Dixie Chicks a sweep because we hate Bush, but they hated him first. But-and this is essential-we need a sweet, non-controversial country girl with a conservative, Idol-ish past to counterbalance. Enter Carrie. Don’t Think for a Minute There’s Not Some Alternative Motive for Your Win.

10. Lionel Richie, John Legend, Corinne Bailey Rae, John Mayer and similar, mellow artists who appear every year: Lionel sang his song, “Hello” with the lyric, “is it me you’re looking for?” Answer: no. What I was really looking for was the other Grammys. You know, the exciting one. Where Madonna dances her ass off, compelling acts do live mashups, and Mary J. blows the roof off the place. I was not looking for the one where you and your snoozy cohorts channel Perry Como on a stool and put me to sleep. But then again, you are as much a part of Grammy history as anyone. Banality is Timeless.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 11, 2007: Celebri-spiraling Live from La La Land

I am writing this live from La La Land, specifically Urth Caffé in West Hollywood on Melrose Avenue (not to be confused with Melrose Place, my favorite TV show and the small but important lane around the corner.)

Leaving me alone in L.A. for a day when I am trying to stop celebri-spiraling is like leaving Britney next to a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pair of her backup dancer’s ripped panties

If any town can prompt you to have a celebri-spiral, it’s Los Angeles. I am really trying to limit my intake of all things celebrity, but Anna Nicole’s death has, ironically, tripped some addictive wiring in me (as Methadone and Howard K. Stern clearly did with her).

It's noon and so far today:

9:30 A.M. I'm drinking coffee and waking up at the Weho Starbucks on Sunset when Tim Allen zoomed into the parking lot and, aided by his driver, exited the back seat of the largest black SUV I have ever seen. I was expecting Eminem, 50 Cent, Lil' Kim, Ja Rule, Missy "Misdeamor" Elliott, Nas, and Jay Z to pop out like a Chinese fire drill or rehearsed response to gang attack. I was not prepared to see The Santa Clause, Mr. Home Improvement himself, strut out looking terribly rich and chic (black tailored pants, black leather jacket). No one else noticed or, if they did, they were very cool about it. I followed the New Yorker’s rule to never interrupt a celeb out in the wild, but, of course, I observed. Discreetly.

10:30 A.M. Walking with my Venti refill, I headed east on Sunset Boulevard, walking in slo-mo past the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi died and more stars than I can mention slept, rendezvoused, and partied. In Washington, the closest thing we have to a celeb-hotel monument is the Hinckley Hilton on Connecticut Avenue, where Reagan got shot over John Hinckley's obsession for Jodie Foster-a notorious connection between the two towns in which Washington took the bullet for Hollywood.

In Los Angeles, it seems like all the major hotels have an “L.A. Confidential”-style story or two: The Roosevelt, The Mondrian, Hotel Bel Air, and others like these keep some secrets, but mostly live on lore. I passed a thirty-something man dressed in chauffeur garb walking into a side entrance with a plastic bag containing: two tacos from the stand across the street, Starbucks coffee, a gallon of water, a box of feminine hygiene product and various toiletries, and a small bag that looked like it came from a pharmacy. “Is Lindsay still at the Chateau?,” I asked. He smiled and seemed interested that anyone would want to talk to him. “$800,000 and counting,” I continued, referring the published amount she spent during her most recent stay, hanging out "on official business," researching her upcoming role as a stripper. My money is on those goodies getting delivered to, if not Lindsay, then some Lindsay-BFF-wannabe-wild-child.

How convenient, I thought as I surveyed the surrounding three blocks-a Starbucks, strip club, pharmacy, Mexican fast food joint, newsstand with the latest fashion and gossip rags, and three of the hottest bar/lounges in town, including the fabulous Sky Bar, Sunset Tower, and Standard Hotel Lounge. What else does a twenty-year-old need? She can literally fall out of her Chateau Marmont king- size bed, which sleeps ten skinny starlets, and roll down the hill to her life.

10:45 A.M. I pass The Improv, where Michael Richards lost his career in a racist rant. Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, and Sunset Strip are so close in proximity and so full of celebrity. Last night, I drive my the Kodak Theatre where the Academy Awards are held-it's so small! Television makes the red carpet area look huge. Everywhere I go I see famous landmarks that I've seen on TV, or read/heard about.

11:00 A.M. Working out at Weho's Crunch gym, everyone looks familiar, and judging by the way they keep looking at me as they pass, maybe I do, too. Is this what happens in L.A.? In Washington, you see someone and assume they work in politics. In L.A., everyone I see looks like an extra on Desperate Housewives. Puffing away on the Spin bike, I notice a huge black man in front of me puffing away, too. He turns around and, if his Iron Mike t-shirt didn’t give him away, his grill did. All I can see are bumps, bruises and shiny gold on Mike Tyson's face. All I can think is, “gross, you ate someone’s ear.” I turn around and catch Michael McDonald, who plays the child character Stuart on MAD TV, gabbing with some cute gay guys. Looking the other way, I see an Asian man who I know was in the Karate Kid movies. “Do you know Pat Morita?,” I want to yell across the weights. But I don’t.

These are all medium-fry celeb sightings, but I reflect on the big fish spotting last Thursday. The night Anna Nicole died, I met a new friend at Marix, which turns out to be a longtime Weho hotspot for both the fashionable gay and gay-friendly, as well as “the friends” themselves, from Friends. Apparently, for two hours Courteney Cox was sitting right in front of me and I didn’t even notice her. It wasn’t until she got up to leave and the outside of Marix lit up like premiere, with blinding paparazzi flashes and crowds circling, that I saw the back of her head. I acted cool, but inside I kicked myself. How could I have missed this? Is my celeb-dar as bad as my gaydar, which misses all but the most flamboyantly obvious queens? The only way this could have been worse for me is if she’d been with Jen.

The restaurant never went back to normal. Don’t you get used to this sort of thing in L.A., I wondered? Apparently not. The cool, attractive crowd was buzzing with an almost tribal-like energy, the way people relate after surviving a hurricane or witnessing a major event.

I loved Los Angeles. The weather. The style. The ocean. As I flew home, I wondered, could I live here without getting engulfed in celebrity? Would my love/hate conflict deepen or evaporate in a childish, enthusiastic embrace?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

February 10, 2007: Thank You, Grammy Hall

We break from 24/7 coverage of the death of Anna Nicole to focus on something else for a minute. Namely, a celebrity who's aging beautifully.

Diane Keaton is getting the hardest pounding of her career, and no, I don't mean from Warren Beatty.
Her new movie Because I Said So is getting thrashed by the critics. From the clips, it doesn't look "Diane-i-fied," which means sharp, funny, and original. But let's give her a break. She's entitled to a stinker, if it turns out to be bad.

The critics bang their tribal drums in glee over bad reviews, schadenfreude overflowing. Some of the reviews are so personal and mean. Some reviewers have excess bile, and their only quasi-legit outlet is panning someone else's probably well-intentioned art. So while they do that, I'm taking a break from schadenfreude and focusing, instead, on Diane's contribution to the cultural conversation (we are going to get sooooooo sick of that word by the time Hillary finishes with us.)

Unlike the twenty-something celebutards that Pink sings about in her song Stupid Girls, Diane Keaton is an example of a celebrity whose interviews and appearances actually contribute. Unlike previous Celebri-spiral-subject Gwyneth, Diane's comments are thought-provoking without sounding elitist or arrogant. Since becoming the poster woman for the 60-plus set in her hit film Something's Gotta Give, she's talked alot about aging. She brings much wisdom to the typically banal and self-absorbed celebrity interview, a rare feat these days. These are two favorites:

1) The New York Post

"A lot of things happen around the age of 50. My father had died a few years before, and that was so difficult. And then I adopted a baby girl. And everything changed, in terms of looking at the dreams that I had as a younger woman, and realizing that they no longer were really applicable to the life that I was living.

Once I junked them, I felt a lot better. You find yourself more in the moment...you want to be in the moment, living your life in the moment. Not living your life based on what you hope for, some abstract idea of what your life is going to be. It doesn't work to your advantage if you're there a little too much, if you're parked in that zone, the zone of expectations. There's no parking there."

2) The Huffington Post blog

I know the Upside of Turning 60 column she wrote and published is a year old, but I think it's sharp.

"Having just celebrated a "milestone birthday", here is my biggest takeaway after 60 years on the planet: There is great value in being fearless. For too much of my life, I was too afraid, too frightened by it all. That fear is one of my biggest regrets. I wish I had put myself out there a little bit more and experienced people more instead of protecting myself. I spent a lot of time protecting myself. I mean, I've met a lot of extraordinary people over the years -- and I just wish I had been able to open myself up to them more.

I remember when I was filming "Godfather III." My father was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and I flew home. He told me, "I only wish I'd done more. I wish I had worked less at something I didn't really enjoy." I've been blessed to work at something I love, but I wish his words had emboldened me more."

You can make the point that lots of smart people make wise and insightful comments about aging. What she does isn't unique. Why does her opinion count more?

You've got me there.
We listen to celebrities. It's a cultural phenomenon, sickness or bad habit, depending on how judgmental you feel today about the topic.

But if we must, at least it's good when they say something helpful.

Friday, February 9, 2007

February 9, 2007: RIP Vickie Lynn, aka Anna Nicole

Where were you when you heard the news that Anna Nicole Smith died?

I was in Los Angeles, home of many a falling star, drinking coffee at Starbucks on Santa Monica Boulevard. I got a call from Lisa M., who told me the news within an hour or two of Anna's actual death. The news got out so fast! Within an hour, everyone was talking about it. Even Clint Eastwood chose to speak about it (instead of promoting his movie) for 45 minutes during a Fox TV interview. Bizarre.

Ironic, too. She died in Hollywood just like Marilyn. But Anna's Hollywood was Florida. That's sort of perfect in a terrible way.

Does Anna now join Princess Diana, JFK Jr, JFK, and Marilyn as one of those rare celebrities whose deaths stop time for us, even for a minute?

I think so. Wish I knew why. She was famous for being outrageous. That was it.

Watching her was like watching Hee Haw with crack addicts.

Anna the televised mess was a true guilty pleasure for a lot of us. She was the train wreck and we rubbernecked freely. We knew she was f*cked up, but it all seemed so goofy, and she didn't seem bothered by it. She was unabashed and unapologetic, and there was, if not an innocence, then at least a childlike quality that provoked a positive response from people.

The fact that so many radio shock jocks took turns bashing her, and the media coverage of her demise, didn't surprise me. That's what they do, and the angle on Anna is that she never warranted so much coverage. But the flip side is the number of people who were actually sad to hear she died. I have to admit I was one of them. It is sad. She left a five month old baby. She was rich and famous, but not peaceful or together. What a waste. Her legacy is her good humor in the face of it all.

My favorite Anna moment-and God knows I watched her show like millions of others-was season I when Shelley, the toothless cousin from Texas, shows up unannounced, cigarette glued to her lower lip, pounding on the door of the mansion while Anna lays on her sofa comatose. Too many Oreos? Too much vodka? Too many 'ludes? All of the above? The only thing that moved Anna is when Howard K Stern described Shelley to Anna, who replies: "She ain't got no teeth?" Anna got up for the reunion. It was hilarious, and maybe she knew she was funny. I hope so.

As Lisa G. comments. "she actually had more of a sense of humor about herself than I gave her credit for, unless she was so drugged she would do anything she was told to do onstage. I like the shot of her next to the poster remake of Gentleman Prefer Blondes. She was a lot like Norma Jean, except less subtle and talented. I guess she was the trashy cousin of Marilyn."

That makes sense to me. I am tired of talking heads-and Anna herself-comparing her to Marilyn. Marilyn was well spoken, she studied her craft, and was an excellent actress in some great films. Anna was a televised mess who got applause for slurring her words.

But there are some similarities. Blond. Bombshell. Pill popper. Tragic early death. Complete reinvention from early disastrous childhood. Making the most of what she had, getting acclaim, and even her own theme song:

Anna, Anna, glamorous Anna, Anna Nicole!
Was born in Texas, strugglin' savin', tryin' to get to fame
Then you use what you got (and that's a lot!), you became a household name
Married a billionaire, so he was 88, but they didn't date!
Then it all disappeared as fast as it caa-aame!
Anna, Anna, glamorous Anna, Anna Nicole!
Anna, Anna, glamorous Anna, Anna Nicole!
You're so outrageous!

RIP Anna Nicole Smith, aka Vickie Lynn Hogan Marshall. Hardly knew you? We didn't know you at all. Not sure you knew yourself. Or maybe you did and had the street smarts to show just a crafted, marketable persona. Marilyn did. Maybe you had more in common than I think.