(Throwback Thursday: My final column for INsite Boston, originally published in April 2007. I still feel that I wrote this shortly after Hollywood reached a turning point; when the advent of the internet paved the way for celebrity worship to give way to schadenfreude. Sensing that, I realized I had said all that there was to be said about the era’s most ridiculed stars… at least until I spent several years writing celebrity news — and continuously making fun of them.)
“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”
“It was Beauty killed the Beast.”
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
When it comes to great exit lines, Hollywood is king. In real life, talk tends to be a lot more awkward. We stammer, we interrupt, we’re unable to fill uncomfortable silences. We say things — really stupid things — that no mentally capable human being should ever utter. It’s the stuff screenwriters skimp on to get the meat of the matter, hence why characters in movies are always much more succinct than anyone you’ll meet on the street. I suppose we actual humans rattle off one gem every ten thousand phrases or so, but for the most part we’re conversational klutzes, chit-chatting our way through life with all the finesse of Laurel and Hardy.
Take, for example, the process we undergo just to get off the phone. The countless minutes we waste muttering “So, um… yeah… uh… okay, then… I should go… what? no, you didn’t tell me…” before coming to a polite agreement on the issue of not wanting to speak to each other anymore. In movies, they don’t even have to say “good-bye” — it’s just the facts, ma’am, then click. Dial tone. But the big screen has always had a way of making things look easier than they really are.
I once worried that my shortcomings in the realm of communication would hinder my professional pursuits. How could I convey my ideas to the world if I can’t even communicate one-on-one without a conversational foul? It’s not just that I’m tongue-tied. When put on the spot, I go all deer-meets-headlights, and by the time I’ve thought up a decipherable response, someone’s off to fetch the smelling salts. Early on in life, I embraced the written word as my preferred platform, and for good reason. Writing allows me to ponder and plan out exactly what I’m going to say. Even if it takes hours, days, weeks, years… eventually I find the right words.
But aloud? Not so much. Lucky for me, the current trend in Hollywood is toward ineloquence and incomprehensibility. The stars are no longer distant and luminous. They are more like rapidly descending balls of gas. Gone are the days of well-turned phrases and witty asides. Now we usher in the era of the sound bite, the YouTube clip, the snarky T-shirt catchphrase brought to you at a half-literate starlet’s expense. The rapid, vast sprawl of information on the internet has created a demand for 24/7, up-to-the-minute surveillance of Hollyworld’s best and brightest, which means we’re capturing every single one of their blunders, and broadcasting them the world over. As a result, we now see that the stars truly are just like us. Retarded.
It’s hard to be too embarrassed by our own verbal snafus when, every day, famous people are saying much dumber things than we are in much more public venues. At first it was amusing, as those we worshipped suddenly revealed themselves as mere mortals, as flawed as we are… but more comically so. We were rapt as Tom Cruise, the world’s biggest action star, transformed before our very eyes into the world’s biggest dork — jumping on furniture, gobbling placentas, the whole crazy shebang. We jeered as Paris Hilton, the rich bitch heiress, got her tabloid comeuppance again and again, yet still never managed to open both eyes all the way. And when even Mel Gibson revealed himself as the misogynistic, anti-Semitic, alcoholic egomaniac we always feared had directed that Jesus snuff film, it was still pretty entertaining. Suddenly celebrities were making mistakes that… well, maybe we wouldn’t make, but our more embarrassing friends might, and we could relate. It was almost endearing.
There comes a point when bigoted, boozy rants become old hat. Only so many foreign moppets salvaged by Hollywood’s most beautiful people can warm our hearts before we start rolling our eyes. After being dragged through media hell, Britney Spears, our slowly-decaying pop princess, looks less like Madonna, more like Max Headroom, and we’ve seen such a Hefnerian sum of VIP nether-parts we could start a “who’s who” guessing game of celebrity vaginas.
But it wasn’t until the sudden death of Anna Nicole Smith that we really saw where celebrity was headed. Could a nation mourn someone they’ve only ever laughed at? Would she receive her only shred of public sympathy postmortem? No famous last words for Anna — tabloids bypassed grief and went straight for sensation. (Was it an overdose? Obviously. What will happen to her body? Morbid much? Who cares?)
Why? Because sensation is all she ever was to us. For Smith, a prime exemplar of the talent-light, controversy-heavy quasi-stars for whom headlines are the same as punchlines, it may have been a fitting denouement… but it also sounded a wakeup call.
Now we see: when the stars fall so far they end up six feet under, it isn’t quite so funny.We all live in the same swiftly interconnecting world. Nothing that happens to one of us is that far from happening to us all. Celebrity mediocrity isn’t just a result of seeing stars at their most ordinary, but also of our own rising stardom. Anyone with a social networking profile online knows what it’s like to expose our lives to innumerable strangers. Intimate details of our friendships and relationships are made public for all the world to see. These days, stars are just people whose sex tapes have more views than ours, whose party pictures are posted in People magazine instead of on Facebook, who have a couple million more anonymous “friends” than we do. Maybe we’re all doomed to become personas instead of people. As communication opens up the normal and the notorious alike to public scrutiny, someday the truly privileged will be those precious few who aren’t on global display.
So on that note, I bid the world of celebrity gossip a bittersweet adieu. Our envy of the stars has finally brought them down to our level, but only a real sadist would keep on kicking ‘em down. Who stands on the sidelines of a train crash to make sarcastic quips about the victims as they flail in the bloody wreckage? Not me, anymore.
I’d love to leave you with a clever line to remember me by — some famous last words — but I’m afraid it’s no longer in fashion.
So, um… yeah… okay, then… uh…