The American obsession with celebrities often gets characterized as a guilty pleasure. It’s not a perverse, voyeuristic stalking of the people we see on TV, it’s an innocent guilty pleasure—like eating too many chocolate chip cookies or spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. With the advent of the Internet, the obsession with celebrities has risen to a whole new level. Now instead of just getting a peek behind the celebrity curtain, the curtain has been flung open, rendering the madness behind it exposed to anyone who wants to look. We aren’t just aware that Paris Hilton is feuding with the drummer from Blink-182’s ex-wife, we get to see drunken interviews and grainy cell phone pictures of maybe Paris Hilton’s black eye as proof. We don’t just have this vague suspicion that Britney Spears has gone off the deep end, we get to see her circling the drain in a montage of shaved heads, crotch shots, rehab entrances and exits, and other drunken portraits of her downfall.
This may seem like a bashing of the celebrity obsession a little bit. I guess it is, but the fact is, I’m torn on the subject. On one hand, I see it as a creepy fetish that lets people point to the atrocities of the rich and famous as a justification for their own shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think the obsession with celebrities is totally fitting. Our world is a completely ridiculous place. In a world where 20 year olds dress up like wizards to go buy books at midnight, where politicians try to solicit gay sex, where there’s a TV show in which people have to survive in an already inhabited place, where a million people stand in the middle of an intersection for hours in order to watch a small glass ball slowly descend down a 20 foot pole on New Year’s Eve, is it all that weird that there’s a popular website that is solely designed to show us a video of Lindsay Lohan’s scruffy ex-boyfriend calling Lindsay “fire bush”? When set against the backdrop of our senselessness, the obsession with celebrities makes perfect sense.
The manifestation of our celebrity fetish is tmz.com. TMZ, a fusion of celebrity news blog and embarrassing video archive, has become the poster child for the celebrity pseudo-news industry. The Internet gives it distinct advantages over its competitors. It can put the stories in the gossip magazines into motion instantly, and it can show all the borderline pornographic clips that Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood can’t.
TMZ is fair and balanced… okay, well maybe they are just balanced. And by balanced I mean they strike a perfect equilibrium between three distinct categories of trashy video clip. I’ll group these videos into the following categories: the “Action Caused Either Entirely or More Than Partly By Alcohol,” the “Celebrity Car Chase,” and the “You’re Not Famous but You’re Near a Camera So Okay.”
My favorite category, without question, is the “Action Caused Either Entirely or More Than Partly By Alcohol,.” This is where we get the really solid celebrity news. We get drunken fights, drunken rants, and drunken arrests. All good stuff. One video posted this week titled “Hoochie 101: Etiquette for Ladies at Hollywood Clubs” goes as follows: two drunk chicks in short dresses are crouched down in a parking lot when the cameraman comes over. One girl shouts something then lifts up her dress and slaps her crotch with a rose. The other girl shows the camera her ass. The first girl shows the camera her thong tan line. They run away. End of video. If only they were actually famous.
The next category, the “Celebrity Car Chase” clip, is probably the most abundant on the site. This type of video shows a celebrity going about their normal business. It’s probably the creepiest type of video because literally nothing happens. It’s just a video of Johnny Knoxville getting his car from the valet, or Sarah Silverman waiting for her bags, or Heath Ledger walking into a restaurant. The camera prays that something will happen, and when it ultimately doesn’t, we are left with a really awkward celebrity face onscreen, and a pang of guilt in the pit of our stomachs as we realize that we just spent 38 seconds of our lives watching Angelina Jolie buy Sun Chips.
The last category, the “You’re Not Famous but You’re Near a Camera So Okay” clip, is the least justifiable. This category includes the inordinate amount of clips starring people who aren’t even marginally famous. Some of last weeks posts included stories about David Hasselhoff’s ex-wife, Miss Ventura County 2005, Sarah Chapman (aka P.Diddy’s “other” baby momma), and a 34-year-old woman who the paparazzi thought was Paris Hilton. In addition, there was a 48 second clip in which Daniel Baldwin spoke of his commitment to rehab and gave advice to Lindsay Lohan. Daniel Baldwin, I might add, is the third most famous Baldwin brother. In my opinion, no one less famous than Stephen Baldwin should be featured in a TMZ clip, much less theorizing about Lindsay’s drug addiction. But that’s just me.
These examples depict a website that is laughably trashy and slanderous. This may be true, but the greater travesty, the proverbial cherry-on-top, is the sponsors. TMZ, owned by AOL-Time Warner, is sponsored by companies such as Best Buy, Geico, Lasik Plus, American Express, Verizon, XM radio, and—the cherry on top of the cherry on top—Purina. The absurdities encapsulated in the vast archive of slanderous video clips would never see the light of day without these sponsors.
Matthew McConaughey leaving diner, brought to you by the Geico gecko.
Tara Reid drunkenly stumbling out of a London Club, sponsored by the good people at Best Buy.
Naked drunk girl smacking her vagina with a rose, brought to you by Purina Whisker Lickin’s.