The tragic death of Amy Winehouse coming fast upon the sudden disintegration of the News of the World begs the question: Has celebrity gossip jumped the shark? The brief life of Amy Winehouse was — and this is why I bring this up — near the end, a moveable feast for the tabloids. The fact that her private demons were aired in public for all the world to gawk at probably didn’t help her addiction. And when she died, like she lived, the tabloids were there to chronicle the final seedy detail: the removal of the body bag. Charmed, I’m sure.
There is something vaguely seedy about the whole enterprise of celebrity gossip, of paparazzi and of private investigators and their intrusive camera lenses. Do the rich have better sex than war do? And yet there is such a felt need for its welcome distraction, of knowing what and who the stars — “reality” and movie varieties — do behind closed doors, between the high thread count sheets.
And what of us, its consumers – aren’t we all somewhat addicted to this sordid thing? TMZ, Gawker, PerezHilton — before he went “nice” — take your pick. A little bit of gossip is not unlike a sorbet, a light palette cleanser to one’s daily information diet. It has little nutritive value, but in small amounts is quite harmless, even psychologically refreshing. After following the debt crisis and our foreign wars to exhaustion, something light and sweet is necessary for continued sanity. There’s nothing wrong with that. Who among us isn’t fascinated by the creepy behind-the-scenes goings on at the Playboy mansion? Just so long as we get back, at some point, to the important stuff, like paying our country’s bills.
The sordid truth however is that gossip in our society is a lot more than a palette cleanser. It is rapidly becoming the whole damn meal. And it is a meal wholly lacking intellectual vitamins and minerals. It is without moderation a meal that leads to a morbid obesity. Do we really need, for example, to see pictures of Michael Jackson’s corpse? Los Angeles Deputy Coroner Ed Winter’s office was actually offered $2 million for a peek. That is, ironically, one million dollars more than Jackson’s own offer to purchase the elephant man’s remains. Man in the mirror, indeed.
As media organizations cut back on foreign bureaus at a time when international news is most important – think: Arab Spring – celebrity gossip is a $3 billion a year industry and rising. Further, what can only be construed as the greasy methods are being used to get the scoops that fuel the industry. That grease is at present all over Piers Morgan.
Those greasy methodologies on parade at the News of the World parliamentary inquiry recently are not just isolated incidents from across the pond. “In the past few years, a federal Department of Justice team in Los Angeles has conducted a wide-ranging investigation into illegal leaks of celebrity health records and other confidential files, according to officials involved,” wrote Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times in May. And ABC recently admitted to paying more than $200,000 to the family of murder suspect Casey Anthony for home videos and pictures, a source of shame for many in the news division. The felt need for gossip is a powerful financial incentive; the actual association with celebrity gossip is expensive to one’s integrity.
A greasy feast, gossip. It just may or may not have reached a cultural saturation point, may or may not have jumped the shark. But as they say about Lay’s greasy potato chips: no one can eat just one.