kottke.org posts about celebrity
Last night, I finished OJ: Made in America, ESPN's 8-hour documentary series about OJ Simpson. Prior to starting the series, I would rather have poked an eye out than spend another second of my life thinking about OJ Simpson; I'd gotten my fill back in the 90s. But I'd heard so many good things about it that I gave it a shot. Pretty quickly, you realize this is not just the biography of a man or the story of a trial but is a deep look at racism, policing, and celebrity in the US. OJ: Made in America is excellent and I recommend it unreservedly. From Brian Tallerico's review:
Ezra Edelman's stunningly ambitious, eight-hour documentary is a masterpiece, a refined piece of investigative journalism that places the subject it illuminates into the broader context of the end of the 20th century. You may think you know everything about The Trial of the Century, especially if you watched FX's excellent "The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story," but "OJ: Made in America" not only fills in details about the case but offers background and commentary that you've never heard before. It is an examination of race, domestic abuse, celebrity, civil rights, the LAPD, the legal process and murder over the last fifty years, using the OJ Simpson story as a way to refract society. Its length may seem daunting, but I would have watched it for another eight hours and will almost certainly watch it again before the summer is over. It's that good.
The only real criticism I have of the series is that the treatment of women in America should have been explored more, on the same level as racism and celebrity. A.O. Scott picked up on this in his NY Times review:
It is hard not to notice the predominance of male voices among the interview subjects, and the narrowness of the film's discussion of domestic violence. This is not to say that the issue is ignored: Mr. Simpson's history of abusing Nicole is extensively and graphically documented, as is the fact that most of his friends ignored what was going on at their Rockingham estate. But the film, which so persuasively treats law enforcement racism as a systemic problem, can't figure out how to treat violence against women with the same kind of rigor or nuance.
A fuller discussion of domestic violence in the US and misogyny in sports would have provided another powerful, reinforcing aspect of the story.
From Pantheon at MIT, an adjustable graph of which kinds of people were globally famous in different eras. Up until the Renaissance, the most well-known people in the world were mostly politicians and religious figures, with some writers and philosophers thrown in for good measure:
Starting with the Renaissance through the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, politicians, writers, painters, and composers become more prominent:
For the past 50 years, athletes and entertainers dominate the list, with footballers making up almost a third of the most known. (If you only go back to 1990, actors dominate.)
Politicians rate slightly behind tennis players (but ahead of pornographic actors) and religious figures are not represented in the graph at all.
If you're curious about the data, you can read about their methodology and sources.
Using Phil Fish, the person responsible for critically acclaimed indie game Fez, this video by Ian Danskin explores what it means to be internet famous, something everyone who writes/creates/posts/tweets online has experienced to some extent.
We are used to thinking of fame as something granted to a person by people with media access. The reason people hate Nickelback is because of that record contract, that Faustian bargain -- they bought into it. They had to be discovered; someone had to connect them to video directors, record producers, stylists, advertisers.
This is not what fame looks like on the internet. There, fame is not something you ask for. Fame is not something you buy into. Fame happens to you.
Phil doesn't have an agent. He doesn't have ad executives. He doesn't tour the country on press junkets. He doesn't have a PR department. (Obviously.)
He talked on social media. He did interviews when invited to do them. He was invited into a documentary. People read these things as shameless self-promotion or a desperate need for attention, or both, but that's projection -- nobody knows Phil's reasons for doing them but Phil and the people who know him personally.
Phil never asked to be famous.
We made him famous. Maybe, in part, because we found him entertaining. Maybe, in part, because we found him irritating. Largely because many of us were once sincerely excited about his game. But he became a big deal because we kept talking about him.
On the internet, celebrities are famous only to the people who talk about them, and they're only famous because we talk about them, and then we hate them for being too famous, and make them more famous by talking about how much we hate them. Could there ever be anything more self-defeating than this?
Here's a transcript of the video. In his post about why he decided to sell Minecraft to Microsoft, Markus Persson cites This is Phil Fish as an influence:
I was at home with a bad cold a couple of weeks ago when the internet exploded with hate against me over some kind of EULA situation that I had nothing to do with. I was confused. I didn't understand. I tweeted this in frustration. Later on, I watched the This is Phil Fish video on YouTube and started to realize I didn't have the connection to my fans I thought I had. I've become a symbol. I don't want to be a symbol, responsible for something huge that I don't understand, that I don't want to work on, that keeps coming back to me. I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm not a CEO. I'm a nerdy computer programmer who likes to have opinions on Twitter.
Robin Sloan connected Persson's post with a post by Erin Kissane on how she has curtailed her use of Twitter. Here's one of her problems with Twitter:
The first is feeling like I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe, speaking in a conversational voice, but having that voice projected so loudly that strangers many streets away are invited to comment on my most inconsequential statements -- especially if something I say gets retweeted beyond my usual circles.
Many moons ago, I was "subculturally important" in the small pond of web designers, personal publishers, and bloggers that rose from the ashes of the dot com bust, and I was nodding along vigorously with what Danskin, Persson, and Kissane had to say. Luckily for me, I realized fairly early on that me and the Jason Kottke who published online were actually two separate people...or to use Danskin's formulation, they were a person and a concept. (When you try to explain this to people, BTW, they think you're a fucking narcissistic crazy person for talking about yourself in the third person. But you're not actually talking about yourself...you're talking about a concept the audience has created. Those who think of you as a concept particularly hate this sort of behavior.)
The person-as-concept idea is a powerful one. People ascribe all sorts of crazy stuff to you without knowing anything about the context of your actual life. I even lost real-life friends because my online actions as a person were viewed through a conceptual lens; basically: "you shouldn't have acted in that way because of what it means for the community" or some crap like that. Eventually (and mostly unconsciously), I distanced myself from my conceptual counterpart and became much less of a presence online. I mean, I still post stuff here, on Twitter, on Instagram, and so on, but very little of it is actually personal and almost none of it is opinionated in any noteworthy way. Unlike Persson or Fish, I didn't quit. I just got boring. Which I guess isn't so good for business, but neither is quitting.
Anyway, I don't know if that adds anything meaning to the conversation, just wanted to add a big "yeah, that rings true" to all of the above, particularly the video. (thx, @brillhart)
Update: From the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, a short essay called "Borges and I":
The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.
Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
I do not know which of us has written this page.
This article by Anne Helen Petersen about how Angelina Jolie has expertly controlled her PR through several potential rough patches is way more interesting than it has any right to be.
This photo, for example, is a semiotic gold mine: Shiloh, often nicknamed "The Chosen One," a glimmering beacon of whiteness, flanked by her racially marked siblings, one of whom seems to be protecting her from possible harm. All three are framed by their doting parents, tied to their children via skin color, head/neck scarf, hair highlighting, and physical touch. They're a "Party of Five," as the title of the accompanying article puts it, but they're a distinctly global one: The photos were all shot in Cambodia, and when asked how her children manage all the traveling, Jolie says, "We've tried to make them very adaptable, so when we go to a country like India or certain parts of Namibia, they're happy to play with sticks and rocks outside -- they're happy to blend."
Taken together, these images, and the stories that accompanied them, were speaking about their relationship, even if the pair themselves weren't offering comment. And what they were saying was that this wasn't a story about sex or scandal; rather, it was one of family, humanitarianism, and global citizenship. Within this framework, any publication that chose to focus on sexual intrigue was effectively neglecting the most in need.
It is sad to see Gwyneth Paltrow promoting pseduoscience hucksters like Masaru Emoto in her very popular Goop newsletter. It begins:
I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter. I have long had Dr. Emoto's coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.
And later on in the letter, Dr. Habib Sadeghi continues:
Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto performed some of the most fascinating experiments on the effect that words have on energy in the 1990's. When frozen, water that's free from all impurities will form beautiful ice crystals that look exactly like snowflakes under a microscope. Water that's polluted, or has additives like fluoride, will freeze without forming crystals. In his experiments, Emoto poured pure water into vials labeled with negative phrases like "I hate you" or "fear." After 24 hours, the water was frozen, and no longer crystallized under the microscope: It yielded gray, misshapen clumps instead of beautiful lace-like crystals. In contrast, Emoto placed labels that said things like "I Love You," or "Peace" on vials of polluted water, and after 24 hours, they produced gleaming, perfectly hexagonal crystals. Emoto's experiments proved that energy generated by positive or negative words can actually change the physical structure of an object.
Riiiight. Paltrow should stick to recipes, fashion, and workouts and leave the science to people who actually understand it lest she wander into Jenny McCarthy territory. There's nothing wrong with asserting that thinking positively will improve your life, but connecting it with quantum physics and the like, without rigorous scientific proof, is dangerous and stupid.
Oh, this is the dumbest thing but it made me laugh today: Celebrities that Look Like Mattresses.
How on Earth did they find these pairings? Has Google perfected their Mattress Recognition technology? (via @Rebeccamead_NYC)
Have you ever wanted to taste Kanye West's meat? Then what is wrong with you and what is wrong with these people?!?! They want to take tissue samples from celebrities like James Franco, Kanye, and Jennifer Lawrence and make artisanal salami out of them.
It all starts with your favorite celebrities, and a quick biopsy to obtain tissue samples. Isolating muscle stem cells, we grow celebrity meat in our proprietary bioreactors. In the tradition of Italian cured meats, we dry, age, and spice our product into fine charcuterie.
Note: BiteLabs might be completely fake. But
fake is the new real so... nope, this is just fake.
From photographer Victoria Will, olde tyme tin type portraits of celebrities at Sundance. The one of William H. Macy stopped me in my tracks:
Several others are worth a look as well. (via @khoi)
Esquire has Tom Junod writing profiles of the most famous men in Hollywood: Leonard DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt. This month, Junod tackles George Clooney, who despite not having a big box office hit until Gravity, is right up there with Pitt, Cruise, and Hanks in pure wattage of stardom.
He has other houses. He has one, famously, on Lake Como, in Italy, and he has built another in Cabo. In this, he is not so much of a throwback-after all, Leonardo DiCaprio has a house in Cabo. Indeed, Clooney and DiCaprio once ran into each other in Cabo and struck up a conversation based on their common interest in basketball. They each have ongoing games, and their ongoing games have attained a celebrity of their own. Clooney suggested they might play someday. DiCaprio said sure, but felt compelled to add, "You know, we're pretty serious."
They played at a neighborhood court. "You know, I can play," Clooney says in his living room. "I'm not great, by any means, but I played high school basketball, and I know I can play. I also know that you don't talk shit unless you can play. And the thing about playing Leo is you have all these guys talking shit. We get there, and there's this guy, Danny A I think his name is. Danny A is this club kid from New York. And he comes up to me and says, 'We played once at Chelsea Piers. I kicked your ass.' I said, 'I've only played at Chelsea Piers once in my life and ran the table. So if we played, you didn't kick anybody's ass.' And so then we're watching them warm up, and they're doing this weave around the court, and one of the guys I play with says, 'You know we're going to kill these guys, right?' Because they can't play at all. We're all like fifty years old, and we beat them three straight: 11-0, 11-0, 11-0. And the discrepancy between their game and how they talked about their game made me think of how important it is to have someone in your life to tell you what's what. I'm not sure if Leo has someone like that."
YouTuber Chase creates short videos where the faces of celebrities are swapped for other celebrity faces. The results are weird and often hilarious. The best one is probably the most recent video of Natalie Portman and Will Ferrell:
This quick Nicholson/Cruise clip from A Few Good Men is pretty good too:
Co.Create did an interview with the creator.
"When picking the celebrities, I am mainly considering two things. Their relevance and popularity, as well as the availability of unique, high-quality footage in which the actor is looking mostly towards the camera," Chase says. "Mashing up footage in which the characters are constantly looking side to side is much more difficult and usually results in a less convincing final product." He adds. "There have a been a few After Effects sessions that ended up in the recycle bin because of this."
George Packer, writing for the NY Times on the subject of modern celebrity:
Our age is lousy with celebrities. They can be found in every sector of society, including ones that seem less than glamorous. We have celebrity bankers (Jamie Dimon), computer engineers (Sergey Brin), real estate developers/conspiracy theorists (Donald J. Trump), media executives (Arianna Huffington), journalists (Anderson Cooper), mayors (Cory A. Booker), economists (Jeffrey D. Sachs), biologists (J. Craig Venter) and chefs (Mario Batali).
There is a quality of self-invention to their rise: Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit; Shawn Carter turned into Jay-Z; Martha Kostyra became Martha Stewart, and then Martha Stewart Living. The person evolves into a persona, then a brand, then an empire, with the business imperative of grow or die -- a process of expansion and commodification that transgresses boundaries by substituting celebrity for institutions. Instead of robust public education, we have Mr. Zuckerberg's "rescue" of Newark's schools. Instead of a vibrant literary culture, we have Oprah's book club. Instead of investments in public health, we have the Gates Foundation. Celebrities either buy institutions, or "disrupt" them.
Writer Tom Junod on journalism and regret:
I remember walking into a dinner party after Slate called the Angelina profile the Worst Celebrity Profile of All Time. My arrival was greeted with silence; people did not know what to say. So I brought it up, not just to ease the tension but also because I was, like my editor, perversely proud of being so honored, knowing that you can't hope to write the Best Celebrity Profile of All Time unless you are absolutely prepared to write the Worst. I'm not in this business because I expect to be admired but rather because I want the freedom to say what I want to say and get some kind of reaction for saying it, so if I can't enjoy the fact that Slate devoted 2,500 words to the Angelina profile then I've lost something of myself that I desperately need to preserve in order to write the way I want to write. The great vice of journalism in the age of social media is not its recklessness but rather its headlong rush for respectability -- its self-conscious desire to please an audience of peers rather than an audience of reader -- and the first step towards respectability is regret.
Here's his profile of Jolie and the Slate takedown of it. And you can like this post riiiiight down here (God, please do):
Up close, everyone looks a little weird. Even Anne Hathaway:
These remind me of macro photography of insects...when photographed close-up, people look like aliens too.
From Sarah Marshall, a list of celebrity fragrances that didn't quite make it to market.
Goldbloom by Jeff Goldblum: This fragrance, meant to be drizzled down the wearer's forearm (preferably while in a moving car) is redolent of warm eyeglasses, tanning oil, and Velociraptor musk. Perfect for work or leisure.
Wintour Harvest by Anna Wintour: Peppery, balsamic, indecisive, and fresh. Notes of warm blood and Galliano Sequin enliven this fragrance designed for the gal on the go.
Photographer Danny Evans photoshops images of celebrities so that they look like normal people. This one of Kanye and Kim is my favorite:
Man, I could stare at chubby Kanye all day. But the Tom Cruise one is pretty great as well:
Grantland's Bill Simmons and the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell had one of their epic email conversations the other day and posted it to Grantland. Topics included the NBA playoffs, sports journalism, LeBron, fame in the internet era, sports philosophers, and football concussions.
Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What's our game plan for the fact that -- thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations -- a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven't we experimented at all? Any "improvements" in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There's Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he's performing a public service. He's one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, "This couldn't be a dumber relationship right now."
Ethan Zuckerman proposes measuring attention with a unit of measure called a Kardashian. One Kardashian is equal to the amount of worldwide media attention that Kim Kardashian gets in a day.
I choose the Kardashian as a unit both because I like the mitteleuropean feel of the term -- like the Ohm or the Roentgen -- and because Kardashian is an exemplar of attention disconnected from merit, talent or reason. The Kardashian mentions how much attention is paid, not how much attention is deserved, so naming the unit after someone who is famous for being famous seems appropriate. Should the unit be adopted, I would hope that future scholars will calculate Kardashians using whatever public figure is appropriate at the time for being inappropriately famous.
Example usage: The crisis in Greece received 12 microKardashians of attention today.
In 2006, Garth Sundem and John Tierney published an equation in the NY Times that attempted to predict celebrity marriage crackups using a few metrics: age, fame, sexiness, etc. The pair recently modified the equation based on the evidence of the last five years and surprisingly, the equation is simpler.
What went right with them -- and wrong with our equation? Garth, a self-professed "uber-geek," has crunched the numbers and discovered a better way to gauge the toxic effects of celebrity. Whereas the old equation measured fame by counting the millions of Google hits, the new equation uses a ratio of two other measures: the number of mentions in The Times divided by mentions in The National Enquirer.
"This is a major improvement in the equation," Garth says. "It turns out that overall fame doesn't matter as much as the flavor of the fame. It's tabloid fame that dooms you. Sure, Katie Holmes had about 160 Enquirer hits, but she had more than twice as many NYT hits. A high NYT/ENQ ratio also explains why Chelsea Clinton and Kate Middleton have better chances than the Kardashian sisters."
Garth's new analysis shows that it's the wife's fame that really matters. While the husband's NYT/ENQ ratio is mildly predictive, the effect is so much weaker than the wife's that it's not included in the new equation. Nor are some variables from the old equation, like the number of previous marriages and the age gap between husband and wife.
Alan Light got himself invited to the Academy Awards in 1989 with full access privileges...he took along a camera and shot dozens of candid photos of celebrities on the red carpet, at rehersals, and at after-parties. Here are Drew Barrymore and Corey Feldman arriving:
Barrymore, 14, and Feldman, 17, were dating at the time. At this point, Barrymore had been in rehab twice for drugs/alcohol and is two months away from a failed suicide attempt. Light also got photos of Lucille Ball a month before she died, Tom Cruise and Mimi Rogers, Mayim Bialik, Jodie Foster (who won the Best Actress Oscar that year for The Accused) and, my favorite for some reason, River Phoenix.
In this profile of Chris Evans (aka Captain America) for GQ, Edith Zimmerman catches a movie actor on the rise testing the boundaries of his soon-to-be mega-fame.
Since we're both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He's an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn't know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender's professional fliirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.
Is this the part of a celebrity profile where I go into how blue the star's eyes are? Because they are very blue.
I found this photo of Alfred Hitchcock with three children here labeled "Alfred Hitchcock and his kids" but since he only had one child and looks older in the photo, I assume those are actually his three granddaughters, Mary, Tere, and Katie.
Anyway, lots of other rarely seen celebrity photos here, including a few fakes -- notably the JFK/Monroe one done by Alison Jackson -- an unheartthrobby George Clooney as a teen, and Hitler's baby picture. (via ★genmon)
Great Roseanne Barr piece in New York magazine last week about fame and her shitty network TV experiences.
During the recent and overly publicized breakdown of Charlie Sheen, I was repeatedly contacted by the media and asked to comment, as it was assumed that I know a thing or two about starring on a sitcom, fighting with producers, nasty divorces, public meltdowns, and bombing through a live comedytour. I have, however, never smoked crack or taken too many drugs, unless you count alcohol as a drug (I don't). But I do know what it's like to be seized by bipolar thoughts that make one spout wise about Tiger Blood and brag about winning when one is actually losing.
It's hard to tell whether one is winning or, in fact, losing once one starts to think of oneself as a commodity, or a product, or a character, or a voice for the downtrodden. It's called losing perspective. Fame's a bitch. It's hard to handle and drives you nuts. Yes, it's true that your sense of entitlement grows exponentially with every perk until it becomes too stupendous a weight to walk around under, but it's a cutthroat business, show, and without the perks, plain ol' fame and fortune just ain't worth the trouble.
From a tweet by Dustin Curtis quoting a Twitter employee:
At any moment, Justin Bieber uses 3% of our infrastructure. Racks of servers are dedicated to him.
When will references to "all my racks at Twitter" make it into pop/rap songs?
After an LA Times interview of George Michael in which the singer talks of his desire step away from the limelight, Frank Sinatra wrote the Times and Michael a letter.
Come on George, Loosen up. Swing, man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice and be grateful to carry the baggage we've all had to carry since those lean nights of sleeping on buses and helping the driver unload the instruments.
And no more of that talk about "the tragedy of fame." The tragedy of fame is when no one shows up and you're singing to the cleaning lady in some empty joint that hasn't seen a paying customer since Saint Swithin's day. And you're nowhere near that; you're top dog on the top rung of a tall ladder called Stardom, which in latin means thanks-to-the-fans who were there when it was lonely.
The letter is much better if read in the voice of Phil Hartman's SNL impersonation of Sinatra. In fact, Hartman did a SNL skit as Sinatra with Dana Carvey as George Michael shortly after this letter was published. Can't find that anywhere online, but I did find one of my all-time favorite SNL skits: the Sinatra Group.
You don't scare me. I got chunks of guys like you in my stool.
Razzle Dazzle is a six-part video series on how fame is portrayed in Hollywood films.
Razzle Dazzle is a six-part video essay that looks at how movies have examined the many facets of fame (heroism, infamy, and everything in between) and how they have shaped the audience's perception of what fame offers. Chapter 1, "The Pitch," lays out how movies are just one component of an all-consuming media that is constantly shaping the modern image culture. Subsequent chapters look at certain archetypes -- the Hero, the Fraud, the Parasite, the Maverick -- that have become staples of the media cycle.
Part one and part two are currently available.
I started a bit of stupid fun on Twitter: #webappcelebs. Some of my favorites so far:
Eddie Van Hahlo
Paul Reubens on Rails
Google Lou Reader
Sid Del.ico.us (also: Benicio Del.ico.us)
AIM Judy Dench
And I can't find it, but I swear I saw someone do Lucy Hululiu, which seems so much funnier that just Lucy HuLiu for some reason.
Joanne McNeil on The Daily Death:
In the future, a famous person will die every fifteen minutes. Already it's happening. The ascent of the microcelebrities, the 24 hour news cycle, citizen journalism, and our darkest fantasies all collide on Twitter now. The website's rhetorical question "What are you doing?" sometimes feels more like "Who died today?"
I wrote about something similar a few years ago in a post called Death in the celebrity age:
Chances are in 15-20 years, someone famous whose work you enjoyed or whom you admired or who had a huge influence on who you are as a person will die each day...and probably even more than one a day. And that's just you...many other famous people will have died that day who mean something to other people. Will we all just be in a constant state of mourning? Will the NY Times national obituary section swell to 30 pages a day? As members of the human species, we're used to dealing with the death of people we "know" in amounts in the low hundreds over the course of a lifetime. With higher life expectancies and the increased number of people known to each of us (particularly in the hypernetworked part of the world), how are we going to handle it when several thousand people we know die over the course of our lifetime?
The population pyramid for who the average American knows (or knows of enough to care) probably looks something like this:
That's a lot of future death.
Update: On Twitter, Kurt Anderson quoted David Kipen:
Baby Boomers have created so many celebrities that, in the future, somebody famous will die every fifteen minutes.
Update: The NY Times has a slightly different take on the recent rash of celebrity death:
This summer could come to be known as the summer when baby boomers began to turn to the obituary pages first, to face not merely their own mortality or ponder their legacies, but to witness the passing of legends who defined them as a tribe, bequeathing through music, culture, news and politics a kind of generational badge that has begun to fray.
I don't know if you'll enjoy reading a NY Times profile of the Olsen Twins, but I was oddly fascinated.
Mary-Kate's contribution to the enterprise is a collector's knowledge. She has been buying vintage Lanvin and Givenchy, among other classic labels of the mid-20th century, for a number of years. (Unlike Ashley, Mary-Kate continues to act, having played, with a perfect semblance of haze and obfuscation, a born-again Christian drug dealer on the third season of "Weeds." This year she appeared opposite Ben Kingsley in the film "The Wackness.") Ashley is the more entrepreneurial, the one who will tell you how much she admires Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
A list of famous people who have been homeless, most of the "lived in their car" variety. The list includes Hilary Swank, Jim Carrey, Ella Fitzgerald, David Letterman, and William Shatner.
In an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released More Information Than You Require, John Hodgman shares how he became a famous minor television personality and how he deals with all that fame.
As a matter of fact, sometimes now, if I'm feeling tired or a little sad, I'll go put on my UPS-man outfit and hit the subway. I'll hope that maybe someone will recognize me. It's very embarrassing, isn't it? But most of the time, it doesn't happen. No matter how crowded it is, no one says anything. They are reading, talking, thinking about where the train is taking them next. They don't say anything to me at all. And that's when I sit back, and look at them all, and think to myself: Don't any of you have a television? What THE FUCK is wrong with you people? I'M SITTING RIGHT HERE!
Some of this is from a bit Hodgman did for an episode of This American Life earlier this year.
Wired writer Sonja Zjawinski commissioned for-hire paparazzo Izaz Rony (previously) to follow her around for the day and take photos.
I leave the coffee shop with Rony trailing unobtrusively. I'm beginning to understand why celebrities go nuts, shave their heads, and bounce in and out of rehab; I would, too, if I had relentless photographers on my tail 24/7. When I stop to peruse a pair of shoes at an outdoor stall, Rony snaps away at me through a rack of dresses, startling a fellow shopper. "Sorry," I sheepishly explain. "That's, uh ... my photographer."
I don't feel like a celebutante hounded by the media anymore; I feel like the lamest lame-o in Phonytown. And I've had enough of it. I call off the shoot.
From Coolspotters, a new site that tracks celebrity use of brands and fashion, here's a list of celebs that use an iPhone, including Heidi Klum, Karl Rove, Paris Hilton, and, er, Steve Jobs. (via mike davidson)
In the late '90s, pop-culture historian Bill Geerhart had a little too much time on his hands and a surfeit of stamps. So, for his own entertainment, the then-unemployed thirtysomething launched a letter-writing campaign to some of the most powerful and infamous figures in the country, posing as a curious 10-year-old named Billy.
He wrote to Charles Manson, Ted Kacynzski, and Dick Cheney, among others...and they wrote back. Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, wrote back on his own personalized letterhead. (thx, andrew)
Some advice from Michael J. Fox.
No matter how much fame you have, it's not something that belongs to you. If I'm famous, that doesn't belong to me -- that belongs to you. If you can't remember who I am, I'm no longer famous.
And a bunch of other stuff that's surprisingly candid and good.
The last episode of Ricky Gervais' Extras has a message concerning celebrity and television:
"The Victorian freak show never went away," Millman rails in a soliloquy that serves as a climax of the "Extras" final episode and a moment of redemption for the character, whose life and friendships have been corrupted by fame. "Now it's called 'Big Brother' or 'American Idol,' where in the preliminary rounds we wheel out the bewildered to be sniggered at by multimillionaires."
To the networks, he says: "You can't wash your hands of this. You can't keep going, 'Oh, it's exploitation, but it's what the public wants.' No."
To the audience watching at home, he says: "Shame on you. And shame on me. I'm the worst of all. Cause I'm one of these people that goes, 'I'm an entertainer, it's in my blood.' Yeah, it's in my blood because a real job's too hard."
These half-n-half celebrity face mashups are unsettling. "The right half of a face has to be from one celebrity and the left half from another." The Bill/Hillary and the Cruise/Holmes ones are especially good.
Early this morning, Paris Hilton was released from jail after serving a 23-day sentence for violating her probation on a prior conviction for reckless driving. Here's a photo taken soon after her release:
We see photos of celebrities smiling in public all the time, at movie openings, at awards shows, on stage, on TV, on red carpets...anywhere there's a camera waiting to capture a public image. Hilton in particular is known for smiling in public, chin down and looking up to the right. But the above photo is the first time she's ever looked genuinely happy, an authentic smile. Never have all those smiling celebrity photos -- and the purposes behind them -- looked so phony.
Cockney rhyming slang meets celebrity namedropping. "I left my Clare Rayners down the Fatboy Slim so I was late for the Basil Fawlty. The Andy McNab cost me an Ayrton Senna but it didn't stop me getting the Britney Spears in. Next thing you know it turned into a Gary Player and I was off my Chevy Chase."
Paul Schmelzer's project to collect autographs of his (Paul's) name from famous people. So far, he's got scrawls from David Sedaris, Yoko Ono, Frank Gehry, and Pat Buchanan, but has been turned down by Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Are you worried about the future glut of obituaries in national newspapers? Because I sure am. Think about it: because of our networked world and mass media, there are so many more nationally known people than there were 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, to be famous you had to be a politician, a movie star, a sports star, a general/admiral, a writer, a musician, a TV star, or rich. These days, we have many more popular sports, more sports teams, more movies are being made, there are 2-3 orders of magnitude more TV channels and programs, more music, more musical genres, more books are being written, and there's more rich people. Plus, these days people routinely become famous for appearing in advertising, designing things, being good cooks, yammering away on the internet, etc. etc. A year's worth of guests on Hollywood Squares...there's 2300 people right there that probably wouldn't have been famous in 1953, and that's just one show.
Frankly, I don't know how we're all going to handle this. Chances are in 15-20 years, someone famous whose work you enjoyed or whom you admired or who had a huge influence on who you are as a person will die each day...and probably even more than one a day. And that's just you...many other famous people will have died that day who mean something to other people. Will we all just be in a constant state of mourning? Will the NY Times national obituary section swell to 30 pages a day? As members of the human species, we're used to dealing with the death of people we "know" in amounts in the low hundreds over the course of a lifetime. With higher life expectancies and the increased number of people known to each of us (particularly in the hypernetworked part of the world), how are we going to handle it when several thousand people we know die over the course of our lifetime?
Adam Greenfield sights a celebrity hero in New York. "We finished up our meal, we retrieved our bikes, and we rode away, into the ongoing rush and joy of a life given to me in large measure by the unhappy-looking man at the table behind us."
Man supposedly caught cheating with Cameron Diaz responds to the press coverage on his weblog. "I told my wife, 'One of the reasons this is so stupid is because you know that if I was hooking up with [Cameron Diaz] you'd have been the first one I high-fived.'"