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Trivial, frivolous and vain… but still journalism

Celebrity gossip reporting might be the garnish — a clipping of parsley, a side of horseradish — to the prime…

By Megan Stewart , in Making the News: Focus on Canadian journalism , on February 19, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

Celebrity gossip reporting might be the garnish — a clipping of parsley, a side of horseradish — to the prime rib of investigative, enterprise and/or analytical journalism. We can’t live without the steak (vegetarians, stay with me for a moment), but although we can live sans quelque chose d’extra, life just might be better with the added flavour.

Cue Lainey Liu. Perhaps the most journalistic of celebrity bloggers weighing in on the vain frivolities of the trivialatti. I say journalistic if journalism means these three things: research and writing and current events. She is, however, not objective, not without opinion and not shy about editorializing. And loudly at that. Yet, she does consider the interest of her on-line public, certainly values accuracy, and concentrates on the larger societal contexts that permit celebrities to be celebrated. Social commentary is the name of her journalistic game.

She also testifies to her own occasional shameless self-promotion (she often links out to ETalk Canada, where her talents have landed her a regular gig reporting on Canadians in Hollywood), makes it very clear when a post is sponsored by an advertiser (she runs national campaigns for condoms, hair products and wireless networks… oh my) and also kindly thanks her readers every day for their loyalty. She says she reads every email her readers send, but doesn’t allow comments — a detriment to blogging but a strategy that maintains the vision of the site. Nonetheless, I’d like to know what a few of these readers — out of the roughly 800,000 daily page views and 500,000 unique hits per week — have to say.

Her enterprising spirit is admirable and she has broken several celebrity stories (including Angelina Jolie’s first pregnancy). But, frankly, I could care less about most of the content. For me, the sheer pleasure of reading Lainey is the humour, insight and clarity of the writing. I know all about a. bunch. of. topics. I. could. care. less. about. because I am all over the judgmental wit and crude honesty with which she reports. I am seriously stupefied that I will read all about Jessica Simpson’s stage, wardrobe and love lives because of Lainey’s original take on the singer’s personal issues. Go figure. For me, despite the famous subjects, it’s not just superficial. Lainey addresses organized religion, child stardom, nepotism, drug abuse, homophobia, and other deceits.

Like the deceitfulness behind manipulating and marketing a celebrity image.  Part of a greater narrative, Lainey is essential reading for anyone who as ever glanced at a supermarket tabloid, Googled Hilton sex-tape, or believed that Tom Cruise is 5’10”. Today’s celebrity blogging culture is one effort to put the knife through the heart of what Daniel Boorstin coined a “pseudo-event.” And because so much of tabloid culture revolves around a symbiotic relationship between the famous and the press, it’s enlightening to have the wool pulled back from our eyes.

A British postfeminist theorist who has turned her studies to celebrity and gossip cultures has also paid close attention to She writes:

Blogs encourage a cynical awareness of the production of celebrity culture and encourage us to question the mechanisms through which we are positioned as consumers.

On invasion of privacy, master marketing and why Lainey will always be buying what Jolie and Brad Pitt have to sell:

As I’ve written again and again, this is a family of 8, hunted everywhere, that can disappear when they want to. For as long as they want to. They have the money, they are willing to spend the money, and they do it when they need to. When they don’t want to be photographed. They do it wherever they are. They do it around the world. They do it in Vietnam. They do it with the local authorities, they can afford to have rules bent, to have policies and procedures overridden, they do it because they don’t cut corners. They do not haggle. They are willing to pay for what they want.

And so when they are “found”, it is almost never an accident. They are “found” because they want to be found. They are photographed because they want/need to be photographed. Photographed for the same Brangelunatics [fans of Pitt and Jolie] who are salivating over new images of the Chosen Family all while protesting the so called aggressive actions of the intrusive paparazzi.

Oh really?

Then pick a side. Either never look at “candids” of the Brange, or shut the fuck up and appreciate that they are playing us like Lionel Ritchie, all night long.

Just because I buy doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s being sold.

Covering the lives of the trivialatti is not all fun and games, and in 2004, with the advent of sites like this, the Poynter Institute asked why we cover celebrities anyway:

The news media, imperfect as they are, constitute the central nervous system of our society and communications infrastructure for the culture. We are the essential plumbing — we carry useful information, including information on changing values, priorities, and shared challenges. But we also carry (or maybe spread is the better word here) that which weakens, that which corrodes, that which debases.

The British theorist has little respect for anonymous, lazy, snarky, rumour-mongering and frankly slanderous commentary:

[…] unlike gossip magazines, blogs are beholden to no journalistic standards and rely on unsubstantiated rumors, unsourced stories, unflattering candid photography and acerbic commentary. Gossip bloggers often prefer to remain anonymous and many sites rely on members of the public providing content, which is posted without attribution. Indeed, the outing of bloggers has now become a pastime of the mainstream media.

And hence why I buy what Lainey is selling. I think she is credible, can corroborate her information, her commentary is second to none and — perhaps the true test of celebrity coverage — after all else, she is entertaining.

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