We've spent the past week digesting this William Powers article in the National Journal regarding how big, austere daily papers justify covering celebrity "news." Powers's point is that even though celebrity crap is one of the most sought-after news products, big papers keep it at arm's length for decorum's sake. They also don't have the resources, personnel, or professional desire to assiduously track an eternally moving, churning target like celebrity news. However, when a celeb story gets so huge that virtually everyone is talking about it, ignoring such a topic begins to look willful, elitist, or even ignorant. So assuming one can at least stay above the fray of breaking celebrity news and scoops, how do you appear engaged with popular culture while not actually deigning to cover it? That's easy. You just cover the coverage.
The celeb-news examples Powers mentions are the Mel Gibson DUI and the conception, birth, and "existence" of Suri Cruise. Those events were major attention spikes for the celebrity news cycle in print, web, and TV, but made little to no immediate impression on elite papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, or even the Los Angeles Times until well into their shelf life. Powers's example of coverage finally breaking through is this NYT article on Suri Cruise's birth, the resultant media frenzy, and the trafficking in celebrity baby photos; then you have a similar treatment of the fuss around Gibson's woes. Powers concludes that this is just as it should be:
Let's face it, there's way too much content about famous people for anyone with a life to keep track of. And this is where the big papers come in. They may be stodgy and slow out of the gate, but they have become the ultimate filter of celebrity news, the barrier a story must cross to reach true critical mass. ... They tell us when to care.
In reality, and especially in the case of celebrity news, nothing could be further from the truth. By the time the NYT or similar journalistic pillar gets hold of a celebrity news story (or quite often, a pop trend), it's way, way overexposed, if not over. Rather than considering celebrity news from a safe Olympian remove and gracing the subject with a cerebral touch, such articles say little of interest to celeb-news whores and even less to whatever imaginary audience still gets a charge from the contradiction inherent in highbrow treatments of lowbrow subjects.
Of course, the miscegenation of highbrow and lowbrow is our bread and butter on Gawker, so we're throwing out neither baby nor bathwater. It's not that you can't enjoy both, or even enjoy feeling bad about your enjoyment — what's played is pretending there's any practical or essential difference between covering celebs or covering coverage of celebs. We certainly don't make that distinction. It's like talking about cooking but never discussing food, or indulging in a fascination with prostitutes while foregoing any mention of sex. As much as any celebrity is news, the Cruises are news, and so is the news about the Cruises. If you wait for the Times to tell you when to care, then you're better off not caring at all.
The Star Chamber [National Journal]
[Photo: Getty Images]