Is Celebrity Gossip Really Dead This Time?

According to one editor of a celebrity weekly, it's the "last trip to the buffet table," as Britney Spears' gurney-bound trip to the hospital signaled the end of dish. If that seems a bit ominous, it may be because there is a discernible lull in glossy-packaged brain candy. "There's nothing going on in celebrity land. There's no news, no gossip, no scandal," whined a TV producer to Liz Smith a few months back. "The Oscars showed how dull things are. People are only interested in politics." It's true. Reliable pop tarts no longer yield Google results like they once did (at left, Paris Hilton's trend chart, which shows a baseline traffic drop of about two-thirds). Here are a handful of theories about what's happened:

1. Politics trumps all. Hillary dodges phantom sniper fire, Obama defends/tolerates/repudiates his reverend, Bill fields a panicked 3 a.m. phone call from Gina Gershon, and McCain's inner beast is the only thing that can stop the Army's latest bioforce experiment gone haywire. Nicole Richie would have to actually get fat before she could stand to compete with Ashley Dupre.

2. Media boundaries are getting blurred. The Atlantic Monthly ran Britney on its cover in the same news cycle that had Us Weekly interview Obama and Camille Paglia. Then the New York Times paid almost as much attention to Heath Ledger's demise as, well, Gawker did. Things are not as they should be and we are all scared and confused.

3. Burn-out. What can Paris possibly do next except mutate into Lynne Cheney? And who cares?

4. Bad narrative. Here's Salon's Rebecca Traister: "Every once in a while a slam-bam terrific plot development — Pitt's abandonment of Aniston for Jolie was probably the apotheosis of celeb-weekly euphoria — would shake up the whole tableau, allowing the character descriptions to become fluid: stud could transform into cuckold; nice girl into tramp; a blood-obsessed, tattooed husband-stealer could even become a mother earth figure." So not only do their scripts lack cohesion, their lives do, too.

5. Gossip mongers are too old/out of the loop. Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt sound like they'd get up to no good in an Evelyn Waugh novel. In fact, they're engaged, and she's on The Hills. Go figure.

All reasonable explanations for the current wasteland, but none really indicative of a Jann Wenner-led Rapture. The election will be over soon. Just because tabloids are being replaced by papers of record doesn't mean people aren't paying attention to the same content—it's just getting harder to track how they do it. And slam-bam terrific plot developments can't go extinct: there's always royalty to depend on for a good debauch with national consequences, and innocence will continue to be lost so long as its existence continues to be heralded.

Number 5 seems the likeliest bet. The next generation of sex tape stars and unwitting genitalia models is still in transition from the Disney Channel. But if Miley Cyrus is anything to go by, they (and the people who exploit them for a living) have a bright future yet. But can someone please get poor Spencer Pratt a Wikipedia entry?