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FAME fatale media effects on celebrities and us

Vol. one

January 2010


Vol. one

January 2010

09 TAKING RESPONSIBILITY AND FINDING STABILITY The days of the controlling studio system are gone in a new Hollywood culture that tolerates all behaviors. More then ever, young stars need a strong support system and executive-level interventions.


13 MICHAEL It took the passing of Michael for many to finally feel sympathetic towards his upgrowing which led to the misunderstood man he was, but my Tourettes Syndrome made me understand MJ long before.


17 STARSTRUCK The real celebrity spinmeister is our own mind, which tricks us into believing the stars are our lovers and our social intimates. Celebrity culture plays to all of our innate tendencies:


03 05 07 23

GOSSIP Obsessed with Celebrities (Perez Hilton) IMAGE Pass the Butter! Please (Does being skinny really make you happy?) TRUTHS & LIES You Don’t Look Like This? Neither do they. (Photoshopped celebrities) LASTING IMPRESSION Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew Pinsky

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Fame Fatale




OBSESSED For every friend, he's made two with enemies by taking potshots at

Do you give some subjects special treatment? I definitely have my heroes and my villains, and the people I like and the people I don't like. It's like a soap opera. I don't try to be objective. I don't want to. I'm not the New York Times.

Why is your blog at the top of the gossip heap? I work so hard at it. On a typical day, I put in 16 or 17 hours at my computer. But I love what I do, and I work for myself. I don't consider it a job.

Why do you love it? I'm able to be creative and be silly and express myself. The Web site is a part of me. It's like my tongue, and if I didn't have it anymore I guess I'd have to learn a different way to communicate, but it'd be very difficult for me.

You're creating a media empire? My goal is to be the gay Latino Oprah.

Do you want to meet Oprah to ask her for advice? No, I want to meet her because she's what I've always looked up to. I believe she genuinely wants to make


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the glossy elite according to his own fickle grudges. As a sucker for attention, he lives by "No publicity is bad publicity,.” by matthew hutson photographed by slixta the world a better place, and she genuinely wants to entertain people, and she's genuinely a good person. She's not perfect by any means. She holds grudges, she's human. And that's great!

Why do you think people are so obsessed with celebrities? I don't think people are any more obsessed with celebrities today than they were in the past. The only difference is that maybe now obsession with celebrities is being monetized more than it was because mainstream media realize how profitable it can be. But people are fascinated by celebrity because it's an aspirational thing, it's an escapist thing.

Is obsession with the minutiae of celebrities' lives healthy? I think what I'm doing is good and positive. I entertain people every day. And I talk about anything that interests me. I talk about politics a lot, like what's happening in California with Prop 8. I talk about music a lot. I mention charities and other worthwhile causes.

Why do you try to out gay celebs? I don't really call it outing; I call it reporting. I don't think there's anything wrong with being gay and out. And I definitely don't think that being out and gay

will hurt your career in Hollywood. It's lame when people aren't honest, especially because they have nothing to lose.

But by making their private lives public, are you doing them a favor or are you VDFUL³FLQJWKHLUKDSSLQHVVWR³JKW homophobia? I'm on a mission to talk about public figures' private lives. That's my job. Is anything off-limits? Right now, I know where Jennifer Hudson is. But what good would reporting it do me other than get me a little more traffic? That could really harm her because she's trying to mourn in private.

Tell me about your book. It's called Red Carpet Suicide: A Survival Guide to Keeping Up with the Hiltons. I'm not just getting chuckles or drawing stuff coming out of people's noses and mouths. I'm actually conveying useful information: that it's hard work being famous. It doesn't happen to just anyone.

z e r Pe


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Fame Fatale



by shelley carson


Pass The BUTTER!

Hollywood typically portrays success through image but does being thin and beautiful really make you happier?


norexia Nervosa is a great American tragedy. It’s the most deadly of psychiatric illnesses, killing almost 20% of those afflicted. Media portrayal of unhealthy thinness as the ideal of feminine beauty is one (but certainly not the only) contributing factor to this devastating illness. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Hollywood offer us a glamorous, oversized, butter-eating role model. I just saw director/writer Nora Ephron’s new movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child. First, let me say that the movie is absolutely charming, and from an entertainment perspective, it is superb - I hope all of you will see it because it deserves to be a box office hit. However, the film has important psychological undertones that are worthy as well. One of those undertones involves the relation-


Fame Fatale

January 2010

ship of thinness and beauty to happiness and success. Hollywood, as well as other media outlets, has long promoted this connection. As media consumers, we are constantly bombarded by images of women, such as Kate Moss, who are impossibly thin and gorgeous living the high life and having sex with equally gorgeous men. Several studies dating back to the 1990’s indicated that the “ideal” female body as portrayed by the media has become progressively (and more unrealistically) thinner with each decade since the 1950’s. Unfortunately, young women are susceptible to these portrayals, and an alarming increase in lifethreatening eating disorders on college campuses, as well as in high schools, middle schools and even in elementary school-age girls, has paralleled this media trend toward unhealthy thinness. While media portrayals are certainly not the sole cause of anorexia or bulimia, they have been implicated as a contributing

Food = Happiness



Sugar soothes us when we’re stressed-or at least it calms down stressed-out rats, which are good models for stress in people. But before you race to the vending machine with a license to binge, know that a little sugar may soothe rattled nerves, but too much will backfire, playing moody havoc with your blood sugar.



“Carbs raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, which lifts our spirits,” says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food & Mood.But think whole-wheat bread and other whole-grain carbs, because they also stabilize blood sugar levels-unlike refined grains (white bread, pasta, rice, and pretty much anything white).

3 social factor. Enter Julia Child (or at least Julia Child as portrayed by Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron). This portrait of the oversized and definitely-not-gorgeous Julia is so glamorous that it partially neutralizes the negative effects of all those can’t-be-too-thin fashion models and movie starlets. The non-anorexic Julia lives in fabulous apartments in Paris, she meets with influential editors in New York, and she definitely has an active sex life! But more importantly, she loves life (and butter!) - and she spreads that joie de vivre to everyone she meets, from the Parisian apple vendor to the American ambassador. In one scene Julia and her equally-oversized sister (played by Jane Lynch) are admiring themselves in a mirror before a social event. Julia, upon seeing the reflection, says something like “Not bad. Not great...but not bad!” The sisters then collapse in laughter and hugs. It’s clear that looking “great” is not an essential ingredient in their enjoyment of the good life!

Hurray for a positive media portrayal of a woman who is not on a diet of mineral water and rabbit food and whose beauty is not surgically-enhanced! Hurray for a role model whose inner beauty, kindness, and willingness to pursue a dream (even if that dream involved lots of butter!) are rewarded by acclaim, a long happy marriage, and lots of good times and friends. I’m not advocating overeating as a path to happiness and success. I am suggesting, however, that a positive attitude, a love of good food and good company, and a dream that you pursue on a daily basis (all of which are Julia traits) will take you further down the path to well-being and success - and even long life (Julia lived to be almost 92) - than will starvation and the fear of fat that permeates our media. Thank you, Julia Child, Meryl Streep, and Nora Ephron, for reminding us that butter is not the enemy!


Numerous studies show that getting more of the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA in your diet makes you happier and smarter. Even people battling tough-totreat depression feel as much as 50% better when they get lots of DHA. To keep your chin cheerfully up, aim for 200 mg of DHA a day.



Popeye’s Fave No wonder he was always in such a high-energy mood. Spinach is full of folate, a B vitamin that’s a must for making feel-good serotonin. Like DHA, folate is potent enough to ease clinical depression, say researchers. If you’re trying to stay on the sunny side of life, make chowing down Popeye-style a habit.

January 2010

Fame Fatale




by margarita tartakovsky, m.s.

{N e i t h edro t h e y. this?


Yo u D o n ’ t Look Like


e’ve already explored the ageold practice of altering the images of famous figures — with everyone from President Lincoln to Faith Hill (see here). Today we take another look at the latest airbrushing fakery of celebrity photographs. Even though we’re well aware that all photos in Hollywood are altered, it still doesn’t lessen the blow: We can begin to feel bad about ourselves or aspire to these images. What’s interesting is that well before wand meets image, these celebs spend hours in hair and makeup, as photographers and crew fine-tune the lighting and various angles for the perfect shot. And weeks or months before that, the staff works on finding a creative concept and the most flattering, beautiful clothes. Once the photos are taken, everyone pores over each image to find the one. And then — some expert Photoshops it. So, next time you’re wishing you had Kelly Clarkson’s flawless face or Jessica Alba’s tiny waist, just remember — so do Clarkson and Alba. Here’s a selection of images that are highly airbrushed and highly ridiculous.


truths & lies

“Simply stunning,” is how People describes Beckham’s ads for Armani. Yes, the airbrushing is quite impressive, and Beckham is also quite satisfied. “Victoria’s stomach has been reworked with make-up and lighting and she is grateful for that,” a source says. It’s pretty obvious that airbrushing was also part of the reworking process.

Above is Kelly Clarkson’s new album cover, and you wouldn’t be the only one to assume heavyhanded Photoshop at play. Kelly Clarkson does, too. According to , Clarkson recently blogged about her cover: “It’s very colorful and they have definitely photo-shopped the crap out of me but I don’t care. haha! Whoever she is, she looks great.” In December, Jessica Alba, who’s been praised by many magazines for shedding her baby weight in a flash, had her waist, hips and legs sawed off — along with other standard Photoshop improvements — in these ads for Campari. In something we thought we’d-never-see news: an un-airbrushed image. The new W magazine cover reveals Brad Pitt in all his imperfect glory. So, what would you rather see: Realistic images that portray celebs just as they truly are, or an airbrushed fantasy like all of the above?


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x xx


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Fame Fatale



Responsi bility Sta The days of the controlling studio system are gone in a new Hollywood culture that tolerates all behaviors. More then ever, young stars need a strong support system and executivelevel interventions.

by Karen Thomas + Photographed by Merkley


t 25, britney spears says she has seen “rock bottom.” At 20, lindsay lohan is in rehab for a second time. And 26-year-old paris hilton? Behind bars. Spears, Lohan and Hilton are just the most infamous faces making news right now. Nicole Richie, 25, is in court this week facing a second drunken-driving charge, and Mischa Barton, 21, was just hospitalized on Memorial Day for mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. The list of twentysomethings who have dealt with DUI laws or rehab goes on: Rapper Eve, 29; Prison Break’s Lane Garrison, 27; Desperate Housewives’ Jesse Metcalfe, 28; and The Hills’ Jason Wahler, 20. It seems young, club-crawling stars are spiraling out of control. Or maybe it’s that Hollywood has a high profile. Two-thirds of 1,007 people in a weekend USA TODAY/Gallup Poll believe Hollywood stars are no more likely to get into trouble than other young people. “It can happen in Kansas just like it can happen here,” says Brandy Navarre, co-owner of and x17 Photo Agency. It’s just more visible in Hollywood because “there’s a lot more flashbulbs going off.” Jerry Jolly, former director of California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, agrees that there is a national problem. But he is among those who say there are significant differences in Hollywood: Fame, money and power change everything. Says Jolly: “It’s a sad social commentary that is saying, with a wink and nod, ‘If you’re a celebrity and you have enough money, you can break the law.’ “ And the famous barely into their 20s have “too much power and money, and they’re making too many decisions at this point in their lives,” says addiction counselor Clare Waismann of L.A.’s Domus Retreat. Million-dollar paychecks and suites at tony hotels come with pressures — and the means to self-medicate. In the past two years, Waismann says, the center has treated increasing numbers of young Hollywoodites who are combining alcohol and opiates such as OxyContin to take the edge off. “They’re the numbing devices of this decade.” Everybody yearns for an anesthetizing escape, says Hairspray’s Amanda Bynes, 20, especially when “you’re young and in the public eye, and it’s a lot of stress.” Even the young stars of yesteryear say today’s Hollywood scene is tougher for the starlets. “We were not living in the day and age where the paparazzi were documenting our every move,” says Soleil Moon Frye, 30, who starred in Punky Brewster in the ‘80s. “We had Donkey Kong instead of the (celebrity) blogs.” James Van Der Beek, 30, says he and his Dawson’s Creek (1998-2003) castmates were lucky to be based in Wilmington, N.C. “There wasn’t the insanity around us. Had we been in L.A., who knows? But on weekends, we were out on the water, where there was nobody checking IDs.” Even the production of Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000) was a “cakewalk” by today’s comparisons, producer Darren Star says. “Those kids were pretty young and acting out, but … they had the peer pressure on each other to show up to do the work. Shannen (Doherty) ultimately would show up and do the right thing. They were having fun, but it wasn’t to the degree you see now.” The key to not falling these days, Bynes says: “You have to have strong people around you.”


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It will take one powerful

studio saying “one year sober, then we’ll work with them.” THE ENTOURAGE ELEMENT Many twentysomething millionaires don’t have that. A young star becomes a mini-corporation, employing hordes of helpers and handlers, who are easily dismissed if their advice is not to the star’s liking. From bodyguards and stylists to managers and publicists, those closest to the stars have an income that depends on the star working and maintaining a popular image. Relying on the entourage contributed to Hilton’s downfall — was part of her defense, even — to a 45-day jail sentence (which was reduced by half) she started serving Monday in California. The heiress was caught driving with a suspended license, a violation of her probation after a DUI. Hilton counted on her staff to open and read her mail, to deal with her lawyers and to advise her, she told a judge, and said she believed she was allowed to drive to work. (Hilton said in a statement released Monday when she surrendered to officials that her future includes “more of an active role in the decisions I make.”) Having a circle of enablers makes recognizing a problem elusive, says Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz. “All these people around you are making sure your head’s above water.” Morgan Creek production head James G. Robinson, who blasted Lohan’s behavior on the set of Georgia Rule in an infamous letter that was leaked to the media, says the actress ranks among the most talented. But her troubles now stem from her lonely life in L.A. surrounded by a salaried workforce. “She doesn’t have people (in L.A.) in her life that care for her and are not living off her,” Robinson says. “She needs people who don’t (care) that she’s a celebrity.” THE FAMILY FACTOR It seems appropriate to some to lay blame with the stars’ parents. But the USA TODAY poll finds that most people find other factors more culpable, including having too much money at a young age (79%), pressure of fame at a young age (68%) and negative influence of Hollywood culture (65%). Parents came in fourth, with 63%. Lohan’s mother, Dina, is often ridiculed for allowing the teenage actress to move to L.A. alone to pursue acting. Lohan’s father? Recently released from jail. Morgan Creek’s Robinson says he “wish(es) her family or someone who cares about her would get involved and try to give her guidance.” But, “when your child is the boss, and everybody is bowing to your child, how do you maintain authority and control?” asks Bobby producer Ed-

ward Bass, who cast Lohan in the 2006 film only after she personally assured him that rumors of drugs and alcohol were behind her. “It’s hard enough to raise a child under normal circumstances. It’s amazing child stars survive.” Brooke Shields, 42, survived, and she credits her “pit bull” mother for her success. But “when I was doing it, it was a different era. It scares me now. The ages of these kids are younger. The knowledge and the precociousness is much more — they’re so much more formed. I don’t know where the people are who are taking care of them.” Dina Lohan often defends her daughter’s behavior, most recently telling Us Weekly that the actress is “misunderstood. All she wants to do is act and have a somewhat normal life. When you’re 20, it’s normal to want to go to the Ivy, to go to the hot stores. She can’t live in a bubble.” THE CLUB SCENE Another factor contributing to the problem: the club scene. Gary Morris, CEO of Splash photo agency, says underage drinking is rampant at Hollywood clubs. “Every bouncer knows they’re letting in an underage drinker. No one does anything about it,” he says. “The clubs want the kids there, and the kids want to go in, and no one is stopping them.” Lohan — and Rumer Willis, 18, Jesse McCartney, 20, Hayden Panettiere, 17, and countless other underage stars — are often seen going into the clubs. And there is prolific photographic evidence. Panettiere confessed in an interview this year that it’s not hard to get in. “When you have a ‘name,’ they want you to be in the club,” she explains, adding that she doesn’t drink alcohol in clubs. “When celebrities are seen at a certain place, it all of a sudden becomes a mob scene. And it’s a given that people have fake IDs.” And “once you’re in, you’re in,” meaning, she says, that underage celebs are routinely served booze. California officials are feeling pressure to defend their efforts to enforce underage drinking laws. Less than two days after Lohan crashed her car and was cited for driving under the influence, photos of the actress outside a nightclub and slumped over in a car hit the Web. California’s ABC has met with Beverly Hills police for a possible investigation into whether Lohan or any nightclub violated laws. Part of the problem is that the nightclub business catering to celebs has grown in recent years, while policing resources remain limited. “It was one

thing to have five or six major players (like the Roxy or the Whiskey in the ‘90s), but now there are 20 or 30 clubs,” says the ABC’s Jolly. “With 40 investigators in the L.A. area, do you want all those resources tracking down Lindsay?” California’s ABC is putting pressure on club owners, says public information officer John Carr, but he adds that suspending a club’s liquor license takes more proof than a photo of an underage star walking in the door. ABC has launched 10 to 12 undercover operations in Hollywood clubs in the past year, and at least two (Teddy’s and Mood) are facing possible violations. EXECUTIVE INTERVENTION Maybe everybody is just numb to the whole clubbing/rehab cycle. “It’s glamorous, and it’s escalating,” Waismann says. “But no one is taking responsibility for it.” The days of the controlling studio system are gone in a new Hollywood culture that tolerates all behaviors. The old system was more protective of its young stars’ public images, even if it meant hiding the problems, says Hollywood historian Laurie Jacobson, author of Dishing Hollywood. But Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck knew their stars, she says. “The studios used to guide parents, but now they’re left on their own, and they’re dazzled by the big bucks.” Eventually, it will take executive-level intervention and industry self-policing to curb the problem, says Waismann. Forget the “little people” around train-wreck stars. “They can just fire them. It will take one powerful studio saying, ‘One year sober, and then we’ll work with them.’ Others will follow.” Desperate Housewives producer Marc Cherry says he tries to deal with young people on his show with a tough-love stance. After Cody Kasch was arrested on marijuana charges in 2005, Cherry says, “I told him, ‘If you do something that humiliates my show again, I will let you go.’ I never had another problem with him. I think what we’re seeing with the Lindsay Lohans and Paris Hiltons are people who have never been taught that there are consequences for their actions.”

January 2010

Fame Fatale


Photo from


by Robert Levin


was a huge fan of Michael Jackson. A lot of grown men would be embarrassed to admit that, but not me.  Not only was he a brilliant performer and songwriter that defined the 1980’s which made up most of my adolescence, there was something else that caused me to feel I had a special understanding of who he was.  That something else was his longing for a lost childhood and the battle within himself to both be a man while recouping some of the lost innocence he felt was stolen from him. While we certainly lived very different lives and I make no pretensions to be a superstar of Michael’s stature or possess the same talent he had, one thing we both did share was an enormously emotionally damaging childhood.  It is well documented the mixture of loathing, fear and love that Michael felt for his father.  Joe Jackson was a stern disciplinarian who would pummel his sons if they did not do what he wanted.  Some have credited this with driving Michael and his brothers to the incredible success that they did.  But it also left enormous emotional damage. I grew up with Tourettes Syndrome.  It went undiagnosed mostly because I had a moderate case and my parents were in complete denial that I had it.  The teasing, ridicule and sometimes physical abuse that I endured caused its own kind of damage in me and caused me to grow up quick and realize how cruel others could be.  As an adult, I found myself stunted for many years.  In my twenties and even early thirties

1972 1969

First hit single, I Want You Back, with Jackson 5.


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I longed for the happy, satisfying childhood that I felt I never had. I had no memories of great friendships or happy times in grade or high school.  Instead, it pained me to think of much I had endured. Like Michael, I often enjoyed spending time with my young nephews and niece and even worked as a camp counselor so I could live vicariously through the young people I oversaw.  I always seemed to have an ability to sit down next to a child of 7, 10 or 13 and make them feel like I was a friend and that I understood exactly what they were dealing with no matter what it was.  I looked at this as a kind of strange gift that was a ‘silver lining’ from all of the abuse I had undergone when younger.  Michael obviously had this gift too.  It’s one of the reasons why I doubted he ever was guilty of the child molestation charges that were leveled against him.  I believe he was misunderstood and that spending time with young people was cathartic for him just as it was for me.  The difference between us is that I always recognized that while I might have a special ability to empathize with young people and connect with them, I knew I was an adult and would never cross certain lines.  Perhaps because of Michael’s isolation he wasn’t around enough people that weren’t his servants and hanger-ons to fully recognize that difference like I did. Michael’s supposed pre-occupation for living forever, or at least as long as possible has been discussed throughout the years.  Of course people have seen the reports that he slept in an oxygen tent, that

First solo N. 1 hitBen.

1979 His album Off the Wall propels him to star status with 4 top 10 hits

he wore masks when outside and ate special foods to try and keep as young as possible. Michael took our societies preoccupation with  youth to an extreme and became the ultimate boy-man, almost a cartoon caricature of the younger Michael Jackson we all knew and loved.  I think a lot of us have tried to do the same thing in our own way.  Inevitably, we all grow older no matter how good we take care of our skin and bodies.  No matter what products we use or how we dress.  I look at someone like Madonna, another 80’s icon that has chosen a different path.  She fights like hell to stay in shape and take care of herself, but she also embraces that she is growing older and is doing so with dignity, despite the fact that like Michael Jackson, her initial fame and talent were tightly woven with her youth and beauty.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the passing of Michael and the lesson that his cut-too-short life holds, it’s that life is precious and fleeting.   As much as we’d like to we can’t re-live our past.  It’s better to embrace our lives and look to the future.  Today is the first day of the rest of our lives, and nobody can compete with father time.  Not even Michael Jackson.

1982 26 million Thriller Album copies sold.



Winner of 8 Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.

First interview in 14 yrs. He tells Oprah his skin has changed due to Vitiligo, a skin disease.

is s i h T Before his death on June it! T O 25, Michael N announced he would perform 50 final concerts in London starting July 13.


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Fame Fatale


Photo by Wilshirepix


Photo by poisonxivy

Celebrities are fascinating because they live in a parallel universe—one that looks and feels just like ours yet is lightyears beyond our reach.


By Carlin Flora



few years ago, Britney Spears and her entourage swept through my boss’s office. As she sashayed past, I blushed and stammered and leaned over my desk to shake her hand. She looked right into my eyes and smiled her pageant smile, and I confess, I felt dizzy. I immediately rang up friends to report my celebrity encounter, saying: “She had on a gorgeous, floor-length white fur coat! Her skin was blotchy!” I’ve never been much of a Britney fan, so why the contact high? Why should I care? For that matter, why should any of us? Celebrities are fascinating because they live in a parallel universe—one that looks and feels just like ours yet is light-years beyond our reach. Stars cry to Diane Sawyer about their problems—failed marriages, hardscrabble upbringings, bad career decisions—and we can relate. The paparazzi catch them in wet hair and a stained T-shirt, and we’re thrilled. They’re ordinary folks, just like us. And yet… Stars live in another world entirely, one that makes our lives seem woefully dull by comparison. The teary chat with Diane quickly turns to the subject of a recent $10 million film fee and honorary United Nations ambassadorship. The magazines that specialize in gotcha snapshots of schleppy-looking celebs also feature Cameron Diaz wrapped in a $15,000 couture gown and glowing with youth, money and star power. We’re left hanging—and we want more. It’s easy to blame the media for this cognitive whiplash. But the real celebrity spinmeister is our own mind, which tricks us into believing the stars are our lovers and our social intimates. Celebrity culture plays to all of our innate tendencies: We’re built to view anyone we recognize as an acquaintance ripe for gossip or for romance, hence our powerful interest in Anna Kournikova’s sex life. Since catching sight of a beautiful face bathes the brain in pleasing chemicals, George Clooney’s killer smile is impossible to ignore. But when celebrities are both our intimate daily companions and as distant as the heavens above, it’s


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hard to know just how to think of them. Reality TV further confuses the picture by transforming ordinary folk into bold-faced names without warning. Even celebrities themselves are not immune to celebrity watching: Magazines print pictures of Demi Moore and “Bachelorette” Trista Rehn reading the very same gossip magazines that stalk them. “Most pushers are users, don’t you think?” says top Hollywood publicist Michael Levine. “And, by the way, it’s not the worst thing in the world to do.” Celebrities tap into powerful motivational systems designed to foster romantic love and to urge us to find a mate. Stars summon our most human yearnings: to love, admire, copy and, of course, to gossip and to jeer. It’s only natural that we get pulled into their gravitational field.


EXCLUSIVE: FAN’S BRAIN TRANSFORMED BY CELEBRITY POWER! ohn Lennon infuriated the faithful when he said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, but he wasn’t the first to suggest that celebrity culture was taking the place of religion. With its myths, its rituals (the red carpet walk, the Super Bowl ring, the handprints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater) and its ability to immortalize, it fills a similar cultural niche. In a secular society our need for ritualized idol worship can be displaced onto stars, speculates psychologist James Houran, formerly of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and now director of psychological studies for True Beginnings dating service. Nonreligious people tend to be more interested in celebrity culture, he’s found, and Houran speculates that for them, celebrity fills some of the same roles the church fills for believers, like the desire to admire the powerful and the drive to fit into a community of people with shared values. Leo Braudy, author of The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and its History, suggests that celebrities are more like Christian calendar saints than like spiritual authorities (Tiger Woods, patron saint of

3 [1] Media-fre nzied divorce of John & Kate . [2] Daniel C raig shopping just like us! [3] Sarah Je ssica Parker filming Sex & the City 2.

[4] Twilight ho tties are now used to stard om. [5] Our fam ous and belov ed Marilyn Mon roe. [6] Paparrazi light off for the mon bulbs going ey shot.



“People who watch more TV are more satisfied with their friendships, just as if they had more friends and socialized more frequently.”



arriviste golfers; or Jimmy Carter, protector of downhome liberal farmers?). “Celebrities have their aura—a debased version of charisma” that stems from their all-powerful captivating presence, Braudy says. Much like spiritual guidance, celebrity-watching can be inspiring, or at least help us muster the will to tackle our own problems. “Celebrities motivate us to make it,” says Helen Fisher, an anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Oprah Winfrey suffered through poverty, sexual abuse and racial discrimination to become the wealthiest woman in media. Lance Armstrong survived advanced testicular cancer and went on to win the Tour de France five times. Star-watching can also simply point the way to a grander, more dramatic way of living, publicist Levine says. “We live lives more dedicated to safety or quiet desperation, and we transcend this by connecting with bigger lives—those of the stars,” he says. “We’re afraid to eat that fatty muffin, but Ozzy Osborne isn’t.” Don’t I know you?! Celebrities are also common currency in our socially fractured world. Depressed college coeds and laid-off factory workers both spend hours watching Anna Nicole Smith on late night television; Mexican villagers trade theories with hometown friends about who killed rapper Tupac Shakur; and Liberian and German businessmen critique David Beckham’s plays before hammering out deals. My friend Britney Spears was, in fact, the top international Internet search of 2003. In our global village, the best targets for gossip are the faces we all know. We are born to dish dirt, evolutionary psychologists agree; it’s the most efficient way to navigate society and to determine who is trustworthy. They also point out that when our brains evolved, anybody with a familiar face was an “in-group” member, a person whose alliances and enmities were important to keep track of. Things have changed somewhat since life in the Pleistocene era, but our neural hardwiring hasn’t, so on some deeper level, we may think NBC’s Friends really are our friends. Many of us have had the celebritysighting mishap of mistaking a minor star—a local

weatherman, say, or a bit-part soap opera actor—for an acquaintance or former schoolmate. Braudy’s favorite example of this mistake: In one episode of the cartoon show King of the Hill, a character meets former Texas Governor Ann Richards. “You probably know me,” he says. “I’ve seen you on TV.” That’s also why we don’t get bored by star gossip, says Bonnie Fuller, editorial director of American Media, which publishes Star and The Enquirer: “That would be like getting bored with information about family and friends!” The brain simply doesn’t realize that it’s being fooled by TV and movies, says sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa, lecturer at the London School of Economics. “Hundreds of thousands of years ago, it was impossible for someone not to know you if you knew them. And if they didn’t kill you, they were probably your friend.” Kanazawa’s research has shown that this feeling of friendship has other repercussions: People who watch more TV are more satisfied with their friendships, just as if they had more friends and socialized more frequently. Another study found that teens who keep up to date on celebrity gossip are popular, with strong social networks—the interest in pop culture indicates a healthy drive for independence from parents. The penchant for gossiping about the stars also plays into our species’ obsession with status. Humans naturally copy techniques from high-status individuals, says Francisco Gil-White, professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania. It’s an attempt to get the same rewards, whether that’s “attention, favors, gifts, [or] laudatory exclamations.” Stars get all kinds of perks and pampering: Sarah Jessica Parker was allowed to keep each of her Sex and the City character’s extravagant getups; Halle Berry borrowed a $3 million diamond ring to wear to the Oscars. Understandably, we look to get in on the game. The impulse to copy is behind the popularity of celebrity magazines, says Fuller. Regular women can see what the stars are wearing, often with tips on how to buy cheap knockoffs of their outfits. Taken to extremes—which television is only too happy to

January 2010

Fame Fatale


This two-dimensional visual of the human face is based upon the Golden Ratio. The closer a face is to this template, the more aesthetically pleasing the face is. Now many plastic surgeons use this model when enhancing their patients’ facial features. Photo by Cannonieri & Fortis

do—the urge to copy produces spectacles like the MTV reality show I Want a Famous Face. By dint of extensive plastic surgery, ordinary people are made to look more like their famous heroes. In one episode, two gangly 20-year-old twin brothers are molded into Brad Pitt look-alikes. The brothers want to be stars, and they’ve decided that looking more like Pitt is the fastest road to fame. No wonder makeover shows are so popular, points out Joshua Gamson, an associate professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco. These shows offer drab nobodies a double whammy: simultaneous beauty and celebrity. The most fascinating measure of status is, of course, sex. “We want to know who is mating with whom,” says Douglas Kenrick, professor of psychology at Arizona State University. He speculates that we look to stars to evaluate our own sexual behavior and ethics, and mistake them unconsciously for members of our prospective mating pool. Given this me-too drive to imitate and adore, why are celebrity flame-outs and meltdowns so fascinating? Even though we love to hear about the lavish rewards of fame—remember Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?—we’re quick to judge when stars behave too outrageously or live too extravagantly. We suspect some stars are enjoying society’s highest rewards without really deserving them, says University of Liverpool anthropologist


Fame Fatale

January 2010

Robin Dunbar, so we monitor their behavior. “We need to keep an eye on the great-and-the-good because they create a sense of community for us, but also because we need to make sure that they are holding to their side of the bargain.”

recognized as beautiful: symmetry, regularity in the shape and size of the features, smooth skin, big eyes and thick lips, and an hourglass figure that indicates fertility. Men interpret these features as evidence of health and reproductive fitness. Women’s responses are more complex, says psychologist and Harvard Medical School instructor Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest. Women stare at beautiful female faces out of aesthetic appreciation, to look for potential tips—and because a beautiful woman could be a rival worth monitoring. It’s not surprising that gorgeous people wind up famous. What’s less obvious is that famous people often wind up gorgeous: The more we see a certain face, the more our brain likes it, whether or not it’s actually beautiful. Thanks to what is known as “the exposure effect,” says James Bailey, a psychologist at George Washington University, the pleasurable biological cascade that is set off when we see a certain

“Babies as young as 8-months-old will stare at an attractive female face of any race longer than they will at an average-looking or unattractive female face.”


DIVA ALERT: BEAUTY ISN’T EVERYTHING (BEING NICE HELPS!) he beauty bias is well-known. We all pay more attention to good-looking people. Kenrick’s eye-tracking research has shown that both men and women spend more time looking at beautiful women than at less attractive women. Babies as young as 8-months-old will stare at an attractive female face of any race longer than they will at an average-looking or unattractive female face. Certain human traits are universally

celebrity “begins to wear a neurochemical groove,” making her image easier for our brains to process. It begins to explain why Jennifer Aniston—not exactly a classic cover girl—was again named one of People magazine’s 50 “most beautiful” in the world this year. On the flip side, celebrity overload—let’s call it the J.Lo effect—can leave us all thoroughly sick of even the most beautiful celeb. With the constant deluge of celebrity coverage, says Etcoff, “they at first become more appealing because they are familiar, but then the ubiquity becomes tedious. That is why the stars who reign the longest—Madonna is the best example—are always changing their appearance.” Every time Madonna reconfigures her look,



Photo by Hector Mata

Photo by Gilbert Torte Photo by Andrew Medichini

she resets our responses back to when her face was recognizable but still surprising. Just as in pageants, personality plays a part in the beauty contest, too. State University of New York at Binghamton psychology professors Kevin Kniffin and David Sloan Wilson have found that people’s perceptions of physical appeal are strongly influenced by familiarity and likability. “Almost all of the beauty research is based on subjects looking at strangers in photos or computer-generated images—but we don’t live in a world of strangers!” Kniffin points out. In one of Kniffin’s experiments, students worked on an archeological dig together toward a shared goal. Those who were deemed cooperative and likable were rated as more attractive after the project was finished than they were at the outset. Conversely, students who were not as hardworking were rated as less attractive after the chore was done. Kniffin believes this same mechanism is at work in our feelings toward celebrities, who rank somewhere between strangers and intimates. Athletes are an obvious example: Team spirit gives even ugly guys a boost. NBA great Wilt Chamberlain might have been a bit goofy-looking, but his astonishing abilities to propel his team to victory meant that he was a hero, surrounded with adoring—and amorous— fans. Kniffin points to William Hung, the talent-free and homely also-ran on the contest show American Idol, as evidence of his theory at work. In part because of his enthusiasm and his good-natured willingness to put up with ridicule, Hung became a bigger star after he was kicked off the show: His album, Inspiration, sold more than 37,000 copies in its first week. “William doesn’t display the traits of universal attractiveness, but people who have seen the show would probably rate him as more attractive because of nonphysical traits of likability and courage. He’s even received some marriage proposals.” Kniffin’s theory also explains why models are less compelling objects of fascination than actresses or pop stars. They’re

Photo by Pascal Le Segretain

Photo by Gill Allen

beautiful, but they’re enigmatic: We rarely get any sense of their personalities.


SAVED FROM OBLIVION! eality TV is the result of our simultaneous yearning to be more like celebrities and our desire to be wowed by their unattainable perfection. We’ve been watching it for the past decade. Reality television is an express train to fame, unpredictably turning nobodies into somebodies. It now gives us the ability to get inside the star factory and watch the transition to fame in real time. “The appeal of reality stars is that they were possibly once just like you, sitting on the couch watching a reality TV program, until they leaped to celebrity,” says Andy Denhart, blogger and reality TV junkie. “With the number of reality shows out there, it’s inexcusable to not be famous if you want to be!” In the past, ambitious young men who idolized a famous actor might take acting lessons or learn to dance. Now, they get plastic surgery and learn to tell their life stories for the camera. In fact, says editor Fuller, the newly minted stars of reality TV are better at the celebrity game than many of the movie and television stars: “They are more accessible, more cooperative. They enjoy publicity. They will open up and offer insight, often more than a ‘traditional’ celeb, because they want the attention, whereas an actress might have ambivalent feelings about fame and how it is tied in with her ‘craft.’” At the same time, shows like The Simple Life and The Newlyweds (and amateur videotapes like Paris Hilton’s) let us gawk at the silly things that stars


n o i t n e v n of Rei

do in the privacy of their own home. As a result, the distance between celebrity stratosphere and living room couch dwindles even further. Yet there’s still something about that magic dust. A celebrity sighting is not just about seeing a star, author Braudy points out, but is about being seen by a star: “There is a sense that celebrities are more real than we are; people feel more real in the presence of a celebrity.” It wasn’t just that I saw Britney, it was that Britney saw me.

January 2010

Fame Fatale


Lasting Impression Photo by Damian Dovarganes

celebrity rehab with

Dr. Drew Pinsky

Talk about the concept of televising celebrities in rehab. Pinsky: The only thing the public has ever really known about addiction treatment is either patients’ memoirs or the way the entertainment press reports it. One of the reasons that pushed us toward doing the show was that we were tired of people talking about celebrities with a life-threatening illness as though they were engaged in some sort of a publicity stunt. There’s a whole field of addiction medicine that is how do you motivate people to get better. Well, we did this... we paid them and we put them on TV.

How do TV cameras effect treatment? Pinsky: The experience is so inspiring that they have a natural tendency to want to share it with other people. And it’s in their personalities — they are celebrities after all — but they want people to understand them in this transformative experience. The other thing that the cameras have done that’s a net posi-


Fame Fatale

January 2010

tive is it made them feel a sense of obligation to the community, like, ‘We want to be an example to other people.’ ... It also kept them, I don’t want to say more honest, but more in the game.

How real is Celebrity Rehab? Pinsky: It’s very real. It’s basically showing how treatment works. This is treatment, just documented treatment. The only thing unusual or different about this situation is that we had nine people simultaneously coming in. Usually we have old-timers who are already in treatment who are there to help the newcomers. We had nine addicts hit the ground running in a new program. That’s not how it usually is.

How was your ìCelebrity Rehabî e xperience? Pinsky: It is so dramatic, it is so impactful, it is so human. I knew people would be interested in it. I didn’t know how it would turn out, whether it would be

entertaining. And my gravest concern would be that it do no harm... I was very anxious about that. I knew we could do good treatment, but I worried that the cameras would somehow have a negative effect on the treatment process — which it did not, it had a net positive effect.

When does your fame get in the way of your doing medicine? Pinsky: When you’re working with drug addicts, it does take a lot of energy and time away from doing medicine. Back when I first started Loveline [1982], I thought I’d do this media thing here and there and practice medicine full time. Around 1997 I decided I could use media to do something good. The more attention I paid to it, the more time it took away from doing medicine. Addicts sometimes use that [his fame] as a way of driving a wedge into my position of authority.

Back on Track


by whitney english and natalie finn

essica Sierra, the fourth-season American Idol contestant who became far more famous for her postshow troubles than anything she accomplished onstage, credits her time spent under the care of real-life M.D. and TV savior Dr. Drew Pinsky—and, interestingly, a media ban—for saving her from the ravages of substance abuse. “I did have an issue with drugs and alcohol, and I think the media just intensified that for me,” Sierra, who completed her latest treatment program with Drew in January, said in an exclusive sit-down with E! News. “I think the media ban did save my life.” Following an arrest for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer in December 2007, a Florida judge sentenced the aspiring singer to 12 months in rehab for violating probation on a previous drug bust and ordered her to stay at least 100 feet away from the media’s cameras and microphones. “Being a young girl and being thrown on a stage with all this media attention…it’s all around you,” says Sierra. “You’re going out to clubs and you’re hanging out with all these people and it’s

fun and it’s exciting and you don’t really know what to do with it. “Addiction, it just got me.” Sierra’s last arrest occurred after she had participated in the first season of the VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew and Pinsky appeared in court on her behalf. He advised the sentencing judge that Sierra needed at least another year of treatment to really get her act together. But though she had a relapse after their first go-round together, the 17-months-sober Sierra gives Pinsky credit for saving her life when he invited her to Celebrity Rehab. “I was really high actually when I got the phone call,” Sierra says. “I was looking around and my friends were getting high and I’m just sitting there, looking at myself. I hadn’t slept in days and for me it was like, ‘I’m not doing anything with my life. I’m sitting here wasting my life away.’ “ The 23-year-old is now working on an album and a new reality show and otherwise trying to put her life back together. “I can actually feel now,” says Sierra. “I can have emotions and know when to feel sad and know when to feel happy and enjoy the ups and downs of life. I wasn’t able to do that before.”

January 2010

Fame Fatale


glamour, media, stardom, money, spotlight, flirt, drama, clubs, beauty, party, attention, problems, fashion, addiction, youth, drugs, high-life, fancy, dreams, pressure, goals, hollywood, sex, cars, hot, fake, entourage, celebrity, issues, model, alcohol, events, competition, paparazzi, friends, FAMOUS

FAME fatale  

My goal is to open up discussion and knowledge about the negative side-effects of the media and stardom directly on the celebrity, as well a...

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