“You don’t know the history of psychiatry,” Tom Cruise famously told Matt Lauer.“I do.”

“I want to be the face of depression,” Delta Burke once said.

“This is the new AIDS anthem,” Liza Minnelli proclaimed before singing a song no one ever heard again.

“… I’m gonna let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all time,” declared Kanye West as he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at this year’s VMAs.

“When I say I’m ready to go wild, I’m gonna go wild,” warned Snooki from MTV’s Peabody Award-worthy series Jersey Shore.

It’s almost expected for celebrities to have delusions of grandeur, not to mention a hunger to be in the spotlight, but now it’s the average Jersey girl (as well as plenty of people from other states) who seem to have an unquenchable thirst for fame.We can thank the morning news shows and the evening reality shows that create stars out of talentless nobodies, obnoxious wannabes and corrupt politicians.

Sometimes the media gets attacked undeservedly.Lately however, full blame goes directly and unequivocally to the producers of talk shows, news shows, and reality programs.If they had refused to invite ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich (the guy who intended to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat) to appear on their shows, he wouldn’t have become a media sensation.The press gave this perfectly coiffed clown a platform.Sure, we laughed at him as he lied through his snow-white teeth, proclaiming his innocence despite the entire world having heard his voice on taped phone calls that proved his guilt.But this man continued to appear on one TV show after another. He was intending to travel to the jungle of Costa Rica for NBC’s I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but because of the corruption charges brought against him (conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and solicitation of bribery), an Illinois judge banned him from leaving the country.So NBC settled for the next best thing, his wife Patti.(Why wasn’t the show’s title changed to I’m Married To A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here?) Blagojevich is an example of celebrity at its embarrassing worst.If the media had ignored him, he wouldn’t continue to be in our faces; he certainly wouldn’t be well-known enough to appear on The Celebrity Apprentice.

The problem is that television is a 24-hour business and the monster must be fed, so producers and talent bookers are constantly searching for guests and so-called experts who can speak articulately and look somewhat presentable.Journalists and bloggers have been popular guests on CNN and MSNBC, but now you don’t even need to be currently employed.Now even former magazine editors (like Janice Min, former editor of US Weekly) are credentialed enough to be invited to chat about the latest celebrity scandal.Pat O’Brien, the former host of TV’s The Insider (who was disgraced in a sleazy scandal of his own) still makes appearances on various shows to comment on tawdry celebrity scandals.It’s like a bad dream that won’t end.

The job of the celebrity publicist has always been to act as a liaison between the star and the rest of the world (including but not limited to hand-holding on the red carpet, dictating magazine covers and devising a good spin when the client makes a moronic mistake and gets caught).It was a decidedly behind-the-scenes position.But lately, publicists have become talk show guests, offering their expert opinion on the celebrity scandal du jour.Did Tiger Woods handle his tawdry situation the best possible way?Not according to seasoned publicist Cindy Berger whose lethargic manner of speech almost led the audience of The View into a deep slumber.

When Sarah Palin appeared on Saturday Night Live and casually mentioned that her favorite Baldwin brother was Stephen, Stephen Baldwin was suddenly a guest on the talk show circuit.We don’t know if he really was Palin’s favorite; after all, his name was mentioned as part of a comedy bit that co-starred his brother Alec.  But even if he was the chosen Baldwin, did we really need to hear from him?Did Larry King need to invite him on CNN to shove his political views down our throats?

Which brings us to Levi Johnston.Note to talk show hosts:If you relentlessly make fun of somebody, you cannot turn around and invite the butt of your joke on your program and pretend to have the slightest bit of respect for him.

When Arnold Klein, the Beverly Hills dermatologist who used to treat Michael Jackson, appeared on Larry King Live for the entire hour, it was obvious that television had sunk to an astonishing new low.This charisma-challenged doctor dodged questions and had absolutely nothing of substance to contribute to the conversation.TV’s previous low had been set when Zsa Zsa Gabor’s eighth husband, “Prince” Frederic von Anhalt, was invited on talk shows to discuss the ridiculous claim that he was the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby.This is the same man who claimed he was mugged by three women who left him naked behind the wheel of his Rolls Royce, and the same man who officially entered the race for governor of California.The term publicity whore seems to have been invented for him and him alone.

Basically, the goal is the same whether you’re an A-list actor or an A-hole dermatologist:Attention.An appearance on television is either food for a needy ego or an attempt to sell something.Remember the Colorado man who claimed his six-year-old son was hurtling through the sky in a homemade helium balloon?This joker was hoping to garner attention for his own reality show.(He and his wife had previously appeared on Wife Swap.)

The situation wouldn’t be as disturbing if nobody was being affected by the media’s fascination with faux celebrities.But Lauren Conrad (The Hills) and NeNe Leakes (Real Housewives of Atlanta) are just two of the media darlings who’ve received lucrative book deals, making it difficult for legitimate authors to get published.The all-important question that’s asked to potential authors is: “What’s your marketing plan?”It’s no longer the responsibility of a publishing company’s marketing division to get the word out about a great new book.These days it’s up to the author to create buzz, drive sales, and finagle himself (or herself) onto a couple of national television shows.Most agents and editors would agree that if Saul Bellow or William Faulkner or William Styron were young authors starting out today, they’d have less chance getting published than those literary giants Pamela Anderson (Star: A Novel), Tori Spelling (sTORI Telling), and Rosie O’Donnell (Celebrity Detox).

One final question that lingers in the minds of millions:Aren’t Kate Gosselin’s fifteen minutes of fame over yet?Why do we still see her face on magazine covers?Why was she considered enough of a star to be asked to appear on Dancing With The Stars?Does this woman do anything to warrant the air time and print space she’s received? Not to my knowledge.Can somebody please tell her to stay home and take care of her eight young children?

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GARRETT SOCOL created and produced the cable TV shows Talk Soup, The Gossip Show, and numerous others for the E! Network. His short stories have been published in journals including The Barcelona Review, 3:AM Magazine, Hobart, PANK, Pequin, Perigee, nth Position, Spork, Underground Voices, JMWW Journal and Duct's. He's also written for Cosmopolitan, Movieline, Genre and McCall's. Two of his plays have been produced (Berkshire Theatre Festival, Pasadena Playhouse). This native New Yorker currently finds himself in a city where the sun shines practically every day. He really misses rain.

19 responses to “Publicity Whores”

  1. Simon Smithson says:

    Apparently the UK goes nuts for this shit – people who get kicked off reality shows in the first week still manage to score publishing deals and knock off would-be authors.

    What a goddamn mess.

    Nice piece, Garrett.

  2. Judy Prince says:

    Rippingly true, Garrett, and powerfully presented. You’re primarily talking about television in all of its outrageous gobbledegook. Might there be a message in that revelation? It would be mentally healthful for folk to walk over to their TV, pick it up and take it to a friend’s (or, more wisely, to an enemy’s house). I recall some 10 years ago telling my students that I didn’t “get” their references because I never watched TV. A woman in the front row said, astonished: “What do you DO at night?!”

    Television-watching is addictive. Repeat: Television-watching is addictive. I managed to kick that particular addiction in favor of several profoundly benign “addictions”, having recently added another: TNB.

    I don’t blame you for missing rain, Garrett.

  3. Paul Clayton says:

    Garrett, right on! I’m afraid it’s no longer limited to just TV, now it’s the internet, you tube, etc. It seems like the hungry beast has gotten a taste for the grotesque and wants nothing but. To sell a book nowadays it has to be ‘edgy,’ whatever the fuck that means. Can you throw in a vampire? Or perhaps you should consider typing your next novel with your thumbs on your cell phone, and make it something that millions, billions of young teenage girls will like, otherwise they’re not interested. Or it better have video game tie-ins. And will your novel transition well into a 3-D movie? Soon, very soon, real literature will be something that a small minority of folks enjoy. That is, until the firemen arrive.

    Best!

    • Garrett Socol says:

      Thanks for all your wise and insightful comments. Glad to know I’m not the only one who is outraged by what’s on television these days.

      I’d really like to know who voted for the dress Mary Hart should wear at the Oscars. “Entertainment Tonight” has been embarrassingly bad for a long time, but with this vital “vote,” they really hit rock bottom, don’t you think?

      • Garrett Socol says:

        It was a real toss-up between the strapless, bright orange gown and the royal blue, ruffled number with the long train. In the end I voted for the orange.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    I guess they’ve taken the Noel Coward line to heart: “Television is not for looking at; it’s for appearing on.”

    Lauren Conrad wrote her own book, though, right? That’s more than can be said for Hillary Clinton, and a zillion other politicians. I think she helps us, actually…yes, they give her a lot of dough, but she sells a lot of books, and the kids she gets in the bookstores to see her are not kids, one supposes, who ordinarily set foot there. She’s the blockbuster that finances the arthouse films.

  5. Zara Potts says:

    I often find myself throwing things at the TV these days when I hear the latest celebrity mouthing off on topics they really know nothing about.
    It always amazes me when elections are held and celebs back a particular candidate and then expect the rest of the population to follow them because.. well, they’re a celebrity.
    All I can say is I’m glad I’m not a television publicist anymore.
    Nice piece, Garrett.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Oh, and Zara,
      There’s the weasel right there.
      His sweet little weaselly snout is above your left hand.
      The other weasel picture showed him more fully.
      You should put them up together.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Garrett,

    Here I am, quietly trying to avoid all this insanity, not watching the “news,” not reading magazines, TIVOing anything I watch, so I don’t have to listen to the teasers on the nighttime newscasts, and
    BOOM! here you are making me aware of this nonsense again.
    (Is there no escape?)

  7. Amanda says:

    One of the most fascinating trends to me, over the past, mmmmmm let’s say eight years or so has been the rise in the personal essay and anthologies of writing by essentially “nobody”. Memoirs penned prior to established fame, if you know what I mean.

    For me, it began with David Sedaris, and has swept along to include Sloane Crosley, David Rakoff, Jonathan Ames, and a handful of others who indeed have careers beyond writing about themselves and the minutiae of their lives…but…in terms of order of discovery, I only learned about their magazine columns, stage productions, fiction, etc, after reading all about that thing they did one time back in grade eight and which continues to haunt and inform their work to this day.

    Television and the sort of crackpot fame you’ve written about here are sort of the moving-picture/ sound-bite version of those books and essays. Our collective appetite for all this stuff speaks volumes, in its own way.

    : )

  8. Becky says:

    I don’t understand why Jon can’t “stay home and take care of [his] 8 young children.”

    I’m not a big fan or anything. Just seems like an iffy thing to say.

    I mean, do Brad and Angelina get a pass for dragging their baby menagerie all over the world and under watchful eye of 5 nannies because they’re actually or legitimately famous?

    I dislike celebrity in general, despite being a bit of a sucker for some of the gossip smut. But as the lament and shrilling about the vacant nature of reality TV IN PARTICULAR rolls on, I find myself, more and more, wondering if there IS such a thing as a legitimate celebrity and if there is, where is the line between the legitimately and illegitimately gawked-at?

    Maybe this Jersey Shore, Jon & Kate, Balloon Boy stuff is simply laying bare, in a very basic, skeletal way, the truth about ALL celebrities. Like, we’re used to thinking of legitimate celebrities as icons or role models or leaders or, less and less often these days, artists. But maybe the fact of the matter is that they’re ALL whores.

    • Garrett Socol says:

      You bring up two interesting points. Sure, let JON stay home and take care of those kids, but he seems to be out of the picture. They need a mother OR a father, and since Kate has custody, she should focus on their well-being instead of trying to make herself a bigger star.

      I do think there’s a difference between legit celebrities (Brad, Angelina, etc.) and the Jersey Shore gang. The Jersey Shore types have no talent; all they have is celebrity. And when that celebrity fades, there’s nothing left for them to do in the entertainment industry. Where’s Omarosa today? Where are some of those “Real World” people? You’re right; there might be a bit of the whore in most celebrities (actors included), but there’s something sickening about watching people with NO TALENT trying to milk their fame.

      • Becky says:

        Well, yeah. I mean, I’m familiar with the sort of abstract difference between legitimate and non-legitimate celebrity.

        But arguably (or inarguably), plenty of “legitimate” celebrities are totally talentless as well. I can’t stand Nicholas Cage, for example. I think he’s a horror. Everytime he is on the screen, I want to murder someone. I think he’s a terrible hack.

        He may not be the best example, since there is some evidence that he can be talented or may have been talented at one time and a lot of people might successfully defend that position, but my question still stands. What constitutes legitimate vs. illegitimate celebrity in our minds? Is it HOW you become famous? Is it your official occupation? Is it whether you appear in a fictional or non-fictional show? How does this work? In practical terms. What does it look like on the ground?

        • Judy Prince says:

          Becky and Garrett, just in case you’ve not read Bob Greene’s continuously insightful brief piece, “The new stardom that doesn’t require paying any dues”: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/bob/greene091400.asp

        • Becky says:

          I have to be perfectly honest. I get what he’s saying, to an extent, and I’m tempted to take it one step further. This is where I was going, initially, with this whole line of thought.

          It’s not that talentless people are on TV and getting publicity that bugs us so much, I don’t think. I think it’s something more like sour grapes. Jealousy. Greene doesn’t take it quite there. He stops just short of saying it. But, as he says, most of us, for our whole lives, have been taught that celebrity is a result of talent, achievement and work.

          That it was somehow earned. And we have viewed our own chances for fame with that in mind: Do I want to do the work to have that kind of recognition?

          Sometimes the answer is just “no,” and we go along with the happy understanding that we are not famous because people have to work to be famous and we either don’t posses the ability or the gumption to achieve it.

          BUT.

          If some of these people can be famous for not doing anything or having any real talent, the question starts to hum around: “Why not ME??”

          I think, at some level or another, this plays a role both in our attraction to and resentment of “reality” TV culture.

  9. Garrett Socol says:

    I think your theory applies to a small minority of people. The majority of Americans wouldn’t ask “Why not me?” But they might ask, “Why should I waste valuable time watching these talentless wannabes?” Successful performers (Streep, Bullock, Bridges) wouldn’t consider doing a reality show because they have quality work to keep them busy. It’s only when a career faulters (Denise Richards) or isn’t even a career (Lindsay Lohan’s mother) that someone would agree to have cameras follow them around. They want fame at any cost, even though they don’t deserve it. If we stopped watching these asinine shows, maybe network execs would stop greenlighting them.

    Legit stars vs. illegit ones? It’s really pretty simple. Fame should be a by-product of a quality career. The illegitimate celebs are those who seek fame without any talent to back it up. Even if you dislike Nicolas Cage, you have to admit his career came first. He proved himself as an actor, and fame followed. The Jon & Kates and Levi Johnstons of the world didn’t prove to be ANYTHING. They grabbed onto their unlikely fame and didn’t let go. They are now famous for being famous, and THAT, in my opinion, is an illegitimate celebrity.

  10. ““I want to be the face of depression,” Delta Burke once said.

    Which worked for sure. Every time I see Delta Burke’s face, I get depressed.

    As a committed writer still very much only on the verge of breaking through, all this really hits home. The age-old dilemma used to be the experience thing: that you had to have experience to get a job but you had to have a job to get experience (and you had to be published to get published, by extrapolation). Now it’s platform this and that and the other.

    And now it’s platform, and all these people get published. I think anyone who knows me knows I’m decidedly not a literary elitist. I’m a big fan of Stephen King and Harry Potter. I like exciting novels with real plots in which actual things happen and affect characters. I think Dan Brown is a mediocre writer but a storytelling genius. So I don’t think I’m being a snob when I blast the fact that Hillary Duff, last week, got a multiple-book publishing deal. Same with Sarah Palin.

    Recently, I’ve seen a bunch of agents lament the fact that they still need day jobs, that agenting doesn’t pay all their bills. Meanwhile they send out rejection after rejection after rejection and act basically as a slushpile (as noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article) while the publishing industry continues to publish obviously-mediocre books, the literary equivalent of throwing a bunch of noodles at the wall and hoping something sticks.

    It’s. Infuriating.

    “I mean, do Brad and Angelina get a pass for dragging their baby menagerie all over the world and under watchful eye of 5 nannies because they’re actually or legitimately famous?

    No, Brad and Angeline get a pass because they’re both really fucking good actors. Pitt for sure has built a solid acting resume. Jolie’s been a bit more hit-or-miss, but she does have an Oscar, after all. Not that that confers legitimacy, or anything, but at least they’re famous for being good at what they do.

    And yes, it is partly sour grapes/jealousy, I suppose. Especially when it comes to these celebs who are getting giant publication contracts when I’m (specifically) not and have put in the time and effort and energy. Will it change when I finally do get a contract? Perhaps. Well, my own feelings might, but they’ll still be bad books published by companies purporting to support literature and stories but who really just wanted to cash in.

    Nothing wrong with cashing in, don’t get me wrong. But call a duck a duck, right?

  11. […] nonfiction from Garrett Socol, Publicity Whores, appears at The Nervous Breakdown. Lauren Becker also has a little something to […]

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