When the world is going mad and 1,500 years of civilization seem at risk, what better way to spend your time than wandering the back alleys of Hollywood gossip?
A few months ago -- probably from a link off Drudge or a political blog -- I tripped over a Web phenomenon patterned after a very old kind of journalism.
These are the celebrity gossip sites: Egotastic, I Don't Like You in that Way, the Superficial, Defamer, DListed, Hollywood Tuna, City Rag, Pink is the New Blog, etc., etc. The oldest have been around for several years, but it seems that in the last 18 months there has been an explosion of these sites, perhaps driven by what appears to be a pretty impressive amount of advertising from the very industry it seeks to wound. Right now, there are literally scores of these sites, all offering roughly the same service and almost the identical content.
I'm sure some sizable fraction of you readers have seen some of these sites, and some of you may visit them regularly. If so, please bear with me for a moment to explain these intriguing Web sites to everyone else -- who might well be astonished by their content.
I've been following the celebrity gossip sites pretty regularly lately, because I sense I'm seeing something interesting and important emerging. As a reader of them, I'm probably pretty unusual in that I don't really go to Hollywood movies anymore, don't watch much mainstream television, and have dealt with Hollywood enough in my own career to have learned that I don't give half a damn about this month's hot new celebrity.
But most of the thousands of other people who visit these sites, one can safely assume, have just the opposite interests and attitudes. And indeed, their numbers are legion: Wander around one of the sites and notice the extensive advertising from major movie studios, TV shows and big Web sites like E! Online -- the advertising agencies for those outfits only place spots where there's real traffic. Ditto for those sites that allow reader comments: Some grainy photo of a nearly passed out Pete Doherty or Drew Barrymore flipping off a photographer always draw a couple hundred messages -- far more reader participation than all but the most popular political blogs.
When I first started reading these sites I assumed they were simply online versions of the established E!/Entertainment Tonight formula. But they proved far more snarky than that. Indeed, the maverick nature of the Web, combined with the growing power of technology (quick time videos, links, armies of paparazzi with digital cameras, private citizens with cell phone cameras), quickly drove these sites into seamier districts than television would ever dare go.
In fact, it didn't take long to realize that the celebrity gossip sites had reached further back in time, almost before even television, to the notorious world of yellow journalism gossip rags of the post-War era; there are striking similarities between those old Robert Mitchum dope-bust pictures and today's Lindsay Lohan drunk-in-a-limo snapshots.
Was this intentional? Hard to say, but one suspects the source was less the Hollywood Reporter and its ilk and more the representation of those magazines in movies like "L.A. Confidential."