Thursday, August 14, 2014

Celebrity then, celebrity now: What's the difference?

"People are ambivalently amped up on celebrities. They wildly worship them. They aim their adolescent adulation at them and get bupkis back. It's depressingly disassociative. It's idiotic idolatry. Fan magazines fan the flames of fatuous fancy and reinforce the fact that your favorite stars will never fuck you. Scandal rags rip that reinforcement and deliriously deconstruct and deidolize the idols who ignore you. It's revisionistic revenge. It reduces your unrequited lovers to you own low level of erratic erotics. It rips the rich and regal and guns them into the gutter beside you. It fractiously frees you to love them as one of your own." 
James Ellroy, "Hush-Hush" 
That's James Ellroy in the voice of gossip columnist/sleuth Danny Getchell. Ellroy wrote the story in the 1990s, and the passage refers to an earlier generation of gossip magazines, presumably the ones from the 1950s and early 1960s that Ellroy says were a formative aspect of his upbringing.

Today's stars, of course, have made it out of Scandal Town and moved on up to Take Me Seriously City (originally settled as Clooneyville, before it seceded from itself, seeking greater control of its own publicity). They have taken ownership of their own personas and have left the scandals to the Snookis and Kardashians, selling empathy instead.  But the connection is no more real now than it was then. Or is it?

What is the difference between celebrity in the 1950s and celebrity now?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

While paparazzi, etc. have always been around, I think today it's far more likely that the people surrounding a celebrity might sell them out for a buck. I don't see how anyone famous could trust a soul.

August 14, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know about that. It's easy to believe that what gets out these days is what the celebrities want to get out, at least among the most celebrated of celebrities. I'm not sure there's a line between gossip and public relations anymore, that is. In one of the Getchell stories, maybe the same one form which I quoted, Getchell talks about a wave of lawsuits from celebrities putting Hush-Hush on the ropes. I cannot help reading that as a kind go elegy for the sort of gossip Ellroy grew up with

August 14, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

The changes in media have changed everything. Remember when celebrity worship involved going to the movies, buying that latest fan magazines, getting the newest 45 rpm, sending fan mail, and hoping for an autograph? Now -- well -- now everything has changed. Just think: Annette Funicello may have been no more significant than Snooki (though I think she was), and Elvis may have had no more talent than Eminem (though I think he did), but times are now different. Do I sound like a miss the good old days? Yep!

August 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

RT, James Ellroy's L.A. stories, especially the Danny Getchell stories, give the underside to that idyllic celebrity world. They are worth reading for that alone. What Ellroy does to Frank Sinatra: Oy!

But sure, things are different now. The public worships celebrity, only now it sometimes pretends to make fun of itself for doing so.

August 15, 2014  
Anonymous Mary Beth said...

When I think of celebrity in the 1950's, three people come to mind. On the west coast the Hollywood harpies/blackmailers Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper and on the east coast, Walter Winchell They were more morally bankrupt than the celebrities on whom they reported ever though of being.

Today's celebrities are just boring. Unlike celebrities of the past, who reveled in appearing larger than life, they lack any sense of style or mystery.

August 15, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mary Beth, I had not thought of this before, but I wonder if they name Getchell is a deliberate echo of Winchell. I have read speculation that the first name, Danny, may have been a tribute to Danny DeVito, who played the sleasy gossip writer in the movie version of L/A/ Confidential. Amd Danny Getchell was certainly willing to get down in the moral mud with some of those celebrities.

I'm no student of Hollywood, but I suppose that part of the reason today's celebrities seem so boring is that they they control their own images to a much a greater extent than their predecessors did. Also, the interpolated gossip articles in some of Ellroy's novels are a rare voice of truth. I'm not sure that's the case anymore/

August 15, 2014  

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