News and cyber spitballs
(Court TV) -- It was hardly a laughing matter when celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman backed her Mercedes SUV into a nightclub crowd last summer and injured 16 people. One woman's pelvis was crushed. Dozens of wounded lay screaming for help. The bouncer that night even described the carnage as "reminiscent of an airplane crash site." But none of this prevented the PR princess from becoming the punchline to a thousand jokes.
Here's one: Did you hear about Mattel's new Lizzie Grubman Action Figure? Assault and Battery sold separately.
This late-night one-liner might be fit for Letterman or Leno, but it's actually one of numerous jokes featured on lizziegrubman.com, one of the first Web sites spawned by the accident in the Hamptons.
Since it was launched days after the July 7, 2001, crash by a freelance Web designer, the site's humor and fortuitous URL have gained it a great deal of attention. But some say that taking a lighthearted approach to a serious accident, no matter how hyped in the media, is a mistake.
The Hamptons were already in the spotlight long before Grubman reportedly shouted "white trash" before flinging her car into reverse the evening of the accident. But the incident focused national attention on the tiny strip of land known as a summer playground for the rich and famous. It polarized the community and spurred an unsuccessful effort to shut down a number of clubs.
Grubman, who made a living brokering the careers of such celebrities as Tara Reid, was held up as an example of the rich behaving badly.
Although she faces trial for assault and battery, as well as more than $200 million in civil lawsuits, Grubman must also suffer the public redress of the sort lizziegrubman.com offers.
The site provides links to news about the accident and the trial, as well as official documents detailing the late-night crash, but it also includes an extensive jokes collection and an art section with parodies of the crash.
One longtime chronicler of Hamptons life says the site is wrong to make light of an accident in which people were seriously hurt.
"I think it's a piece of trash," said Steven Gaines, creator of iHamptons.com and author of a seminal history of Hamptons' real estate and culture, "Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons." "We don't rejoice in the Lizzie Grubman accident. We treat it like news."
News or not, lizziegrubman.com has a steady flow of users, judging by its guestbook traffic. A counter says almost 500,000 people have visited the site since July 9, 2001. Some visitors comment on the case, with those condemning Grubman heavily outnumbering those supporting her. But the majority of comments are simply disparaging remarks about Grubman — spitballs, it would seem, shot from cyberspace.
Grubman, of course, could have prevented all this. Internet domain names come up for renewal every year, and the site's creator was able to snag the URL only after the previous owner let their ownership lapse, he explains on the site.
Grubman might also have been able to regain control of the domain. Celebrities such as Julia Roberts have successfully taken back their URL namesakes by bringing their disputes before the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (or ICANN), the group responsible for settling domain name spats.
But Dan Parisi, creator of Sucks 500, a collection of more than 600 sites ranging from chinasucks.com to oprahwinfreysucks.com, says that tactic might not work anymore.
Parisi, who has made a name for himself battling to keep michaelbloombergsucks.com and lockheedsucks.com despite the expensive efforts of those behind those names, says ICANN recently changed its stance on celebrity domains. In the past, he says, ICANN would allow celebrities to evict "cybersquatters" from their namesake domains even if they had not trademarked them.
Now, trademarked names will stand, but the so-called "right of publicity" argument has been abandoned by ICANN. And according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Grubman does not have her name trademarked.
"If you have a name, there's no reason that you can't trademark your name," says Parisi, adding that he thinks his sites are a bit different. "When you have the 'sucks' appended to it you pretty much make clear it has nothing to do with the person."
Still, Parisi made sure to snatch up danparisisucks.com before any of his detractors did.
Its URL isn't the only reason lizziegrubman.com has received a great deal of attention. The battle between locals and rich intruders, says Miles Jaffe, creator of nukethehamptons.com, is a universal one.
"This is a phenomenon that is recognized around the world," said Jaffe, whose site lets visitors pretend they're really "nuking" the Hamptons. "When I did my site, I thought the Hamptons were a unique place in that there was this immense disparity between the big money and the farmers that started out here. Then I started getting e-mails from people around the world asking them to 'nuke' their cities as well."
In the Hamptons, sites like www.lizziegrubman.com and Jaffe's have grown to encompass the feeling of disenfranchisement felt by local residents of the now-exclusive area. "As long as I've been here, there has been this kind of tension between the locals and the visitors," he said. "It's a continual downward spiral. In the last year, it's gone to a level of complete absurdity."
So Grubman, a one-time uber-flack, may have been cast into the time-tested role of villain for now. A poem on lizziegrubman, which equivocates Grubman with Lizzie Borden, the infamous ax murderer suspect, could ensure her lasting notoriety.
Borden was cleared of parricide by a jury in 1893, but was forever immortalized in the playground verse,
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
Thanks to lizziegrubman.com, Grubman's name could one day be chanted as well.
Lizzie Grubman took her car,
ramming patrons at the bar,
When the bouncer saw the crash,
She yelled out "F-YOU, White Trash"
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