Thursday, November 30, 2006
Fashion trends of the rich and famous
Clothes and effect:
  • In the 18th century, Marie Antoinette started wearing a pouf, an elaborate, stacked hairstyle. It was quickly copied by members of the court. The French queen also started the trend for wearing the chemise, something that was scandalous at the time: A portrait of her wearing the garment was said to have shown the queen in her underwear.
  • In 1934, Clark Gable appeared undershirt-less in the film "It Happened One Night." According to legend, undershirt sales plunged overnight.
  • In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy was rarely pictured wearing a hat. He's often credited (though, again, not quite correctly) with furthering the decline of the American hat industry.
  • In 1977, Diane Keaton wore mannish suits, complete with tie, in the Woody Allen movie "Annie Hall." The look became a popular style for women of the period.
  • In the 1980s, Madonna began a trend of wearing underwear as outerwear that continues to this day.
And now, in 2006, the love-to-hate-'em trio of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and most notably Britney Spears has been seen around Hollywood nightclubs sans underwear.

Is a new fashion trend in the offing? Drawer your own conclusions.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Why DO we care?
I have a friend, a former academic, who likes to quote a line about professorial infighting: The battles are so vicious, it goes, because the stakes are so low.

The same can be said about many entertainment stories. Few people would insist that Tom 'n' Katie's wedding or Madonna's latest escapade or Britney Spears' divorce mean anything in the larger scheme of things. And yet these are exactly the sorts of stories that attract the most emotional commentary -- and the greatest interest.

Which has me wondering, once again: So, why do we care?

(And no doubt there's someone out there saying, "Well, I don't care" -- though the people who say that belie their level of caring by writing the most vitriolic comments.)

Part of it, I think, gets back to what my colleague Dave Levine said about the Cruise-Holmes wedding. These are stories that tap into some universal archetypes: rags to riches, love's ups and downs, sin, forgiveness and redemption. (Michael Richards, as did many before him, is undergoing the latter series now. Depending on his future, either the event will be a single sentence in his obituary -- no more or less important than his performance in "Unstrung Heroes" or his role in "Fridays" -- or part of the lead.)

But there's also the matter of what writer Maureen Orth calls the "celebrity-industrial complex," the endless machine made up of the news media, entertainment companies, performers, handlers, advisers and consultants (and, yes, consumers) that's dependent upon such stories for its daily fuel -- and, like any capitalistic enterprise, only exists as long as interest continues. Which means there's a great deal at stake to keep the machine running.

People like Paris Hilton use the machine very shrewdly; and yes, we can all say we don't care about Paris Hilton, but her photograph sells magazines, her smell sells perfumes, and a headline about her on CNN.com invariably draws traffic. And her adventures (even the ones that seem, well, choreographed) remind us that no matter how well known we are or how rich our friends or family, we are all similarly vulnerable to being human.

Which keeps the machine in motion until the day that, for whatever reason, these things don't happen. And then the machine will move on to something else.

There's also a third element: art.

Sometimes art is produced by the machine: witness the Hollywood studio system or the Brill Building songwriting combine. Other times art gets lost beneath the machine, overwhelmed by the noise. Either way, it gives an added dimension to entertainment beyond momentary joy or distraction. (What is art? Well, that's a source of argument among those academics for whom the stakes are so low.)

With all that in mind, a knowledgeable consumer should be aware of how the machine works and what it means to society. So if you do care, try these three books:
  • "The Image" by Daniel Boorstin. Though Boorstin's book came out in the early '60s, it still has a lot to say about how news became "news" and how people in the news became "celebrities" -- in Boorstin's oft-quoted coinage, a person who is known for his well-knownness.
  • "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. How did television, a great communications tool, become an even greater source of distraction? If you want to understand how complex issues got turned into black-and-white emotional hot buttons, Postman's 1985 book offers food for thought.
  • "Life: The Movie" by Neal Gabler. From the back cover of the paperback edition: "The story of how our bottomless appetite for novelty, gossip, glamour and melodrama has turned everything of importance ... into one vast public entertainment."
And if you're wondering where I stand, well, of course I care. I care about some topics because our readers are genuinely interested, and others because I am genuinely moved, as well. And it's my job to make sure that CNN.com's Entertainment page reflects the full picture.
Other terms to ban
African-American leaders have requested that the N-word be excised from entertainment -- a worthy goal. (Given some of the responses to Brooke Anderson's post, I wish them luck.)

But why stop there? I'd like to request that the following terms be banned from the entertainment media (publicists and hipsters, you're on your own):
  • BFF. When did the entertainment press turn into a 10-year-old girl squealing over a stack of Tiger Beats, even ironically? Ditch this term. Kill it. It shouldn't even be used by 10-year-old girls.
  • Hottie. "Hot," the adjective, fine. "Hottie," the noun, sounds like something you find in a compost heap. Let's leave it there.
  • Blow up (as in "Justin Timberlake's new single is really blowing up"). Funny: it used to be "blowing up" was a bad thing -- destruction, anger, messiness. Now it's synonymous with the first sign of increased sales or popularity. It's an explosion of success. What a disgusting metaphor.
  • Drop (as in "The record drops on Tuesday"). I have mixed feelings about this one, because it reminds my aged brain of a phonograph needle falling into a groove, or a thick spindle releasing a 45-rpm single from a stack. (You young 'uns can look it up.) But that's all the more reason to let it go. When's the last time someone used "groovy"?
23-skidoo, all you cats and kittens.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
The racist rant heard 'round the world
Michael Richards seems completely shell-shocked now that the hurtful, racist words he spewed at the Laugh Factory in Los Angeles have created a buzz so loud, the noise is deafening. It seems to me he didn't expect his horrific tirade to have consequences.

I spoke to Richards face to face after I watched him struggle through a two-hour interview with the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Jackson's nationally syndicated radio show, "Keep Hope Alive." Richards was visibly nervous and agitated throughout the program, distressed by the predicament in which he has found himself. Richards' people even demanded we remove our cameras from the studio because he wasn't comfortable with filming.

Interestingly, Jackson's people maintained everyone involved, including Richards, had agreed the night before to allow CNN's cameras in studio. Guess the actor had a change of heart. You know how cameras (especially cell-phone cameras in Richards' case) can capture a person's darkest moments.

Richards' extreme discomfort and anxiety didn't diminish when he spoke to me. Carefully measuring his words and speaking painfully slowly, Richards said he is now seeing a therapist to find the source of his rage and anger, and that he's grateful to the African-American community for opening up the "healing."

Numerous leaders in the African-American community, including Jackson, have told me that the "healing" should extend to everyone who has ever uttered the "N-word," not just Michael Richards. They are bringing attention to the larger societal issue that has been spotlighted by Richards' divisive words: racism and the harm it causes.

Community leaders are challenging every human being, including those in the entertainment industry (rappers, actors, film studios), to stop using the racial slur. Comic Paul Mooney, who has used the "N-word" in his act in the past, has promised to never use it again. The Laugh Factory, the scene of Michael Richards' meltdown, is "banning the use of all hateful words, especially the N word."

Yes, it can begin with the vernacular, but hopefully the healing will continue to do more than just eliminate a word from the vocabulary. We as human beings need to feel and demonstrate respect towards others. We should be compassionate, caring and inclusive -- no matter the race, color or creed.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a silver lining to the dark, ugly side Michael Richards discovered he had and displayed to the world.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Britney goes to Paris?
Imagine for a moment that you were Britney Spears right after she shed her albatross, Kevin Federline. After a couple of years of transforming your image from America’s sweetheart to baby-endangering, trash-talking, sloppy-looking, no-longer-so-hot-looking momma, you have now ditched the hubby everyone loved to hate and who turned you into a head-to-toe black eye. Time for a meeting with "your people" to plot the comeback trail.

The image makers would likely address the following:

First of all, Brit, there is the issue of relationships. You’re only 24 years old and you’ve already been married twice (even though the first was for a nanosecond).

Second, there is your image. You’re no longer the girl every guy would like to introduce to his parents and say "Hey, Mom and Dad! Ain’t she swell?"

And third, there is your music. You haven’t put out anything new in some two years and the Fergies and Aguileras of the world have you in their rear-view mirrors.

So, if you’re Spears, to whom would you attach yourself in public to prove you’ve turned over a new leaf? Well, if this were the Bizarro world -- that strange planet from Superman lore on which all logic and sensibilities are the exact opposite of Earth’s -- the first suggestion to come to mind would be Paris Hilton!

Well, guess what. Here on the planet Earth, that is exactly what’s happening.

Ever since Brit shed K-Fed, she has been parading in public -- even stripping to her fishnet stockings while dancing at a Vegas club -- with none other than Ms. Hilton, who is the last person on earth you would want to associate yourself with if you are a) trying to clean up your image, b) looking for someone to steer you in the right direction with relationships, and c) right the wayward ship that will prove you can still turn the magic of music.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote on this site how nice it was to have Britney back, out of the clutches of K-Fed. But now I wonder if I spoke too soon.

So now we must deal with BFF Paris & Brit. I doubt that when Paris crooned her inexplicable, studio-created, cotton-candy illusion of a summer hit "Stars Are Blind" she had Britney in mind. But the song's title sums up this mashup, which, if nothing else, will be interesting to watch as it swerves and careens, only to end in the inevitable car wreck of a relationship.

Britney as the new Nicole Richie? Or was that the old Nicole Richie?

Whatever. Either way, before long, Paris will find a new BFF and Britney will be left as roadkill. What Brit really needs is the regenerative powers of Claire the cheerleader in "Heroes" so she can repair the damage she’s done over the past couple of years and is sure to inflict upon herself if she continues down the path she is now traveling.

Save the Britney. Save the world.
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Occasional musings and gab about the world of entertainment.
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