Woman peeking through window blinds.
Photo by ERIKA CRISTINA from Pexels

Why I Really Click on Those Celebrity Gossip Articles

I’m not proud of it: I’m there to peek through the blinds at the plastic surgery disasters of wealthy celebrities.

I love good garbage.

Celebrity gossip is my weakness. In particular, there’s a standard article format for entertainment websites, the “style evolution” slideshow, which features images of a female celebrity over the years.

They’re vapid, transparent clickbait, and I can’t resist them.

These articles are designed to harvest a lot of click-throughs and ad revenue. They’re little more than a chronological series of photographs coupled with innocuous captions about a celebrity’s fashion and hairstyles over the years.

These images also document relentless quests for physical perfection via surgical enhancement, and that’s the real reason many people bother clicking through.

We gawk at the transformations of famous actresses, then flock in the comments section to speculate on their psychological problems. What has happened to these women that they no longer want to resemble themselves? How do they come to see their surgical changes as improvements? Or, with less sympathy: Who do they think they’re fooling?

I’m transfixed and unsettled by the phenomenon. But I keep staring anyway.

I don’t really think of myself as being into celebrity culture. I’m not really a “fan” of anyone. I don’t follow celebrities on social media. I don’t watch network or cable television shows.

Yet like many ordinary American women, I can pair the names of celebrities with their faces, whether they are A-list or D-list. I know the faces of former Disney stars. I know the pop music stars whose songs I wouldn’t be able to call to mind. I even know “Real Housewives” and other reality television personalities. When I’m standing in the checkout line of the grocery store next to the magazine rack, I recognize these people at a glance.

Lately I’ve been trying to train my news aggregators to deliver more substantive headlines about political, social and economic developments. I want to be better than the dregs to which our media apparently tries to relegate culture—honest, I do.

But entertainment news is visually stimulating, frivolous, and provides a moment of distraction in a fraught world. It is everywhere. And it’s harmless, right?

The promotion of celebrity gossip and fashion-watching is not a new marketing vehicle for Hollywood studios or media companies. It’s always been part of the business of promoting upcoming films or individual actors.

The internet has simply brought celebrity image promotion closer to our lives and made every public appearance a “red carpet event” or pre-scheduled paparazzi shoot.

Celebrities set up opportunities for candid photos on the streets, holding items they are paid to sponsor, brand labels facing out. They model clothes while pretending to talk on their phones. They swarm music festivals and rep for products at corporate pop-up booths. They conveniently receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or the honor of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” cover ahead of their latest projects. On Instagram, actresses hawk snacks, bottled water, vitamins, exercise clothing, cosmetics, and more. Their continuous media exposure is their livelihood.

We no longer need to turn on the television or purchase a magazine to see celebrities. Their reach is wider, deeper, and easier than ever before.

It goes without saying that there is big money in image management and celebrity branding. Many celebrities have spun their acting careers into independent fashion or lifestyle businesses. Others earn millions of dollars from big fashion houses for brand ambassadorship requiring them to exclusively wear the labels on red carpets. Armies of stylists, hair, and makeup teams surround female celebrities.

Some actresses and reality television personalities seem to be photographed dozens of times each day, not including the images they post themselves on social media.

We are saturated with images of these beautiful, wealthy people. It’s disorienting. We develop odd forms of attachment or hatred for them. Comment sections of gossip sites are filled with ordinary people speculating on celebrities as if they were personal friends or enemies.

Although the gossip industry has been around for the better part of a century — indeed, as long as Hollywood celebrities have existed — we’re in a new era of audience participation.

We now have not only a window into the daily lives of famous people, we’re capable of throwing that window open and issuing public missives back at them.

In some ways, gossip blogs serve as a mechanism for a rowdy, low democracy: the rabble is back in the audience, close enough to launch volleys of fruit at the stage. It can feel like a rightwing populist mob gathering in judgment.

On gossip sites, it’s perfectly acceptable to harbor an irrational and unjustified dislike of a famous figure. Ordinary people can now give vent to anger at celebrity culture.

Celebrities who Google themselves and find these sites bitterly complain about the amount of hatred expressed online, and wonder why regular people feel free to be so mean.

They can’t fathom how, for most of us, the culture has restricted our speech to these mean little gutters.

Famous figures have a hard time understanding that negative commentary is not necessarily motivated by envy. We aren’t “jealous.” Imagine that: it is possible to dislike someone without wishing for their lifestyle.

Equating wealth with worth, they also sometimes fail to recognize that masses of non-rich people are far more intelligent than they are.

It goes without saying that celebrities have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that millions of people don’t think the rich are entitled to fabulous wealth — especially when their money is inherited and their notoriety is tied to a family name, an arrangement so common in Hollywood.

Frequently, wealthy heirs not only believe they’re entitled to the privileges afforded by nepotism, they actually think they are “self-made” and have earned their place in the pantheon through talent and hard work.

Uneducated, untalented, uncreative young women use family wealth to undergo complete plastic surgery transformations and—voila!—they’re “supermodels.”

Unsurprisingly, their chafing at criticism typically wins more criticism than sympathy from the great unwashed mass.

Entertainment websites function as a warped outlet for public anger over social disparities in general. Displays of conspicuous consumption can be publicly condemned. Bad advice, homeopathy, and uneducated opinions spouted by celebrities can be answered by more qualified individuals. Comments sections and social media are some of the only transmission belts that the public can use to return slaps upward to the rich.

Gossip sites can be a place for ordinary people to commiserate over the unfairness, hypocrisy, superficiality, and consumerism so rife in a society dominated by a few giant corporations and the ultra-rich.

I’m fascinated by the explosion of plastic surgery, Botox, fillers, and other cosmetic procedures over the past two decades.

Celebrity images in magazines or other authorized branding are as flattering as possible. Photoshop is employed with a heavy hand, even in many “candid” paparazzi pictures. On Instagram, celebrity women use filters, Photoshop, professional lighting and photographers — the whole nine yards, on top of surgical enhancements.

In some instances, this goes on to such an extent that the public is shocked to see unretouched images of a famous person.

I see gossip articles featuring undoctored images and go straight to the comments section to see others gasp in disbelief at the way a famous woman looks without the magic of photo manipulation.

There is something comforting about that. It’s a relief to know others see what I see. Thousands of people click on a slideshow documenting a “style evolution” over the years not to reflect upon the changing fashion trends, but to scrutinize a celebrity’s face.

We know why we are there, and the entertainment sites do, too.

We experience cathartic indignation at the excesses of fame and fortune.

We are there to watch a famous woman’s nose whittle down to little more than a button tip with nostrils. We’re there to see her lips inflate, widen, and then cross the threshold from desirable to grotesque. We watch her eyebrows rise up her forehead, her eyelids completely change shape, her skin change color, and her figure contort into impossible shapes.

We achieve a vindication that lasts only a moment before we go back to feeling uglier and more haggard than the surgically enhanced rich person.

We know what rich women are doing. And we know that it all costs hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

These are millions of dollars that could have been spent on something more productive to society. But instead, a celebrity puts it into her face to remain employable in the perverse and predatory world of Hollywood — and quite often, she denies doing it.

We hate liars. It all feels so unfair to have wealth-dependent beauty standards imposed on us. Beauty that is manufactured by a surgeon feels like cheating. When they insist on being “all natural,” it induces outrage. We scour their “before and after” images with a forensic obsession.

We feel a poisonous sanctimony when their surgeries go overboard and they ruin their faces. We condemn them and laugh at their misfortune like a band of haggard, undoctored vigilantes.

Highway traffic flow can be delayed for hours after an automobile crash. Even after there is no debris left on the road, travelers continue to slow down to “rubberneck” at the scene of an accident.

The rubberneck effect isn’t deliberately produced by drivers. We’re just compelled to look — even when we probably shouldn’t.

The famous women we criticize are often the entertainment industry equivalent of car crash victims.

They’re trapped in a Faustian bargain. They are richly rewarded for their service, but they are also sacrificed for it. Hollywood is a kind of Hell, and actresses who butcher their faces have handed their souls over to the devil.

Ultimately, our indignation serves no one but the entertainment industry. We’re drawn back in, again and again by the images of celebrities.

First we admire their beauty. Then we follow their lives. And then we rubberneck at their denouements. We follow them into the depths. The industry is built on the certainty of this course.

When star power fades, the fallen images of a star continue to be of use to the gossip websites.

Bad plastic surgery sells as well as good plastic surgery, it’s just that different people are pocketing the money.

Gossipmongers know we have trouble looking away from a car crash, so they monetize it in the form of an innocently titled slideshow about a famous actress’s “style evolution.”

We all know what they’re really for.

A compassionate and opinionated human being. | Fiction author and visual artist in Central Appalachia. | Give my newsletter a try: https://bit.ly/2sZGM6n

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