that you’ve poured so much of yourself into this book.
that the only way to write this book is as if I had nothing to lose. There
are so many truths that entertainment journalists shade, truths that we
only allow partial expression. If you are going to write something that
means anything, you have no choice but to do your best to tell the whole
truth. It also makes things funnier. At some point during my writing of
this, I found a quote from Mark Twain that said, ‘The absolute truth is
the funniest joke in the world.’
inspired you to write this book?
college, I went to seminary. After seminary, I worked in politics as a
speechwriter for the governor of Massachusetts. After that, I became a
free-lance writer and I found that most of my articles were about
admiration, how admiring someone helps form character.
because autograph collecting and being a fan as a kid were such important
ways of making myself up, I decided to look at the paths other people have
taken in fandom too.
expedition I took was to write a piece for The New York Times
magazine, about professional autograph collectors. That story – to my
surprise – really hit a chord with a lot of different kinds of people,
including very powerful media people who you wouldn’t expect to identify
with passionate fans. But they do. Few people working in the media or
entertainment ever make anything meaningful that is not fueled in some way
by the emotional impulses of fandom.
that it might be worthwhile to go to LA and find out how fandom expresses
itself up and down the social spectrum, in obvious people like autograph
collectors, but also people who you wouldn’t initially think of as fans
but who are – celebrities, directors, producers, writers.
that our culture encourages us to become fans, but when we do, we are
labeled as freaks.
media that force feeds us images of celebrities also tells us that fans
are freaks. We’re in a huge hurry to trivialize fandom – to call it
shallow, empty, corrupting, juvenile.
How do you
see the difference between fans and stalkers?
a symptom of severe mental illness. It has nothing to do with the everyday
insanities of fandom that the rest of us experience. Stalking is not the
funhouse mirror image of autograph collecting. It is a whole other
territory. And yet, there is something really intellectually appealing to
a lot of people about the idea that the fan is a stalker waiting to
happen. It makes a tidy argument.
internet changed fandom?
One of the
effects of the internet is to create the illusion of greater intimacy
while actually increasing the distance between stars and fans. The
internet allows greater bandwidth of information about stars’ personal
lives but actually lacks personal involvement in the purveying of that
Increasingly, you’re also seeing stars create websites that have two
levels of access, just like porn sites. There is one level that you get
for free (example: Halle Berry’s site: Hallewood.com) where you can look
at quicktime movies of Halle working out, running on a treadmill, doing
her abs routine. This level is for free. Then you have a chance to enter a
sweepstakes to see her in person, or even have a chance to ask her a
question that she may answer on the website. This level is something like
thirty-nine dollars a year. For that, you also get a fake autographed
A lot of
celebrities have this same model. It’s mostly female stars who are in some
way sex symbols. There aren’t as many male stars who have exploited the
medium yet. But one great one is Adam Sandler’s website which is filled
with amazing short movies. Adam taking care of his dying dog, or getting a
haircut. We see every little detail of his life. That is an example of a
site that offers greater intimacy and actually does deliver it. In no way
does it profit from the interactions that it invites.
That is what
I think is most telling about the majority of movie stars’ websites. Any
of us born in 1970 or earlier could make contact with a star by just
writing a fan letter and putting a stamp on an envelope. It’s almost
impossible to do that now. Through the Internet, stars have learned that
they can ask for—and get—a considerable amount of money, just for
providing the illusion of personal contact.
You show us
two extremes in perceptions of star power: Michael Jackson and Dolly
Parton. In many ways, both stars are very similar, but how do they differ?
they are two of the most spectacularly artificial human beings living in
Dolly has been able to convince the world that she is real. That’s the
word everybody uses to describe her: “She’s just so real.” She evokes both
the kind of awe we reserve for stars from outer space (Michael Jackson,
Cher) and at the same time the fellow-feeling that we have for stars who
are most like us (Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan). She is a true paradox. Nobody is
more artificial and nobody is more authentic. Paradoxical characters I
think are the ones who are of the most enduring interest. Jesus fascinates
because he is a paradox.
story is an American Tragedy. And Dolly is the classic American success
story, the American Dream. Jackson’s
story is like a warning: if you start transforming yourself, you might not
know when to stop. You just lose yourself completely. However, Parton’s
life is like a promise, that if you start transforming yourself, you
become more essentially yourself. She has had all this plastic surgery,
but she is almost like an artist of plastic surgery. The more she changes
in order to fit the vision of herself that she had when she was a kid, the
more people love her.
touch upon the state of entertainment journalism and how it influences
fandom. You use Mary Hart as a prime example of how the industry has
changed over the last few decades.
about entertainment journalism, I chose to concentrate on Mary Hart
because I think that Entertainment Tonight (ET) is the
watershed event in the history of entertainment journalism and has not
been sufficiently recognized as such.
was the first syndicated show to be sent by satellite to stations around
the country. Mary Hart was not just on-camera talent, but she was
traveling all over the country to build this business and sell this show
in a way for which she has never been given credit. She is an extremely
smart businesswoman. Her longevity alone as a woman in this business is
just staggering – she’s weathered five co-hosts in twenty-some years.
took real information about the business of the entertainment industry
into people’s living rooms for the first time. This show was the first to
report things like box office grosses. Before this show, none of us talked
however, ET became more sensational, more preoccupied with gossip.
It’s notion of entertainment broadened to include stories like the Michael
Skakel trial and Chandra Levy’s disappearance. More and more competitors
arose (E!, Access Hollywood, etc.). ET has gone way
off on the side of gossip. This has probably been difficult for Mary Hart.
evolution of entertainment journalism over the past couple of decades
reflects the evolution of entertainment in America. Particularly in the
last five years, looking at the rise of reality television, this is where
things have gone completely off the rail. Entertainment and gossip have
completely merged. Reality shows are interesting because they’re filled
with people who do the kind of things on camera that until recently none
of us would even admit to our friends that we did: lie, cheat on our
spouses, say horrible things to our parents.
think that we may be due for a change in course here soon. The biggest
new TV shows of the last season were Desperate Housewives and
Lost. And the recent announcements of the new shows on the networks’
fall schedules indicate that we are moving back in the direction of the
primacy of scripted entertainment. That’s because fans have an appetite
for story and characters and not merely for sensation—and that appetite
for narrative is by far the more sustaining pleasure.
publicists’ roles changed in the last few decades, and how are they
associated with fandom?
have more control over access to the stars now. They’re strange
characters, publicists. Most of them have a lot of disdain for fans, and
I don’t think it’s hard to figure out why that is. How can you ever turn
your life so over wholly to the creation of a star and to serving the
whims of a star as a publicist does, unless you are dying to breathe the
air of fame?
“People Storms” in your book when you discuss your red carpet experiences
with Sean Astin.
One of the
reasons I love talking to Sean Astin is because he is able to describe the
experience of fame from so many different angles. He grew up as Patty Duke
and John Astin’s son, and he was a child star himself.
He is now an
adult and has children of his own. He is observing the way his career
affects their lives. One of his daughters becomes very frightened when
they go out in public and people start to ask for his attention. She calls
what happens a “people storm.”
me to accompany him down the red carpet as he entered an awards show. The
fans in the bleachers think that the celebrities see them as a sort of
anonymous mass, when in fact, the entire time we were walking down the red
carpet, Sean was noticing very specific things about individuals, and
talking about why they were dressed the way they were dressed or why they
were saying the things they were saying. You would hear these large, loud
obtuse comments like “You’re great!” coming from the stands. But we were
surrounded on the red carpet by people like Dennis Quaid and Uma Thurman
and Queen Latifah and I would listen to what they were saying to one
another and it was essentially the same thing, often the same words:
“You’re great! You’re great!”
point, Sean put his arms around my shoulder and, gesturing to the fans,
said, “Aren’t you glad that you’re over here instead of over there?” It
sounded almost like he was bragging, which would have been out of
character for him. I was wondering what he was getting at, and I said,
“Yes, I sure am.” He asked me, “Do you know what the difference is? About
How do you
feel about celebrities now that you’ve exorcised your thoughts in this
book? Are you completely over it?
I am on
sabbatical! However, if I walked out the door and Renee Zellweger was
walking down the street, it would make me very happy for about five
minutes. But most of the time, when an opportunity arises to go to a
celebrity party, I’d rather go to the beach.
So what is
it about our love affairs with celebrities? Why are we all fans?
something that we enjoy, even if we don’t admit that we enjoy it. And for
the most part, it’s good to enjoy it. It’s healthy. It helps connect us to
other people: we really can learn something about a new friend by asking,
‘Who’s your favorite Desperate Housewife?’ Also, if we didn’t have these
people to dream about, then we would have to do some serious hating of the
unfairness of life. And our relationships with stars ebb and flow, just
like all of our relationships. We need them more and less at different
times of our lives, and we need different kinds of them at different times
of our lives.
love, but it’s not love, and it’s really important never to forget that.
This is an imaginary relationship. The connection that we feel to a star
is actually a connection to a piece of work that the star has made. This
adds a layer of abstraction in to the relationship and makes it less like
love, and more like being in love with love.
impulse of fandom always comes from the impulse to love, and that’s why
fandom matters. That’s why none of these feelings -- no matter how stupid
and silly and embarrassing they are -- none of them are a waste of time or
shameful. They are just there to enjoy. Celebrities give us pleasure that
almost no one has bothered to describe.
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