This week’s challenge has been the most difficult so far – it was more time consuming, expensive and downright painful than any of the others. I dreaded the time I would spend on it each night and at one point I started to wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. This week I read celebrity gossip magazines.
I’ve got a big long list of things to try for this blog on a google doc with the clever title: “List”. I have plenty of new things still to try but whenever I find myself thinking, “Why would anyone want to…?” a little bell goes off in my head telling me maybe I should add it to my list. That’s what happened a few weeks ago when I was standing in a Christmas-Eve-at-the-grocery-store-long line. I looked at the magazines, asked myself, “Who are these people and why should I care about them? Why would anyone want to read this garbage?” And then that little bell started dinging and I added a new challenge to my list.
So the first step in completing the task was buying the magazines, obviously, since I doubt they carry them at the library. It sounds simple, but do you know how embarrassed I was picking up The Enquirer and In Touch? My plan was to think it through, check prices, and then decide on four or five magazines, but when I got there, I really just wanted to grab a bunch and go before I saw anyone I knew. I ended up collecting a whole pile of them and choosing the shortest looking line so I could make a quick getaway, only to find the person checking out before me was my neighbor. Luckily she reads this blog and didn’t appear to be judging me too harshly once I explained. When it was time for me to pay, I experienced some serious sticker shock. Did you know that The Globe and The National Enquirer are $4.99 each? Yowza! I could have bought some real books for that price.
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had bought seven magazines. Seven! And then I had to read them all which didn’t seem like it would be too difficult until I delved into the first one.
When I started out by reading OK! Magazine I decided to Google anyone I had never heard of because maybe I didn’t care about any of the “news” just because I didn’t know any of the newsmakers. So I kept a notebook handy and a computer close by. Do you want to guess how many people I had to look up? Sixty-two! (And that doesn’t even count the people I have heard of but know nothing about.) I know I’m a little old and out of the loop but if there are that many important people whose names don’t even sound familiar to me, maybe there are just too many important people in the world. This research took me far too long so I decided I would just read the rest of the magazines the way I would read the newsletter at my Grandma’s care center, knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t recognize any of the names.
I did think once I went through all that work with the first magazine that I would have a good foundation of basic knowledge to get me through the rest. I also expected that I would be able to skim through a lot of news stories that were repeats of other magazines’. So I was surprised to find that there is very little overlap with these publications. There were several stories about Mariah Carey but they were all different – one about her horrible singing at a Christmas concert, another about her children ordering too much food at a restaurant, and another about her cheating her assistant out of paychecks.
Only a few stories were important enough to make it into almost every magazine (Sofia Vergara’s engagement and Teresa Giudice’s first week in prison). But with so many celebrities these days (seriously, how many Real Housewives are out there?) eating and drinking and getting dressed and getting undressed and marrying and divorcing and binging and rehabilitating and playing tennis and skiing and gaining weight and losing weight and thinking about having babies and trying to have babies and having babies and then feeding those babies and dressing those babies, there’s an endless supply of gossip to be found.
There were a few magazines with almost identical photo spreads which seemed fishy, so I looked into it. It turns out that three of them (Life & Style, In Touch, and Closer) are from the same publishing company. Ok! and the National Enquirer share another publishing company. So they have the advantage of sharing pictures if they need to but also having different stories in each magazine so they can sell more. And that’s not even counting the special editions they have, like the one dedicated solely to Elvis and another just about the Kardashians.
And speaking of the Kardashians, I was sure that this little experiment would help shed some light on who they are and why I should even care, but it didn’t. I learned a lot about their lives, more than I needed to know, but why are they famous? Have they accomplished some great thing I missed in all my research? I still don’t get it.
I also found out that I guess I’m supposed to care about all sorts of people I forgot even existed. Remember Ian Ziering, the one guy on 90210 no one had a crush on? I guess he made a big comeback by starring in Sharknado so one magazine featured a six-page story about the renovations he’s made on his house. And remember Screech from Saved By the Bell? Apparently he was just arrested for stabbing some guy in a bar fight in Wisconsin. I didn’t really miss either of them enough to be interested in this information. I did, however enjoy this picture of Lionel Richie beekeeping. (Although I’m not sure why he’s blindfolded.)
Also, for those who don’t keep up on the latest, there is still much controversy over Princess Diana’s death almost seventeen years later. And did you know that a surprising number of today’s pop stars got their start on the Disney Channel? Like, all of them. And it turns out that pretty much every celebrity has overcome a traumatic childhood of being “an outcast” (Johnny Depp), “bullied” (Selena Gomez), “hated” (Christina Hendricks), and “a geek” (Zac Effron, Jennifer Garner) – they’re a regular Breakfast Club. In case you didn’t already realize, it doesn’t take much to be considered a celebrity these days: actors, singers and sportsers, sure that’s understandable, but with the popularity of reality shows and YouTube, it seems like there is an eternal cavalcade of celebrities to write about. One woman featured was even identified as a “Vine video star.” Is that a thing?
It was kind of fun to try to guess each magazine’s target reader based on the advertisements and personal ads. Unsurprisingly, the Globe‘s and Enquirer’s personal ads (the Globe’s is called “Sheela Wood Friendship Club”) are primarily posted by people in their 60’s or the occasional “correctional institute inmate”. Both tabloids feature ads for medical alert monitors, oxygen tanks and Publisher’s Clearing House while others like OK! and People feature ads for pushup bras, birth control and skincare.
I read an article that said a surprising number of smart women read gossip magazines but if that’s really true, why does every magazine feature a word search and a “Spot the Differences” puzzle in the back? That sounds like something you’d find in a Highlights Magazine.
Also, in the tabloids’ classified ads one can choose between dozens of psychics and practitioners of black magic, and if that doesn’t meet your needs, there is also the option of writing “Dear Debbie” for relationship advice from Debbie Reynolds.
And although it seems silly to even talk about journalistic integrity here, I was genuinely surprised by how blatantly awful the writing was. It’s like they don’t even try to appear legit. All quotes in stories come from “an insider” or “a friend,” except for the occasional expert like the “body language expert” who weighed in on Judge Judy’s health based on one awful photograph (“It also looks like her chin is drooping, and she has a slack jaw, another sign she is extremely fatigued…”), or “weight expert” who analyzed Kate Middleton’s shockingly low pregnancy weight, also based solely on photographs. And if that’s not enough to question the validity of anything you read in these magazines, there’s also this:
I managed to wade through all the drivel, the lies, the photoshopping, the gossip, the malicious attacks and the willful stupidity, but it was not easy. I just don’t care about any of it. Sure, I like to watch movies and t.v. but I’m not curious about the actors, not even the tiniest bit, and certainly not enough to care what they ate for dinner last Tuesday. And after all my reading this week, I’m even more sure than I was before that I never, ever want to be famous. Because in a showdown of “Who Wore it Better?” I’m pretty sure I would always lose.