Tuesday, November 24, 2009

#38 - Perez Hilton

It was the decade when...

Hollywood's biggest power broker worked out of a coffee shop.

The original title of Perez Hilton's now infamous namesake blog was "PageSixSixSix." It was the last instance of wit that Perez would ever display. In just five years this foul-mouthed, flame-y haired, even flame-yer acting, gutter minded chimichanga has gone from an unemployed freelance writer with $60,000 dollars of debt to the worlds most famous gossip blogger, a six figure salary and multi-media fame. In retrospect the Miami-born, NYU educated, Mario Armando Lavandeira's rise to Hollywood fame was as unlikely as his blog (or one just like it) was inevitable. As such, and as horrifying as it is to contemplate, Perez Hilton is one of the Aughts most emblematic personalities. Oy.

Stylistically, somewhere between a Michael Musto missive and elementary school bathroom stall scrawl, Perez Hilton, the site and the man, have come to define what gossip is in the new cyber-media. Walter Winchell he ain't, Perez was the first to realize that in the era of the mouse click and hyperlink, volume always trumps quality. Best to have forty hastily organized posts a day than five brilliantly pithy, well written ones. Grammar is for losers, sentences are passe. In the Internet area, a picture (of Clay Aiken with drawn on ejaculate running down his mouth) says 1000 words, none of which would be pleasant to read. Hilton's editorial standard requires only that the posts be in English, and even then sometimes you wonder...

Perez may get millions of hits a day but, for most readers, the actual time spent on the site probably lasts about as long as an extended piss or short shit; the experience is always excremental. Perez knows (intuitively, from experience no doubt) that surfing the Internet has bulldozed our attention spans to somewhere between badger and opossum on the phylogenetic tree. We now want our celebrity news digestible in one long gulp, like a frat boy finishing a six pack. You'd throw up if you were to sip it. A brief visit down Hilton lane on your five minute office coffee break can function as an emergency infotainment debriefing. It's gossip redux. A digital Page Six, distilled to bullet points and dirty pictures. Drained of all editorializing, the site is a who-is-doing-who and who-is-pregnant-now memorandum of the most crude kind. The frequent updates keeps its readers hitting refresh like lab mice clicking their feed bar. Communication hasn't been rendered this sparse since the heyday of the pay-by-the-letter telegram.

Perez did much right in his quest to become the self-proclaimed "Queen of All Media." Unlike other low-brow gossip sites like DListed.com or Pinkisthenewblog.com (or even more legitimate Internet gossip sources like gawker.com and it's subsidiaries) Perez's site was as much about the blogger's own cult of celebrity as it was the actual A-D Listers and celebutantes he reported on. You would go to his site to learn about Brangelina drama or the latest Britney Spears disaster scene, but you couldn't escape the man himself. Anything but camera shy, this zaftig trash-talker worked overtime to make his personal persona (not just his blog) synonymous with celebrity in the 21st century. The efforts paid off. Soon, the New York Times was writing articles and old media could no longer ignore this new Hollywood game changer. His inferno-topped visage became a fixture of the LA nightlife scene; soon he was the one in Paparazzi photographs. TV Specials and red carpet gabfests were only going to be a matter of time.

With the new medium of blogging being defined and re-calibrated in real time, the journalistic standards that held sway for decades in print media were, if not useless, totally ignored. Was a gossip blog more like a gaggle of friends pick-a-littling at drinks on a Friday night or was it a newfangled periodical column in the vein of Liz Smith, Cindy Adams and the legendary Page Six? (Or was a blog more akin to a logorrheic nutjob shrieking on a soapbox in Hyde Park?) Perez Hilton assumed the casual, loose lipped informality of private conversation but got an audience as massive as any of the genre's old warhorses. Controversy inevitably followed.

While Michael Musto may snarkily (Michael Musto eats his corn flakes snarkily) and obliquely allude to a well-known closet case's infamous same-sex orgies, Perez will provide pictures and commentary. For Hilton, himself an out and proud gay man, the Hollywood closet was only a doorway to success; he has little interest in protecting any public figure's privacy should they choose to hide their sexual orientation. And Hollywood is afraid, very afraid.

Both Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris had little choice but to announce their homosexuality after being backed into a closet corner by the scruple-free blogger. Though "Who's gay in LA LA Land?" has long been a favorite party game of homos from here to the land of Oz (lots of gays there), when such casual speculation finds its way online, the finality of putting the trashy gab in writing (even of the non-print variety) brings to bear a new whole roster of ethical and journalistic issues. But, of course, Perez is not a journalist. He is not a reporter. He is not the employee of a media company. He is a guy with a laptop. In essence, that's all he is or needed to be. This is the 21st Century. Recently, after the feeding frenzy over Miss California's anti-gay response to Perez Hilton's Same-sex marriage question (He later called her a "dumb bitch.") while appearing on the Miss USA panel, Perez has positioned himself as a GLBT activist, even showing up on legitimate talk shows to debate same sex marriage. Not all gays are having it.

Who's really not having it are the paparazzi who risk life and limb daily to get that million (or 500, more usually) dollar shot of Nicole Ritchie eating a corn dog. They struggle and toil only to have their "work" exploited by Hilton, who, as easy as a right-click, appropriates the fruits of their labor, defiles it with his magic markers, and then posts the image for all to see, making boffo bucks all the while. Enter the lawsuits. While it's hard to get worked up about injustices against the pawn-scum that are celebrity paparazzi, what was at stake in the case against Hilton was nothing less than the copyright status of images in the brave new world that is the Internet. In this instance the matter was settled out of court, leaving the precedent still nebulous; further lawsuits, whether against Hilton or other Internet picture poachers is all but inevitable.

As a fabulized, slenderized Hilton stands atop his mini-Empire of over-inflated importance, he must wonder, "How long can this last?" As self-made as any classic entrepreneur in the mythopoeia of the American Dream, Perez Hilton was neither the most original nor talented neophyte bloggerhead to reach for success, he was simply the one who got there first and knew what to do with it when he arrived. He is at once unique and emblematic. Is Perez Hilton really the Queen of all Media? In the age of the internet, you are what you say you are. So, Long Live the Queen.

You AUGHT to remember...

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