Like many other self-appointed media sophisticates, I found myself quite underwhelmed by the BBC News coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death. Where was the gravitas? Where were the on-site dispatches and the stern moralizing? In my profound moment of need, the BBC wasn't there for me. I shan't ever return, not even for their gavel-to-sexy-gavel coverage of the next World Bank convocation.
Thus on that fateful Friday afternoon, I was forced to point my browser toward a gaggle of gossip sites. PerezHilton.com, TheSuperficial.com, JustJared.com -- I visited them all, and I did so of my own free will. I drank in their sporadically substantiated ANS updates with the unslaked thirst of a, uh, thirsty person, then I took a 84-minute, steaming-hot shower to purge my skin and soul of the pseudo-celebrity stink. Only after the administration of antibiotics and a thorough delousing did I begin to feel clean again.
No, I'm not a Gossip Guy. I don't think I'm above it or anything like that; I just find that I can get along pretty well in the world without a daily booster shot of breathless EXCLUSIVES!! about the Reese-n-Jake faux-mance (OK, so I picked up a few new buzzwords in the process -- sue me).
Upon closer examination, I'm quite impressed with the higher-end practitioners of the craft, if you want to call it that. My problem with a solid 98% of gossip sites, however, can be boiled down to this: They're all the same.
They rehash the same items, the same wire-service pix, even the same Google Ads. They adopt the same tone of practiced bitchiness, at once basking in the celebrity of their subjects and trying to ankle them. If Britney Spears happens to successfully complete the purchase of undergarments, they'll have the same barbed take on it. ("It's about time!!!! Girlfriend is a mess!!!!!") They manage to render a colorful topic dull, which is difficult to do.
So for the purpose of this little exercise, I'll confine my discussion to the five gossip sites that have something to offer would-be advertisers. I'm sure there's something diverting on the other 8,300 ones -- Egotastic.com, for instance, deserves Pulitzer consideration for its pioneering work with "side boobs" -- but mostly they're shrill and sloppy, crude in design and approach.
Of the bloggily blogging bloggers, Pink Is the New Blog stands out because its proprietor (publisher? pivotal personality?) seems to like what he does for a living. The site doesn't revel in celeb missteps, rarely dishing out scorn in the transparently heat-seeking way that the competition does. This isn't to say that Mr. Pink doesn't land the occasional cheap shot, like accusing an editrix of having painted-on hair, but mostly he adopts the tone of a chronicler rather than a commentator.
Throw in traces of bona fide wit -- a rarity in this genre -- and Pink Is the New Blog is worthy of consideration by semi-adventurous mainstream brands like Crest, currently hawking one of its teeth-whitening thingies in an upper-corner slot. I sure wish the guy would ditch the "please give me money" donation widget, though, which doesn't exactly scream "take me seriously, Procter & Gamble media overlords."
The popularity of Perez Hilton makes me fear for the future of Western civilization, frankly. But if you can get past the vulgarity -- the dots of superimposed bodily fluids on celeb faces, the crude "me gusta pussy" scrawl over a shot of Michelle Rodriguez -- you can understand why the guy has attracted such a rabid following.
He doesn't really seem to give a crap what anybody thinks of him, plus his frequent scorched-earth tirades would seem to insulate him against charges that he's getting too cozy with the subjects that he "covers." The guy may or may not be a reprehensible human being (we should probably withhold such judgments until actually meeting him, no?), but the bottom line is that what he does works on the web.
Assuming PerezHilton.com doesn't get sued into oblivion (a legitimate possibility, given its repeated appropriation of photos taken by others), it should continue to attract attention from entertainment advertisers. The 600 Bravo reality-competition shows are an obvious fit here, as are pop-cultural touchstones like DVD releases of crappy old sitcoms. Entertainment marketers sure seem to be taking the guy seriously, as witnessed by the "Nip/Tuck" site takeover on the day of its season premiere. Family-oriented companies should stay far, far away, as should big brands that have better options than sullying themselves via association.
Owing at least in part to its AOL backing, TMZ.com is the clear A-lister of the online-celeb-gossip world, the Tom Hanks to PerezHilton.com's ... well, Perez Hilton. It offers more video than any of the other sites, even if the quality rarely evokes memories of the Criterion "Jules and Jim" DVD transfer, and boasts the most stalwart fleet of reporters/dirt-diggers. If something big happens, TMZ.com almost always has it first.
The site also relays the news in a subtle, skillful manner. Rather than resorting to outright mockery or snark, TMZ.com merely wags a disapproving finger at celeb antics. It elevates itself, as much as any entity that traffics in the tawdry can, by shying away from outright cruelty.
It's no surprise, then, that marketers such as McDonald's (the sponsor of a bad-photo gallery) and AT&T wireless (something video-ish involving the cast of "The Hills") have a substantial presence here. Of all the celeb sites, TMZ.com is the only one that makes sense for a wide swath of mainstream advertisers -- electronics, fashion/beauty products, cars, you name it.
As for the VH1-affiliated Best Week Ever blog and Gawker Media's Defamer, I'm hesitant to list them in a roundup of gossip websites. They aim higher than any other entity mentioned here, so dumping them in a generic roundup kinda demeans what they do.
Nonetheless, they've earned a little love -- Best Week Ever for comic commentary (ideas for "Saw V") more akin to The Onion than the sarcasmablogs, and Defamer for its willingness to venture beyond celebrity, as with its frequent coverage of the upcoming writer's strike. Being simultaneously smart and entertaining on the web is a challenging task, and these two sites pull it off effortlessly. Any product with a Hollywood-insider feel, whether a book or a below-the-radar flick, would be right at home here. Slightly edgy mainstream brands (Apple, Puma and the like) could also prove a good fit.
OK, then. I'm off to burn my clothes now.