Stern, of course, insists that the money he was asking of supermarket magnate Ron Burkle wasn't for protection from nasty "Page Six" items, but merely an invitation to invest in "Skull & Bones by Jared Paul Stern," his fledgling clothing line.
Alrighty then, let's take a close look at the goods, which are marketed on a butt-ugly boilerplate Yahoo Stores site (skullandbonesjps.com). The copy is cringe-inducing ("Call it prep-punk if you will, wear it if you dare...") and the merch is nothing but little skull-and-bones logos embroidered on run-of-the-mill polo shirts, ties, "tennis sweaters" and so on. It's like learning-disabled Abercrombie, or Polo by Ralph Lauren as re-imagined by a junior-high student.
I mean, ooooh, a skull-and-bones logo! How edgy! The brand, of course, is supposed to call to mind dark Wasp Power -- it's suggestive of the secretive Skull & Bones society that George Bush and generations of rich and powerful white men belonged to at Yale. As it happens, mummy and daddy actually sent Jared Paul to Bennington -- the more-expensive-than-Yale college for coddled misfits who weren't smart enough or connected enough (or socialized enough) to get into Yale. There are lots of reasons to feel sorry for Stern, but chief among them is the fact that he thinks his Skull & Bones is a nifty brand.
So while speculation about the psychological underpinnings of the "Page Six" scandal continues, I'm more interested in the brand implications, or, rather, the brand self-delusion.
Who's really to blame for Jared Paul Stern? I'm going to go out on a limb and pin him on Tom Peters. Peters, of course, is the business guru who came up with the "Brand You" notion in the '90s, when Stern was still an impressionable 20-something.
Pre-Peters, creative people -- and white-collar workers -- could just do their jobs. Post-Peters, creative people decided they were nothing if they weren't brands.
For a guy like Stern, it wasn't enough to be an enterprising reporter (or, well, an ethical reporter). A reporter just grubs around for facts, but a reportorial "brand" -- an instantly recognizable man-about-town dandy who wears a "trademark" fedora, as Stern does -- well, a brand can do business with a billionaire! A brand can be a "media consultant" (Stern's other dubious claim to Burkle's money). A brand can have a clothing line! The key thing is just to be a brand -- a brand that people are buzzing about!
Of course, brand stewards tend to become convinced of their own invincibility, until one day when they wake up and find that what once was, say, The World's Most Powerful Gossip Brand is now The World's Most Unintentionally Hilarious Gossip Brand. (It's now impossible to read nice "Page Six" items without snickering and wondering: How much did that cost?)
By the way, for the record, the brand you're consuming right now -- Media Guy -- remains, as always, committed to the highest journalistic standards. That said, I am accepting "investments" in my new brand extension: a high-end fragrance line (inspired by "Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker" and Coty's new scent, "Desperate Housewives").
The first in the line is "ENTITLEMENT by MEDIA GUY." It has base notes redolent of the inside of a Conde Nast town car, plus fresh linen infused with top notes of Maytag blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Imagine, if you will, the Table 5 tablecloth at Michael's, "distressed" ever so artfully with the drippings of a $30 Cobb salad. Wear it if you dare.
And in the fall, "RESENTMENT by MEDIA GUY." (Base notes of burning rubber and vomit, with a satisfying top note of schadenfreude.)
Prickly, self-protective billionaires are encouraged to inquire within.