A Celeb-Loving Mag Out of Sync With a Celeb-Loving Culture

Interview Has Failed to Understand That America Is Losing Interest in the Famous Fawning Over Themselves

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Maybe you love celebrities so much you want to be friends with them. Maybe you feel kindly toward them -- protective, even. Maybe you feel bad for them when they're abused by the media.
Interview is edited as though the past 15 years never happened.
Interview is edited as though the past 15 years never happened.

And maybe you think that there should be a home for battered celebrities -- a sort of haven.

Well, there already is, and it's for sale. Real-estate developer Peter Brant, you may have heard, is looking to get out of the celebrity-coddling business by divesting himself of Interview magazine.

You could argue that he's getting out of the publishing business, because he's also selling the two other titles in the Brant Publications stable: Art in America and the curiously named The Magazine Antiques. But "publishing" and "business" are pretty much beside the point here.

For Peter Brant, owning the art and antique titles has always been about entrée -- one of the most prominent collectors in the world, he has art holdings reportedly worth hundreds of millions -- just as owning Interview has always been about access to the famous. In fact, not too long after Brant bought Interview (in 1989) with his then-wife Sandra (who today retains equity in Brant Publications as its president-CEO), he celebrified his own household: In 1993 he started dating the woman who would become his next wife, the former supermodel Stephanie Seymour.

Interview, of course, has always been about sucking up to celebrities -- though in its earliest days, it had pretensions to a sort of high-minded artfulness. Blandly designed and printed in black and white on newsprint, Andy Warhol's "monthly film journal" was filled with Q&A's with art-house auteurs such as Roberto Rossellini and John Schlesinger.

Skimming through today's Interview, which has been edited by Ingrid Sischy since 1989, is a surreally nostalgic, oddly wistful experience. I've written frequently in this column and elsewhere about the transmogrification of contemporary fame -- about how, as celebrity has exploded, it's also simultaneously been reduced (the Us Weekly "They're Just Like Us!" effect), pathologized (the "Page Six" effect), monetized (the In Style effect), deconstructed (the "Behind the Music" effect), cheapened (the reality-TV effect) and degraded (the Paris Hilton effect). Sischy's Interview ignores all that; it's like the past decade and a half never happened.

Sure, plenty of media outlets still gush and fawn over celebrities -- but Interview is unique in the extent to which it utilizes celebrities to gush and fawn over themselves. The June issue, for instance, features not one but two curiously clueless, entirely uninformed interviews with indie pop star Rufus Wainwright, conducted over the phone by "two of his pals," actress Sienna Miller and "Saturday Night Live" cast member Amy Poehler. (Sienna: "Hi, my darling. Are you in New York City?" Rufus: "I am ...") Elsewhere in the issue, interviewer Alan Cumming tells his interviewee, "Aw, I love you, Cyndi Lauper." (Lauper responds, "I love you too, Al.")

It's meant to come off chummy, clubby -- but this club feels dangerously sealed off from reality. It feels airtight; it feels like a sarcophagus.

Will the Brants be able to find a buyer who's willing to open the windows and let in some air? Can the next owner of Interview reposition this willfully guileless brand for a post-PerezHilton, post-TMZ world?

In a world that values celebrity dysfunction over celebrity hagiography, the magazine certainly doesn't work as a brand that's leverageable as an internet play (its underdeveloped website has negligible traffic). Celebrities telling each other how much they adore themselves and each other is not exactly what you'd call "viral content."

I don't know. It might be too late.

Over the past 15 years or so, as we've all grown appropriately suspicious of the celebrity-industrial complex, Interview has remained stubbornly, creepily autoerotic. If it's not long for this world, chalk it up to a case of autoerotic asphyxiation.
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