NY Times Rips into Vapid Celeb Book by Maureen Orth

Posted by

‘The Importance of Being Famous’: Vanities By JODI KANTOR Published: May 30, 2004 In ”The Importance of Being Famous,” Maureen Orth promises to reveal the workings of what she calls ”the celebrity-industrial complex” — in other words, the mysterious series of enterprises by which celebrities are minted, managed, paraded and discarded. It’s a tantalizing offer, made more so by Orth’s bona fides: she is a longtime profilist for Vanity Fair, the magazine of starlet-crowning covers, power-player lists, glossy true-crime stories, exclusive (but widely publicized) parties and, as this and other newspapers have recently reported, close ties to Hollywood. So Orth has real potential as a traitor/whistle-blower: finally, it seems, someone will speak plainly about the cover-story negotiations, invitation wrangling, influence peddling and airbrushing that make up the treacherous, lucrative business of fame in America. Maureen Orth could be the Paul O’Neill of Conde Nast! No such luck. ”The Importance of Being Famous” is a collection of Orth’s old Vanity Fair profiles, mostly of such scandal-of-the-month figures as Denise Rich, Susan Gutfreund, Mia Farrow and Laci Peterson, but also of political leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Vladimir Putin. A few of these portraits endure because of the sheer creepiness of their details — Arianna Huffington’s odd spiritual practices only seem odder now that she’s run for governor of California, and Orth explains how the supposedly reclusive and naive Michael Jackson is actually a canny manipulator of news coverage. But most of the profiles are exercises in reinforcement; they adhere so precisely to the conventional wisdom about the figures they describe that their effect is almost comforting. Dear Reader, they seem to say, you were exactly right — Tina Turner really is an earthy but elegant survivor; Margaret Thatcher does miss being in office; and it’s true, Madonna is a shameless master of reinvention. Orth has pasted these profiles together with a few short essays, titled ”Notes From the Celebrity-Industrial Complex I-VI,” meant somehow to assemble her rich, dead, disgraced and/or overchronicled subjects into a unified book. But she never persuades the reader that these disparate personalities — say, Gerry Adams and Andrew Cunanan — have much in common, and ”the celebrity-industrial complex” turns out to be nothing more than a convenient drawer into which Orth can pile her old work. While most are only a few pages long, the essays are heavy on pronouncement and alarmism. For instance, Orth repeatedly asserts, though never quite explains, a conviction that celebrity is ruining America. ”Obsession with star power,” she intones, ”is producing more and more ordinary people who have inordinate desires to identify with celebrity. Along with acquired situational narcissism, there is now a phenomenon, seriously discussed, called celebrity worship syndrome. A scale has been developed to measure the intensity with which the syndrome’s victims overidentify with celebrities. The thwarted ambitions of these celebrity junkies can backfire on all of us, as the frenzied race to be powerful or famous drives some people into dysfunction.” This syndrome may be ”seriously discussed” somewhere, but not in this book. Orth suffers from an exotic disorder herself: a stubborn refusal to see herself as part of the celebrity frenzy she reviles. The media are a ”morass,” a ”monster” and a ”giant . . . mush.” She even faults the press for constantly moving on from old subjects to find new stories, as if doing so weren’t a basic tenet of journalism. She harangues fellow reporters for overcovering the stories to which she contributes thousands of words; she chides other news outlets for their cover-the-coverage metastories, even though she uses the same approach. Orth also complains about how other journalists treat potential interview subjects — sending ingratiating letters, making promises ”on network letterhead,” getting involved in ”negotiations worthy of Colin Powell, including a series of demands to be met, questions not to be asked, insistence on quote approval and other stipulations.” In a few instances, Orth’s complaints stick, as in her explication of Diane Sawyer’s shoddy 1995 interview with Michael Jackson. But what’s odd is how prudishly Orth writes about these matters, as if she’s never dispatched a friendly interview request or agreed to keep a topic off limits. Are such practices prohibited at Vanity Fair? It’s certain that Maureen Orth knows. It’s just as certain that she isn’t telling. :nav Source: [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/30/books/review/30KANTOR.html]New York Times[/url]

Leave a Reply