Our Opinion: The high price of fame
THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Posted Jun 30, 2009 @ 12:06 AM
IN 1977, it was Elvis Presley. Thirty years later, Anna Nicole Smith.We don’t know yet if Michael Jackson had a similarly enabling cadre of hangers-on who helped hasten his death last week at age 50, but there’s a common thread regardless. From Elvis to Anna Nicole, from Britney Spears to Jon and Kate Gosselin, we’ve seen countless times the power of fame to destroy lives.
EVEN IF JACKSON’S death turns out to be natural, his life was anything but. Though he was preparing for an amazing series of sold-out concerts in London that could have restored his show business credentials to a new generation, Michael Jackson was best known to those born after the mid-’80s for his freakish behavior and legal travails. If they knew his music at all, their introduction is as likely to have come from a “Weird Al” Yankovic song parody than from the Michael Jackson original.
Unlike Elvis, whose death in August 1977 came as a sudden shock, Jackson’s bizarre decline had been painstakingly documented for years.
HE WAS A tabloid favorite — his chimpanzee, his Peter Pan fixation, his ever-changing appearance, his marriages and child molestation charges — whose descent into weirdness came just as we received the ability to follow every step of it. Many others have followed.
From the ever-more-aggressive corps of paparazzi to Web sites like tmz.com to tabloid TV shows and instant news tools like Twitter, the new media have taken stardom to both new heights and new lows. The famous now can be more widely known than ever, enjoying more adulation than the stars of previous generations. They also can never hide, and examples of the wreckage caused by the ever-present spotlight litter the pop culture landscape.
On the reality show “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” America got to watch a marriage disintegrate as six 5-year-olds and twin 9-year-olds figured as bit players. The show scored its highest rating, drawing 10.6 million viewers, in the episode last week announcing Jon and Kate Gosselin’s separation. While damning the Gosselins for exploiting their situation for a paycheck, America couldn’t help but tune in. (Anna Nicole Smith, too, opened up the train wreck of her celebrity life on a reality series from 2002-04.)
It’s even harder in Jackson’s case because of the child molestation allegations that hardly faded after his acquittal in court.
But there was something genuinely sad in the contrast between clips of the ebullient little boy belting out “ABC” and those of the freakish, pale, fragile figure we saw over and over last week. We may never know if Jackson’s untimely death was the price of his fame. If so, there is one question only Michael Jackson himself could ever answer: Was it worth it?
Two Kings: Was Michael Jackson the Elvis for a new generation?
by The Associated Press
Friday June 26, 2009, 7:19 AM
Friday June 26, 2009, 7:19 AM
The Associated Press
(AP) — NEW YORK – Michael Jackson didn’t want to be just a superstar. Like the Beatles, he wanted to be the biggest, the king. He wanted to topple the reigning man with the crown, Elvis.
In life and in death, there was Elvis.
“It’s just so weird. He even married Elvis’ daughter,” said author-music critic Greil Marcus, who wrote at length about Presley in his acclaimed cultural history, “Mystery Train.”
Elvis Presley overdosed-in his bathroom-on prescription drugs in 1977 at 42, his bloated, glazed middle age a cautionary tale to rock stars and other celebrities. Jackson died Thursday at 50, rushed from his Los Angeles home and pronounced dead at the UCLA Medical Center.
The death shocked more than surprised. While endless fame seemed to inflate Elvis like helium, Jackson’s fame seemed to scrub the flesh and wear into his bones until you could almost see him shiver.
Like Elvis, Jackson was once beautiful, outrageous, a revolutionary without politics who shook down the walls between black and white. He had the hits, the style, the ego, the talent. He was the King of Pop and he needed only to fill in the life: He married Elvis’ daughter. He bought the rights to some of Elvis’ songs. Elvis owned Graceland, its name a symbol for a deliverance the singer prayed for until the end of his life. Jackson had Neverland, a fantasy for a child-man for whom money meant the chance to live in a world of his own.
He did, and did not, want to be like Elvis.
In “Moon Walk,” a memoir published in 1988, Jackson insisted Elvis was not important to him growing up and that he was unhappy to learn a song he recorded with his brothers, “Heartbreak Hotel,” shared the name of Presley’s first national hit.
“I swear that was a phrase that came out of my head and I wasn’t thinking of any other song when I wrote it,” he wrote. “The record company printed it on the cover as ‘This Place Hotel,’ because of the Elvis Presley connection. As important as he was to music, black as well as white, he just wasn’t an influence on me. I guess he was too early for me. Maybe it was timing more than anything else.
“By the time our song had come out, people thought that if I kept living in seclusion the way I was, I might die the way he did. The parallels aren’t there as far as I’m concerned and I was never much for scare tactics. Still, the way Elvis destroyed himself interests me, because I don’t ever want to walk those grounds myself.”
CELEBRITY SCALES: The ‘Jon & Kate’ Sideshow: Star-Studded Legal Commentary for the Celebrity Obsessed
On Monday night’s much hyped episode of TLC’s wildly popular “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” the Gosselins announced that they are divorcing. Documents to initiate a legal split were conveniently filed in Pennsylvania on the afternoon just prior to the show’s airing which drew a record 10.6 million viewers. A mutual “agreement” on child sharing arrangements also appeared magically by the show’s scheduled time slot. Monday night’s episode was the most-watched program ever in TLC’s history and it had the highest ratings for any cable TV show this year. The episode also broke the record set by the “Jon & Kate” season premiere which brought in 9.6 million viewers. Even with all of its ratings records and devoted followers, the season five spectacle has had a tacky, carnivalesque quality to it. Fruitless attempts have been made to masquerade the underlying sadness of the troupe members’ actual lives through illusionary tricks and sparkling costumes. It is really hard to take this shtick seriously anymore. The Gosselin’s adventures, filled with gratuitous cross promotions and product placements, are simply not genuine, enjoyable to watch or even believable for that matter. Anyone who still thinks “Jon & Kate” is a cute depiction of an authentic American family needs to get a reality check on this reality mess.
Despite stellar ratings, TLC made the surprise announcement that it is placing “Jon & Kate” on hiatus and will resume filming again in August. The channel claims that the break will give everyone time to regroup and that when the show returns, a new modified schedule will be in place to support the family’s transition. Is a one month pause even enough for this disaster in the making? Given the Gosselin’s fragile circumstances, should this circus continue rolling? If so, what message does that send about the values espoused by Jon and Kate as parents as well as all parties involved in promoting the show? By continuing to peer at the “Jon & Kate” sideshow, is the public also complicit in enhancing the Gosselin’s notoriety at the expense of their non-consenting children?
This season’s viewers have witnessed the rapid but predictable deterioration of the Gosselin’s marriage. While the children are still adorable, Jon and Kate have demonstrated less sympathetic personality traits. The extensive media coverage of the couple’s crumbling relationship has been replete with rumors of infidelity and petty fighting. The tension between the two parents has been evident in the tone, body language and emotions that each has displayed during their separately filmed interviews. Adding to the chaos was an investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor into the show’s possible violation of child labor laws, an allegation that TLC as well as Jon and Kate have vehemently denied. All of this negative reporting has only further exposed this family’s internal discord and led some segments of the public to look less favorably on the couple, their parental choices and their stated motivations for continuing with the show.
The decision to move forward with filming the Gosselin’s separation process is undeniably an exploitation of a family’s deterioration for financial gain. Many will chalk this scenario up to the whims of a free market. While Jon and Kate’s exhibitionist tendencies may give them the resolve to endure this type of exposure, their motivation to keep their children at the center of the public malaise is highly suspect. These are children who will be experiencing one of the most emotionally vulnerable periods of their lives in front of a camera simply to continue satisfying their parent’s personal and material desires. Doesn’t it seem odd that any parent would justify this form of invasiveness as a character building exercise or positive life learning experience for their young ones? That the show is the Gosselin’s primary source of income is also a feeble excuse for these actions. Just like many other devoted parents do, there are multiple ways to support a family without resorting to such crass forms of exhibitionism.
The legions of “Jon & Kate” fans have responded to critics by claiming that the show brings to light the joys and difficulties of raising children and now possibly even the sensitive issue of divorce. Many Jon and Kate supporters feel that they can relate to the Gosselin’s experiences, both good and bad, and are even inspired by their story. Jon and Kate, at this point in time, are relatable to other parents only in so much as they have kids too. The impact of their tabloid celebrity and new economic status on the family’s personality and life experiences has removed them from the day to day realities of the majority of their audience. Jon and Kate have undone themselves. Ultimately, the Gosselin’s have allowed their life to become more of a carnival curiosity than any model of what a cohesive family should follow or aspire to be.
What began as an endearing yet honest account of a young couple confronted with the triumphs and stresses of raising multiples has also morphed into a multimillion dollar business led primarily by Kate. The “Jon & Kate Plus 8” franchise is now complete with merchandise, best selling books, overflowing book signings at malls, public speaking engagements and repeated tours of the national talk show circuit. The public can’t seem to get enough. The commercial success of “Jon & Kate” has even spawned a series of copycat shows centered on families with multiple children thereby creating a disturbing and just plain weird new genre of reality TV. From statements made during many of their interviews, it is evident that Jon and Kate believe at their core that the opportunities provided to their children as a result of the show are a trade off for the microscopic coverage of their personal lives. Kate has admitted that she knew this type of scrutiny came with the territory but believed it was worth the benefits her family could derive from the exposure. While Jon and Kate love and discipline their children in much the same way as other good parents do and should be commended for those qualities, it is their judgment concerning what constitutes positive opportunities for their family and how to attain them that is seriously misguided and damaging.
Although the “Jon & Kate” drama has been a publicity and financial windfall for TLC, its advertisers and the Gosselins, it is obvious that the show’s success has come at a severe cost to the stability of this reality TV family. The sad story told in this week’s episode is just the tip of the iceberg of the more complex problems to come, particularly those that are legal in nature. As the couple moves forward with their formal divorce proceedings, difficult questions over child custody, visitation rights, alimony and the division of $10 million worth of marital assets will be debated. These complicated issues are likely to be battled out publicly between Jon and Kate and their respective lawyers. If history is the litmus test for the future, most of these battles will even be staged for the cameras. To be sure, the tabloids and paparazzi will be lurking outside the gates of the Gosselin’s pristine multimillion dollar home just waiting to capture every sordid twist and turn of this ongoing saga.
Ultimately, what has recently emerged from the Gosselin’s circus tent is the evident difference in aspirations and future life goals held by Jon and Kate, exposing the modern rift between a career-minded mom and a stay-at-home dad. While Jon clearly embraces the financial rewards of his involvement with the show, he is now seeking freedom from the daily constraints and responsibilities of the family and marriage that generated this success. The weekend prior to the Gosselin’s announcement, he was seen looking for luxury apartments in New York City. On the other hand, Kate, with burning ambition and drive in her eyes and a somewhat delusional sense of self-importance, is using the show as a platform to become a bona fide television personality. She is working to symbolize and capitalize on the experiences of a target demographic; mothers with young children and now even single mothers. The role seems to be a natural fit for her and in a peculiar way she is finding success with it. Perhaps Kate will achieve new heights in expanding her brand. It is still too early to tell. What is clear now though is that Kate has managed to liberate herself from the image of a simple mom raising multiples in suburban Pennsylvania and transform herself into a much more polished, media savvy and jet-setting persona. Perhaps Kate provides a glimmer of hope to some mothers that they too could become like her some day. This phenomenon makes sense as Hollywood’s currency has always been its aspirational element.
As it was the cameras that mixed and then baked the ingredients of Kate’s new found celebrity, it seems logical that she would refute claims that those same cameras had anything to do with her failed marriage.
“It’s the next chapter, not a chapter that’s been brought on by our show,” she said. “I believe that it’s a chapter that probably would have played out had the world been watching or not.”
Whatever the real reasons may be for the end of Jon and Kate’s relationship, it is undeniable that their love of the limelight, particularly Kate’s, mixed together with a voyeuristic media circus has exposed the chasms in their partnership and contributed to the downfall of their marriage. Despite continuous statements by Jon and Kate that they only did the show for their children and that the children remain their number one priority, it was Jon and Kate, not their children, who invited the cameras and the subsequent mayhem into their home in exchange for fame and fortune. In fact, Jon and Kate have been the primary beneficiaries of the show’s financial success. The children have simply been the props used to lure viewers in and then keep the reality train moving forward. The intense interest in the Gosselin family is understandable though. It is not everyday that the public is able to look into the private home of a multi-racial family composed of a set of twins and sextuplets living in suburban Pennsylvania. They are definitely different. With just two boring kids, everyone knows there would be no “Jon & Kate.”
Placing the entire family and now its dirty laundry on public display has become the Gosselin’s livelihood. The decision to continue with the show is proof that Jon and Kate do not want to bite the hand that feeds them. Unfortunately, they lack a certain level of introspection necessary to be the positive role models of parenting that many hold them out to be. Jon and Kate just don’t seem phased by or willing to accept the fact that the show has and will continue to create problems for their family’s life. While it is an admirable goal for parents to want to provide their children with more material wealth and life experiences than what they may have had, to what lengths should they go to achieve this goal? Also, where is the line drawn between what a parent is trying to achieve for their own personal gain and societal advancement versus what they are doing solely to promote and protect the best interests of their children? Jon and Kate have fooled themselves and tried to manipulate the public into thinking these two outcomes are one in the same. They are not. While it may not be illegal but should be, it is highly unethical to use children, who have no true decision making capacity, as the tools to generate the primary source of income for a family. This is particularly so when the basis of the income generation is through the blatant public exposure of those children’s private lives and emotions? For the Gosselin children, unlike child actors, there is no separation between their real life and their work. People need to wake up and be reminded that we no longer live in a feudal society where it was important to have multiple children to perform the labor of the fields.
Sure, the Gosselin kids now live in a multimillion dollar home with sprawling land to drive around on their motorized miniature cars and play house. Sure, they have been on all-expenses-paid ski trips and jaunts to Hawaii. Yes, in this sense, they are very fortunate. On the flip side, they also now live in a home environment facing the ugly consequences that result from chasing notoriety at the expense of family unity. Despite Jon and Kate’s public protestations, it becomes hard to believe that all of the free toys, comped vacations and money in the bank can feel as good to possess knowing that the very thing that brought those material possessions into your family is also contributing to its demise. If the Gosselin children are going to continue to be exploited and exposed to the media storm engulfing their family, they should at least have their future rights to any income earned from their participation in the show and as subjects of the books and products affiliated with the series be legally protected. What mechanisms, if any, have been put in place by Jon and Kate to ensure that the majority of the funds generated off of their children’s names are set aside and waiting for each of them once they reach adulthood? This topic oddly never seems to be relevant or an important point of discussion for Jon and Kate or their show. Perhaps everyone in the Gosselin family is too busy having fun traveling to the next destination to focus on some of the life planning issues that actually matter.
The uncertainty about what the Gosselin’s future will look like and how it will be depicted through their show will likely keep many viewers on the edge of their seats eager with anticipation. Their scheduled return to primetime in August will undoubtedly be couched in drama and suspense to ensure another TLC ratings record and a flood of advertising dollars. Now and until that time, the same simple question remains. Is it all worth it? At the height of their fame and wealth and just hungering for more, Jon and Kate have answered this question with a resounding “Yes!” Should we even be surprised? Absolutely not. Jon and Kate were aware from the beginning of the murky waters they were jumping into with their children. They still dove in heads first. The Gosselin’s attitude and world view are merely a reflection of a value that has come to pervade our society. Attaining wealth and fame for many is the blinding end goal to be achieved at any cost and no matter what you have to peddle to get it. In this case, the peddled pieces are the Gosselin children. The overarching sentiment embedded in this precept is that the negative consequences of the pursuit can be endured as long as the pot of gold is waiting on the other side. Jon and Kate are the newest case study of those willing to push the boundaries of this interesting sociological development. We’ll just have to wait and see how their eight children feel about being the test subjects of their parent’s experiment.
Matt Semino is a New York attorney and legal commentator. He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, Cornell University and is a Fulbright Scholar.
Follow Matt Semino on Twitter: @MattSemino
Contact Matt Semino at Matt@MattSemino.com
Sarah Colonna has become my favorite comic on “Chelsea Lately.” Her impression of Theresa from RHWONJ took her knocked Heather off my number one list. She had Kate Gosselin pegged months ago when she said “the only difference between Kate Gosselin and Octomom is a make up artist and camera.” She also is in a “Partnership for a Drug-Free America” commercial. I laugh every time I see it.
Brad Wollack played Caroline in the RHWONJ spoof and he was great. He also answered my tweet a few weeks ago. (Damn it’s gone, I wanted to take a screen shot). He’s from the same area I grew up in Chicago and I love his Jewish Humor.
Heather “long boobs” McDonald. Brilliant! Her impressions are dead-on (usually) and watching her friendship with Chelsea is entertaining.
I’ve noticed many people find my blog by searching for Chelsea Handler. I thought I’d help you out a bit and post all the links I could find.
I didn’t want your time here to be wasted.
June 24, 2009
Hiatus. Now there’s a term to conjure with. It’s so in, so Show Business, and oh, so revealing. There’s our Kate, carefully dabbing at her eyes, saying “The show must go on.”
We’ve now learned that the paperwork for divorce has been filed, and that the couple has actually been living apart for the past two years. TLC had a film crew present in the house these past two years, so they knew it. Certainly the children knew it, too.
“Reality Television” my eye.
So, what would you call the last two years’ episodes, which artfully covered up the truth of a marriage gone sour? Certainly not reality, yet all parties used the documentary angle to cover up the work the kids were doing.
“The children were just participants,” was the phrase we heard. Oh, they were participants all right…in a fraud.
The State of Pennsylvania must not fail to pursue its investigation into the employment practices of TLC, and its contracted agents, Jon & Kate. It is clear that deceptive tactics were used in the production and marketing of this long-running show. There are five seasons of “Jon & Kate +8” episodes to investigate. Five years of child labor questions to address. The dollar value of product placements, endorsements, and outright “gifts” must be calculated, as well as the Gosselin children’s rightful share of the total take. The AFTRA Basic Agreement will provide a fair representation of what each individual child should have made, and would have made had a guardian ad litem been appointed.
I remind everyone that children are not responsible for life’s basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, and education.
I also expect the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, upon a finding of wrongful employment of a minor (in this case eight minors), to fully prosecute those responsible for these violations and levy appropriate fines to both the persons and corporations involved.
Going forward, and we must plan for the future for the sake of the children if this show resumes production as announced on August 3rd 2009, I pray that every element put in place for the “health, safety, and morals” of these minor children is the very best that can be obtained because we all failed these kids…all of us.
At the end of the very slim section of industry agreements pertaining specifically to Minors and found in both the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artist’s basic agreements with the mainstream movie and television producer’s association (the AMPTP) is a paragraph that every Labor Commissioner should know by heart:
“In the absence of child labor laws, or where there is a conflict in existing law, the strictest interpretation shall apply.”
This is not about what you can get away with, or how cheaply you can make use of juvenile labor to flesh out your cast of performers without calling them actors. This is all about doing what is right. This is about adults in positions of authority taking responsibility.
Chelsea Handler and her excellent comics spoof Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Heather is Danielle
Chelsea is Dina
Sarah is Teresa
and Brad Wollack, in drag, is Caroline!
Give the man an Emmy!