By Steven Martinovich
Every now and then the watchers of popular culture occasionally declare that society has reached its nadir thanks to the excesses of its celebrities. The ongoing and occasionally interconnected dramas surrounding Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie may have been one of those times as we saw an explosion in celebrity reportage that was driven entirely by their alcohol, drug and sex fueled escapades. It reached such a point that even so-called responsible networks like CNN and Fox News devoted extensive time covering their lives while American soldiers fought in two wars.
It is that world that Eliot Tiegel explores in Overexposed: The Price of Fame, an expose into the lives of these four young women, the media – paparazzi and otherwise – that feeds off their lives and the various industries that have grown up in support of them both. Tiegel is well-placed undertake this investigation given he has over four decades of experience working in entertainment journalism including stints with Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.
Given that we nearly drowned in the relentless reporting on these four young women's lives over the past few years, Tiegel makes the odd choice of devoting several chapters of detailing the last year or so in their lives. In case we'd forgot, Tiegel regales the reader with Spears' unstable behavior, Lohan's heroic intake of substances, Richies' brushes with the law and Hilton's…well…everything. Even those who work hard to avoid tabloid journalism have at least a passing familiarity with the dramas that has surrounded these four women, making Tiegel's decision to devote space to recounting history rather odd.
Overexposed gets on more solid footing when Tiegel turns to the people who make this possible; the paparazzi, magazines, experts, television programs and web sites which offer unremitting coverage of the lives of celebrities. He meets with veteran paparazzi Ron Galella who bemoans the explosion of photographers tracking celebrities – in his prime there were only a relative handful typically working in New York and Los Angeles. Dr. Phil McGraw – who suffered his own credibility problems after becoming enmeshed in the Spears drama – pops up to offer his expertise on the effect that this never-ending coverage has had on the starlets, though he does not excuse their behavior for the most part. Others pull back the curtains slightly so the reader can find out how exactly this world works.
The question that informs much of Overexposed is simple: When is it enough? Unfortunately Tiegel doesn't – or can't – answer it. At some point one must believe a society would be satiated by the sheer volume of reportage on four women who, frankly, at the end of the day aren't important relative to other ongoing events in the world. And yet the rise of web sites like Perezhilton.com, TMZ.com, an entire television channel, multiple television programs, magazines, newspapers and the participation of the mainstream media would suggest otherwise. The only reason things seem to have pulled back is the comparatively quieter lives that these four ladies seem to be living – though given the number of real and pseudo-celebrities in the world none are suffering for new material.
Ultimately Overexposed adds relatively little to the subject matter that other books and documentaries haven't already covered. Celebrities behaving badly makes for good copy. Relentless coverage can unhinge celebrities. Many of them complain about the coverage but are complicit with the paparazzi. There will always be someone around who will try and profit from all of this. The amount of entertainment journalism always seems to grow. Given that Tiegel's career began in the days of entertainment journalism when reporters alternately worked with and against the studios, and he must have seen and done it all, it's surprising that he wasn't able produce more profound revelations and conclusions about the world that he operates in.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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