I remember when Nick and Jessica were doing great. I remember when Angelina and Brad were just friends. I even remember when Mary-Kate Olsen ate like a lumberjack and baby Suri wasn’t a hastily constructed infant-bot purchased on the Samoan black market.
Yes, those were simpler days. A time when denials flew fast and loose, and good-hearted fans like me chose to believe. I remember racing home for my pre-primetime entertainment show fix, eager to hear soothing words like, “Robert Downey Jr. denies the charges.” Oh, Mary Hart, please tell me again that Kate Moss is high on life and life alone. Make me believe.
But now I’m fed up. I’m disillusioned by divorces, sick of plastic surgery denials that contradict the laws of physics. My patience has been strained by claims of “It’s just Red Bull!” and 24-year-old actresses who inexplicably drop 40 pounds of “baby fat.” I’m hungry for real answers. Where is Suri Cruise if she is, in fact, a flesh-and-blood baby? If there is no Suri, is it also possible that Britney’s marriage is not “awesome”? If K-Fed is on his way out, is it also possible that Star Jones might have had some medical help with her miraculous weight loss? If Star’s stomach is indeed the size of my thumb, is it also possible that David Gest is not the hot-blooded heterosexual he seems?
You see, I’ve often thought of Hollywood as a sweater. A chintzy, cheesy, heavily perfumed sweater bearing many stains of indeterminate origin. Pull one thread and the whole thing falls into a pile of stinky, used-up yarn. Yarn of deception, that is. For me, that sweater started to fray when Nick and Jessica split. Now when I hear some flack say, “My client will not dignify that with a response,” all I hear is: “The truth? You can’t handle the truth.”
To hear it from publicists and their well-scripted clients, Hollywood is boring. It’s a land of non-events, non-feuds, non-vices, non-issues. No one fakes pregnancies or breaks the law. Everyone has authentic body parts and remains good friends with their exes.
As a human being, I find this implausible. I live very far from Hollywood, with no access to beautiful people, large sums of money, fast cars, drugs or power, and I still know people who engage in all sorts of reprehensible and self-destructive behavior. Last weekend I engaged in three. I’m willing to accept a little spin-doctoring, but when denials heap upon denials and denials fly in the face of common sense, who is a fan to trust?
Enter the tabloids, the magazine equivalents of the brazen hussy women chain-smoking down on the dock (or outside your local IHOP, if you’re landlocked). You know the type. They lure you with claims of exclusive insight into secret pregnancies. They dangle rumors of marital strife. They titillate you with the promise of celebrity cellulite and Eva Longoria without makeup, all for the low price of $3.95. So, if you’re a voracious truth-seeker like me, you look left and right, slip an issue under some Rolaids and The Economist (if the cover topic features a mushroom cloud, or is otherwise weighty enough to counterbalance “Get Janet Jackson’s fab abs!”) and off you go. Real fans will take a dignity deduction if it means touching the face of pure truth, or at least something close to it.
Sure, the tabloids are suspect. The same people who brought you “Reese is pregnant!” downgraded their claim to “Reese is bloated!” at first sight of her fuming lawyers. Sure, the gossip rags’ journalistic principle of “If you predict everyone is pregnant and everyone is broken up then, statistically, you’re going to get a major scoop at least once” is not exactly Pulitzer-worthy. But in these days when even the New York Times has its share of scandals, who are we to split hairs over the occasional exaggeration?
Most important, unlike hired flacks who act coy, spit out terse disavowals or simply give the silent treatment to a nation crying out “Are those real?” the tabloids’ lies are always entertaining. Mama always said: If you’re going to have smoke blown up your, ahem, nose, make it colorful, candy-coated smoke that tickles the senses and makes you feel like you’re flying in a sea of super-secret insider knowledge.
They say it’s not the crime that gets you, but the cover-up. I say to the image consultants of Hollywood: It’s not just the cover-up that gets you, it’s the half-hearted cover-up that insults the intelligence of even unintelligent people. It’s the bizarre excuses made up en route to the press conference that make it seem like you’re not even trying anymore.
Take Miss Ashlee Simpson, for example. She’s been laughing off questions about her apparent nose job and offering coy “maybes.” Ashlee, no. You’re from the Simpson camp, and the Simpson camp can do better. If you’re not going to admit that your old nose sits in a jar in Dr. 90210’s office, at least pay me the small respect of spinning an outrageous tale. Chalk it up to 21 years of bad lighting, or even acid reflux. If I don’t hear it from you, I’ll have to hear it from US Weekly.
I remember an episode of the TV classic “Growing Pains,” in which Carol Seaver arrived home late for curfew. Her brother Mike, ever the rascal, schooled her in the art of the cover-up. His lesson: The best kind of fib is carefully crafted, pumped up with lots of artificial details. Whether truth is meant to be warped a tad or snapped like a twig, it's useful advice.
Using '90s sitcom wisdom as my guide, here are a few helpful pointers for flacks out there hoping to gloss over their clients' joking, smoking and midnight toking without sounding dubious:
Too vague: Lindsay Lohan telling me she dropped the weight through “old-school working out.”
Just right: Lindsay Lohan telling me that, on a recent trip to Mexico, she bought a Lifecycle, drank some smelly tap water, and subsequently — in a perfect storm for rapid weight loss — simultaneously acquired a new exercise routine and a rare breed of parasitic flat worm.
That's the level of detail I deserve for suffering through “Just My Luck.”
Too vague: Katie Holmes' bland assertion that “Suri’s doing great! ... She’s back at the house.”
Just right: Kate Holmes assuring the world that “Suri is currently napping in her 4-in-1 convertible crib, a small smile dancing across her innocent face as her father, who is Tom Cruise — and no one other than Tom Cruise — reads her a passage from Dianetics.”
See? Specific, but not too specific. Mike Seaver would approve.
Incidentally, this approach also allows you to dismiss skepticism about your client's personal lives while simultaneously sticking in product endorsements and plugs for personal religious beliefs. So, there you go, publicists of the world. Equivocation meets consumerism meets proselytism, and voila, synergy! Go forth and gloss like warrior poets. Do it like you don't need the money. If you must insult a nation's intelligence, at least do it with loads of heart and gusto. You don't even have to admit that you took tips from me.
Paige Ferrari is a freelance writer in New York City. She blogs at .