Only a few days into 2011, and things are not looking good. And I’m not talking about the recent political change of hands — I’m talking about pop culture. If this first week is any indicator, the future of entertainment in America looks to be a cave so deep, and so dark, that we may never find our way out.
Figure 1: The Snooki Empire
Brace yourselves: the pint-sized “guidette” from Poughkeepsie just had her first novel published. A Shore Thing (clever!) chronicles the life and times of twenty-something Gia Spumanti and her zany antics in Seaside Heights. In other words, Snooki wrote a memoir and someone published it. It’s about 306 pages with standout passages like this:
“Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. And stinky.”
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a small place in my heart for trashy television. It’s like a 30-minute mental vacation once a week when one can turn off the part of the mind that’s fretting about debt ceiling or birds falling from the sky, and just enjoy the bright, shiny lights.
But that’s hard to do once logic pipes in and reminds you that ol’ Snooks, bless her heart, is pulling in around $130,000 to get drunk and eat pickles on TV. And that’s just what’s included in her 10K per episode deal from season 2 of Jersey Shore. In the meantime, there are appearance fees, endorsements and, yes, book deals to consider. All told, while Snooki and the gang are racking up six-to-seven-figure salaries for being famously trashy, the unemployment rate hovers over 9 percent. Something’s not right here.
And there’s more: in the coming months, expect a whole line of Snooki-licensed products: jeans, jewelery, perfume and…wait for it…lingerie.
Figure 2: Justin Bieber on the cover of Vanity Fair
Given the magazine’s turn toward über-glossy, flavor-of-the-minute cover stories and editorials, a Justin Bieber cover isn’t all that surprising. There was that “catastrophic” Miley Cyrus cover, after all. (On a side note: the fallout from Annie Leibovitz’s pictorial, and Cyrus’ subsequent apology to her fans for those “embarrassing” photos, is all so sadly hilarious in the context of the nudie cell-phone snapshots and bong rips of today, isn’t it?)
Back to the task at hand. Those not associated with or currently in the throes of pre-teenage girldom know little about Justin Bieber, other than that he’s all the rage with his devil-may-care bangs and (falsetto) blue-eyed soul chart-toppers. Which is cool — my formative years came during the height of bubblegum pop and New Kids on the Block, so I get it. But that was before the Internet, before every last shred of culture was siphoned through Twitter and Facebook and, if you’re not living under a rock, in your face/ears on a daily basis.
Bieber’s insane success is worth noting — he grossed around $100 million last year, and has an online presence that rivals President Obama. He was listed as one of Barbara Walters’ “Most Fascinating People of 2010″ (don’t even get me started on this list), and now he’s on the cover of Vanity Fair.
But Justin Bieber’s ability to make money off of being handsome and singing songs about hand-holding is not fascinating. What’s fascinating is that a pre-teen who posts a video on YouTube can become a multi-millionaire almost overnight (we’ll see if golden-voiced homeless man Ted Williams fares as well). But VF isn’t so concerned about the sociological implications of overnight stardom, nor musing on the notion that pop singers are possibly more influential than the leader of the free world.
Instead, expect tongue-in-cheek photo spreads (of which most of the cultural references will be lost on Bieber and his peers) and gushing about girls, haters, and Justin’s musical inspirations. (Hint: it’s Michael Jackson.)
Figure 3: TMZ on TV gets renewed through 2013-14 season
There were several staples of my grandmother’s house while I was growing up: a half-full pot of coffee on the burner, baseball on TV and a bin of tabloids near the kitchen table. It was something of a ritual; on Fridays, my mother, sister, aunts and cousins would convene around her kitchen table and vie for the latest “rag mags” while we decided what take-out to order.
“Oh, would you look at what that Britney is wearing now,” someone would say, as though “Britney” was a close family friend, and as though any of us actually cared what sort of tawdry mess she’d gotten into that week.
Most of us derive some twisted pleasure/satisfaction/entertainment from celebrity screw-ups. We collectively put celebrities in an ivory tower, making the schadenfreude that much sweeter when they tumble down in front of dozens of eager cameras. It’s pretty sick, and the fact that the business of glorified voyeurism is just as profitable as the business of A&E says a whole lot about our ravenous culture that’s not good. And TMZ is the poster child for our craven, celebrity-ambulance-chasing proclivities.
Bonus! Figure 4: Cosmo launches Middle East edition
I wouldn’t say that the proliferation of Cosmopolitan signals the decline of civilization, but since we’re already chatting here, I thought it was worth mentioning. The planned Middle East edition is just another step in the lady mag’s quest for world domination: Like the McDonald’s of magazines, Cosmo is everywhere. It’s currently printed in 32 languages in 100 countries.
The exact dates and specifics for the Middle East edition are unknown, except that it will be printed in English with an initial run of 15,000.
The real question, though, is how headlines like “77 sex positions in 77 days” and “A Girls’ Guide to Oral Sex” will translate to the decidedly more religious/conservative populations in the region.
I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. Personally, I detest the magazine. At best, it’s good for a laugh when you’re stuck in a waiting room somewhere, and at worst it’s a juvenile, hackneyed attempt at “new feminism.” Simply being “sex positive” doesn’t make the magazine a trailblazer for female sexual empowerment, especially when the pages of Cosmopolitan are mostly devoid of minority women, body diversity and non-hetero sex.
The largest selling women’s magazine in the world has changed a lot since its first edition in 1886. Helen Gurley Brown created today’s version in the 1960s, at the height of the western world’s sexual revolution, by showing lots of cleavage on the cover and talking about taboo subjects like sex and… sex. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how readers in Saudi Arabia embrace even a modified version of that.