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Press Whores Have Gotten Scarily Out of Control!

BillThomasIllustration.com

I shouldn’t really complain much about the press-whore phenomenon, because I’ve shamelessly enabled it for years as well as joined in on the hos’ frantic desperation whenever possible.

In fact, part of my job has always been as a sort of fame dealer to the wannabe stars, providing them with nickel bags of press mentions that make them high and woozy and begging for another score. Since the mid-’80s, people have lined up to plead with me for a mention, any mention, certain that the clipping will spin their little head around and somehow prove that they actually exist. My most poetic image from that me-me-me decade was a club goddess lying in a pool of her own vomit, having taken one too many real drugs, but bravely holding out a magazine and murmuring, “Look at my picture!”

And I didn’t feel above that at all, I have to admit. After all, I’ve long promoted my own ass by throwing parties, sticking my face in cameras, and showing up for every two-bit nipple-tweaking contest in the tristate area if it might get me mentioned in a bar magazine. And I’ve saved every single clip myself, as if the sum total provides some kind of staggering validation of my achievement, not just an aesthetic mess and a fire hazard.

But I am truly alarmed at how big this phenomenon has become! Back in the good old days, press whores weren’t quite as whorish, I swear! With more channels than ever—and networks dying to scoop up everyday folk and make them “stars” because they don’t charge much—plus all the social-networking media designed to make everyone on the planet feel important and popular, things have gotten more out of control than a real hooker at a Republican convention. And, yes, I know that was the case seven years ago, but by now it has blossomed into mass psychosis on a truly terrifying level.

Bring back the days of snail mail! Back in the ’90s, when you had to actually put postage on a press release, people were spare in their pronouncements, only filling you in on something newsworthy enough to warrant the money and effort. But now, every two seconds, they’re updating you about the last time they passed gas, then following up to see if you’ll cover it and will need photos!

They’re even begging you to press “Like” on their Facebook page, not realizing that this basically amounts to extorting fake affection from faux-friends. Isn’t getting someone you don’t know to pretend to “like” you a rather hollow victory? Isn’t it pathetic to beg your “friends” to vote for you on some Web countdown of the most popular local DJs, then send out blurbs crowing, “I came in at #39! Thanks to everyone who voted for me!”?

At least politicians say stuff like, “Vote for me. I’m the best candidate.” Today’s press whores just say, “Vote for me.” And the problem is, it doesn’t really get you anywhere. The “like” (or mention) gives you a momentary lift, but since there’s so much media now, basically nobody saw it and you have to walk around screeching, “Go to presswhorenicklebags.org and you’ll see the link to my mention! Isn’t it amazing?”

And even if you are famous, now what? At least if you became famous for being a singer, you can try to keep on singing, which is what creatively propels you, after all. Getting press for actually doing something is fine because you’re an artist who wants the publicity to stay relevant and who gets it because you’re good at what you do. But if you’re just famous for being famous, you have no direction and will frenetically try anything—writing, acting, taco franchises—while hoping something might stick and keep you somewhere near the middle. Alas, by the time your product comes out, there are 100 more people who are famous for being famous and you’ve become a mere footnote—a “Didn’t he used to be on the fourth season of what-was-that-called-again?”

Really sad stories come out of this psychological wreckage, like the gal who bragged about how she was going to be a major player in that reality show, only to find, when the series aired, that she was mere background in a couple of scenes! Even more poignant is the saga of Charlie Sheen—God, I hate to give him one more mention—who became so addicted to his press that he didn’t seem to realize he was pulverizing his career with every headline. By the time the high he got from the massive publicity around his self-destruction faded, Sheen was understandably begging people to write letters demanding he get his job back!

Yes, I know the fame mania is all a cover-up for the fact that none of us were loved enough as kids. Daddy never said, “I’m proud of you” and Mama never cooed, “You’re pretty,” so now we roll around in the mud with our pants down, begging for any stranger to notice. But it’s sick. It’s humiliating. And it’s got to stop.

Lord knows, I’m trying to get some perspective on the whole thing. True, I’ve shot no fewer than five reality shows in the past year—one in which I was just “ensemble” (but at least I knew that going in) and one in which I found myself co-starring with Lindsay Lohan’s father, of all people! But on this go-’round, I’ve been much calmer about my media blitz, knowing that it really doesn’t matter in the larger picture. Because I’ve finally found some deeper values? No—because I’ll probably get cut out! Waah!

musto@villagevoice.com


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