Who killed the Event? I’m determined to find out because they owe me my entire lifestyle back. For years, I proudly identified myself as “an event columnist,” a dweeb-on-the-town who hopped around like a loony to cover all the happenings that made NYC sparkle. But calling yourself that today would be akin to boasting, “I’m a video store owner,” or, “I run a mom-and-pop pharmacy in midtown.” It’s over!
Events have been pummeled, sucked dry, run over, spit out, and run over again. That turns out to be OK for me because I’ve simply evolved into a ranter full of high concepts, information, and interviews. (And if someone does throw an event, I’m there with my tongue out, ever hopeful.) But lordy, how I miss getting invited into a room where wacky, wonderful, and appalling things could happen as a result of natural combustion, not the rote, protected atmosphere that pervades today’s PR-driven nonevents.
Naturally, the economy has been a factor because no one wants to spend money on a party unless it’s specifically publicity-related and seems absolutely necessary to the brand. Clubs don’t have exuberant, lavish bashes anymore—in fact, there aren’t many clubs to begin with—and if dragged there, celebs are always trying to watch their behavior in an era where their every gaffe is capturable and mockable.
What’s more, niche marketing destroyed the concept of a mixed crowd, draining all the surprise out of any gathering, while the ease with which people can sit at home and find fuck buddies took away the sexual urgency that once made events hormonally sizzle.
And not only is the Internet where humans—even New Yorkers—do most of their socializing, but it’s also where they wax journalistic, leading to an unmanageable proliferation of alleged entertainment media. With kazillions of Web commentators—in addition to scores of TV channels—there are just too many press people for publicists to allow to roam free and intermingle with their hallowed clients these days. So everything has become red carpet oriented and preapproved, turning events into giant photo ops rather than any kind of happenings that would generate press for actually being interesting.
I did red carpet (as press) once in my life, and I’m still trying to recover from the abject horror. You stand there, bravely trying to hold your place in line as barbarian reporters do everything they can to jostle you out of your spot so they can gain territory. Finally, a supporting player from the movie comes around and everyone goes wild, like a pack of starved wolves fighting over a cheese cracker. The reporters ask him or her about the scandal of the day, to fit the celeb’s bite into some package they’re doing, like “What did you think of Angelina’s leg?” (Ninety percent of the answers aren’t used anyway.) Fifteen minutes later, the supporting player finally gets to you—and the publicist pulls him away!
Yes, as I’ve noted before, premiere access requires approval by three sets of publicists, so you feel like a circus performer jumping through multiple hoops of fire. And at the after-party, you’re often told, “No interviews,” because the stars already did red carpet. Some party! You pick at the (really cheap) food and smile wanly at the star, who summons her best thespian skills and blithely looks away, toward the DJ playing a Flock of Seagulls. And she’s not even as famous as you are!
The irony is that celebs are more accessible than ever thanks to social-networking tools. They’ll tweet out any brain flatulence that comes to mind and will immediately respond to issues whereas in the old days, you’d have to wait a week for a full-of-shit press release. But at a party, they’re guarded like asthmatic old ladies who are finally brought into the world but are terrified to draw breath.
My pile of musty links and clippings proves that events used to be zanier, filled with colorful people spouting amusingly unselfconscious wisdoms. Some celebs were way less sober than now, so—sad as it is to admit it—they were a lot more fun as they floated around dance halls, magazine launches, and Madonna Sex parties with radioactive abandon. I’ll never forget a club bash where flamboyant singer Grace Jones struck wild poses for the cameras, then jerked off a microphone and told me off for something I’d written—a far cry from the fake-smiley stuff celebs are now forced to assume on the “step and repeat” where they position their heads in between all the sponsors’ logos.
What’s more, a lot of bohemian energy moved to the boroughs years ago, so the Manhattan parties are now filled with way too many suits sitting in head-to-toe poly blends and ordering overpriced vodka. Often, I think, “One drag queen would quadruple the energy level in this room.” But they’re not invited! They’re too busy on TV anyway!
So you go to whatever zany club parties are left and find that even the club kids are well behaved now! Some of them even have publicists!
Promisingly, I was recently invited to a gathering for a transsexual beauty contestant, which sounded like an enticing old-style affair worth running to. Alas, I was forewarned, “This event is not for publicity purposes—though we’ll have a documentary camera shooting the whole thing.” I.e., we can get press out of you, but you can’t get press out of us. Ugh. Back to the high concepts.
Read more Michael Musto at La Dolce Musto