Fear and Loathing in LA
Like a lot of things created by Hollywood or produced about Hollywood, we are baited by the lure of what the words “celebrity,” “Hollywood” and “expose” connote. And when those words are combined with such high-profile names such as Tom Cruise, Courtney Love and are “interview-infused,” one is hoping to be taken on a compelling and perhaps, entertaining or enlightening journey.
However, for this reader, hope died on approximately page 39 of Andrew Breitbart’s and Mark Ebner’s Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon—the Case Against Celebrity. It never felt as if the book was building any credibility as the pages were flicked.
Breitbart is Matt Drudge’s conservative online sidekick, while Ebner is an investigative journalist with liberal leanings, who’s been featured previously in Rolling Stone, Details, Spin and Premiere. Their love of instant messaging and LA lives, and mutual disdain of popular culture, united them to write a book that takes aim at celebrities. They assert that the “pathological behavior” and outrageousness of celebrities, plus the “twisted culture of Hollywood,” have made comedy less fun, destroyed or wreaked havoc with myriad personal and business relationships (just ask the former nannies or private investigators) and made a mockery of family values.
Ebner and Breitbart “expose” celebrities’ narcissism, sense of entitlement and bad judgment in the entertainment industry. However, it has often been said that at least two of those qualities are prerequisites to even work in Hollywood. Page after page the authors vent their righteous spleen that celebrities are hypocrites, above the law, are bad parents or incapable of being decent parents with offspring doomed to be dysfunctional, and that they are ideological demagogues, abusers of illegal and prescription drugs and are apt to join cults or cult-like religions.
But do the members of the D, C, B and A-list celebrity ranks possess a greater proportion of these qualities than the general population? For every example that Breitbart and Ebner offer, there is usually an equally well-publicised counter-example (e.g. the mystery of who killed Robert Blake’s wife Bonny Lee Bakley against the JonBenet Ramsey murder mystery). This type of behaviour takes place in all corners of society, from affluent suburbs to Capitol Hill.
The authors illustrate an awareness of such cultural conduits as TV, tabloids and the Internet. They brush lightly against media effects territory when they cover Time Warner’s need to overtake Oprah Winfrey in “the race to bend the malleable minds of midday’s television-viewing masses.” Yet Breitbart and Ebner fail to address the ingredients involved that move a Hollywood unknown into the realm of the well-known public figure or magnify a celebrity’s rehab visits so that they remain in the public’s consciousness, often for a sustained period of time. No mention that this type of information, celebrities behaving badly, gets attention and it SELLS, SELLS, SELLS.
Nor is there any mention of today’s media-enhanced environment in which individuals, profit-making ventures and media organisations disseminate and circulate information and images rapidly and globally via the internet, video games, multi-channel TV and the ever-increasing number of weekly celeb-focussed magazines.
The writing style doesn’t differ that greatly from the tabloids—over-the-top, “shame on you” finger-wagging that reads like a pit bull that is pulling so hard at its leash that it’s about to choke itself reaching for the very thing that it despises. The book feels like a hastily thrown together collage of newsprint taken from the last 10 years worth of E! True Hollywood Stories, back issues of the National Enquirer and Celebrity Courthouse.
And just how ‘interviewed infused’ is Hollywood Interrupted? It depends on what one defines as an interview. The longer interviews are with such notable industry insiders such as “Sunny,” a veteran nanny who must remain anonymous so as to maintain her current employment that includes a client list full of “heavy players in Hollywood;” aspiring actor/writer, Lawrence Crimlis, who went down the lucrative road of selling dodgy cookware to housewives as other unnamed B-list actors do; Heather Robinson, who “spent the last seven years involved in online confidential relationships with some of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the sports world, popular music and politics.” This came about because as an AOL employee, she was able to identify celebrities using AOL and then initiate interaction with them in their favoured chat rooms.
Also vexing is the lack of faith Breitbart and Ebner have in their readers’ ability to read the facts and allow their own moral barometer to do the rest. The less-than-surprising news (e.g. “[Ally McBeal’s Calista] Flockart’s adoption of a baby boy in 2002”), however, is often wrapped in flaccid low-blows (e.g. describing Flockhart as having a ‘Dachau chic-physique).
Hollywood Interrupted has an assortment of examples in which celebrities engage in what could be characterised as attention-seeking behaviour. Yes, Courtney Love is in here, as well as Anne Heche’s alien encounter and Robert Downey Jr.‘s bouts with drugs. What is also surprising is that for two journalists that have covered various aspects of celebrity culture, the celebrity attention-givers are overlooked. Who are the enablers for the celebrities? No mention of fans or the symbiotic relationship of the Hollywood publicity machine with the press.
The sum of these omissions is that the authors are able to ignore their own complicity in what they describe. But Breitbart and Ebner don’t shy away from putting forth a unified voice that speaks with a conservative, moral authority by alluding to what constitutes appropriate conduct, often that of women.
For instance, Angelina Jolie’s adoption of a Thai-born child and her subsequent decision to be a single mom are reported by the duo as eschewing “traditional motherhood” and engaging in “her most irresponsible life choice.” And any woman who opts to focus on creating or maintaining her Hollywood career is characterised by the authors as selfishly “pushing her[self] away from the traditional motherhood route.”
The big questions that are generated by Hollywood Interrupted are: What is good and proper American morality in 2004? Who is dictating it? For a more entertaining and thoughtful analysis of Hollywood and the nature of celebrity, stick with Joshua Gamson’s Claims to Fame. If you are looking for eyebrow raising dirt, stick with Julia Phillips’ You’ll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again, Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays in the Picture or Charles Fleming’s High Concept. Hollywood Interrupted has been hyped as an expose, but it comes across with all the credibility of an outdated, anonymous posting in an online discussion room from ‘someone that works with Cruise.”