I hope Mario will read this all the way through without overreacting to the title; I know he reads my stuff and I've sent him words of encouragement from time to time, so I trust he will. And in truth this is less about Perez Hilton than it is about what he has come to represent, in both meanings of the phrase.
Long before my recent seeming defense of Perez Hilton on several issues (here
), I wrote a lot about the culture of negativity in celebrity journalism and the at times hatred the public feels toward its anointed stars, specifically throwing my hands up at the popularity of his site, which was built up as quickly as it could tear others down
. I did not always "get" Perez; I still am not so much a fan as I am an admirer, and there is a difference
. I used to resent his power (he steals ideas and images, he can't spell), but now I think I understand what fuels it and I do see his work as a whole, with its plusses (stars should not go unchallenged, he's funny, he's pro-gay) and minuses (that use of faggot was pretty stupid, who is he to act like the death photo of Jacko was beyond the pale compared to what he's done?). I can sometimes be a black-and-white, love-or-hate person, but I am nothing if not against irrational, unparsed stances.
Actually, the negativity of which I speak struck me before I'd ever heard of Perez, but I found it in the same place I found Perez—on the Internet. Make no mistake—I am a viper. I have joked about death, about maiming, about others' misfortunes. I have done it both out of a lack of sympathy depending on the subject, out of political competitiveness and for less dishonorable reasons, such as a desire to break the tension, gallows humor. I am capable of saying almost anything and thinking even worse. But even I was shocked at the things I saw on the Internet when it came into being because people—anonymously—began to make public forever the kinds of heinous comments that previously had rarely if ever been unleashed except in private. They were called trolls, but to me they were worse because trolls are imaginary.
The bile was aimed not only at celebrities, but the worst of it seemed to plague the famous, who if they were considered beautiful would be savagely criticized for every minor flaw, if they were considered elegant would be dragged through the mud. Even deaths were mocked before bodies were cold.
This should not have surprised me. Throughout entertainment history, there has been a cutthroat media thriving on negativity as well as positivity. The negativity didn't come out of nowhere; it was actually conjured up by the celebrities themselves, though without their knowledge.
In order to capitalize on a star in the biggest possible way—a necessity since stardom is based on commerce—all of their positive attributes had to be blown out of proportion by their promoters. This was resolved via a new invention: publicity. Which can mean spreading the beneficial truth (she donates to charity!) but more often has meant spreading bald-faced lies. Tell the people what they want to hear—he's not gay, she's not promiscuous, they're not divorcing, he never did drugs, there was nothing suspicious about her last husband's death—and they will love you for it.
And they do.
Until they hate you.