Please, someone, stage an intervention. Pull me out of the shame spiral and keep me from reading Perez Hilton, because I hate it. I understand that I am hurting America and Jesus by participating in this crass, sophomoric, insulting junk food of a website, driving up his pageviews and thereby empowering the Culture of the Lowbrow, which is rife enough without my additional help.
Due to time limitations and the fact that I have to, like, work for a living and occasionally interact with reality people, I’ve culled my Internet addiction to a few select websites, most of which I am proud to patronize. This is not one of them. The self-loathing I feel when that bubblegum pink background pops up is immense and yet, every day at lunchtime, I sit at my humble desk with my greasy sandwich to look at celebrity photos decorated with Paint Shop Crayola penises. I am so weak.
So, what’s my damage?
I’d like to point out, in my own defense, that I’ve cut out celebrity tabloids completely. In the States, I limited myself to Us Weekly, which the former Mr. T and I consistently referred to as U.S. Weekly so that we could pretend we were catching up on some hard news – and we would always read The Nation afterwards, for a balanced diet. Okay, fine, not ALWAYS, but often. Any surreptitious readership of People or OK! was strictly for the dentist’s office or the nail salon, and not brought into the home. I consider Us Weekly the NYT of celebrity rags, so our guilt was negligible. Now that I’m in the UK, I will sometimes flip through a co-worker’s issue of Heat, but I would never actually purchase this drivel at a newsstand.
(Full disclosure: The gossip rags here are full of British reality stars I have never heard of before, so it’s infinitely more boring. The saga of Ashley and Cole rages on, but my apathy is tangible.)
Now, I could easily argue that this Perez Hilton indulgence is akin to a daily brownie. If I’m eating fruit, vegetables, and protein the rest of the day, am I not entitled to spoil myself with something a little sickly sweet? Am I so intellectually superior that I should feel actual guilt for partaking in this website?
Well, kind of. All the things we rail against as feminists and evolved thinkers are regularly present in this voyeuristic and exploitative style of “journalism.” An admirably brilliant self-promoter, each time Mario Lavandeira turns up in the Spanish, German, or Japanese media (self-reported on his website), I feel a pang of guilt. It’s people just like me who have brought him this level of popularity.
The things that are worthwhile about Perez Hilton’s work, such as his championship of civil rights and his recent use of his website to highlight various charities, seem to pale in comparison to his juvenile commentary, casual hate-mongering against certain celebs, and random sexism. Certainly, he is pro-gay rights, but only because he is gay. Certainly, he is avidly in favor of free speech because he is in a litigiously vulnerable position. If he were straight and less ubiquitous, would his site read any differently from The Superficial or DrunkenStepfather? The comments his website attracts (which I pointedly avoid because I don’t wish to lose all faith in humanity) range from hostile to insipid to aggressively horny. If this is the people stripped bare, woe to the republic.
Perez has also risen as a powerful figure in the music industry. This is, in fact, a principal facet of his site that I enjoy. I believe I first heard Lily Allen on his website, followed the exploits of Amy Winehouse, discovered Santogold, and saw Kate Nash’s charming music video for “Foundations.” He highlights international acts that get little attention in mainstream American media (like tranny Bulgarian popstar Azis and the appealing Nouvelle Star winner Julien Dore), and his wide reach can help make or break a modern artist. Like it or not, Perez Hilton is coming to define worldwide music and has proved himself to be an influential tastemaker.
Most importantly, he updates constantly. His sheer prolificness ensures that I have to check in daily to keep my gossip stimulus manageable. In this sense, I readily sacrifice quality for quantity and literature for picture books, because I know that when I sit down with my sad sack lunch in hand, I will be diverted for ten minutes. And I value this brief escape, even if I frequently close my browser while shaking my head over some vulgar slight, or experience a twinge of self-disgust as I hungrily read more, even after my sensibilities are offended – or, worst of all, dare to click on an uncensored photograph of some poor starlet frolicking on the beach with her new lover.
I suppose the question is, how guilty should I feel? Perez Hilton has grown to represent the cutting edge of gossip, as addictive, troubling, and entertaining as Celebrity Rehab. Are we defining pop culture, or is it defining us? When do we pull back and refuse to indulge any longer? Crucially, does it even matter?