JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

17. The psuedo-event of Paris Hilton

18. Accumulation of 'schwag': Perez explains: 'The tie is Ben Sherman....we also wore some pieces by other designers, such as... Zero Boutique...the shades are Ray-Bans.'

19. One of Perez's camp idols : Chyna, professional female wrestler

20. British glamour model Jordan, another Perez camp icon.

21. Karl Lagerfield, another camp icon: Perez refers to him as 'Uncle Karl.'

22. The well-polished image of Paris Hilton.

23. Heiress Diary: Perez pokes fun at Paris's self-commodification.

25. Documenting a Paris Hilton house party: the glossy exterior begins to crumble as the night goes on.

26. Perez with his own digital camera, taking pictures of celebrities that he'll later post to his blog: creating a new standard in gossip reporting.

27. Once filed under 'Gay Gay Gay,' the picture takes on new meaning.

28. Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Philippe, coincidentally working out on Gay Pride Weekend, end up filed under 'Gay Gay Gay.'

29. Caption: 'THIS is why Jennifer Lopez is a style icon.'

30. Appearing in the 'Fashion Smashion' category with Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst's fashion choices take on new meaning.

31. Reader Response for this photo of Jessica Simpson focused on what readers viewed as an insulting attempt to pose as Hispanic.

 

 

Manipulation

Dyer positions manipulation as the second component of the phenomenon of star production. In his conception, “out of this emphasis on manufacture, there develops an account of the star system as ‘pure’ manipulation. That is, both stardom and particular star are seen as owing their existence solely to the machinery of their production” (13). [open works cited in new window] Hilton and the gossip blogger function as star manipulators themselves, but likewise put pressure on the idea that Hollywood can manipulate any image to please the public. Gossip bloggers are simultaneously engaged in and critical of the system – pointing to its holes as they stitch themselves into the fabric. Perez' choice of “cousin”/namesake, Paris Hilton, exemplifies this paradoxical practice.[8][open notes in new window]

Interestingly, the underpinning of “Perez” and his blog is the empty promise of a star – and not just any star, but Paris Hilton, who has built her celebrity on being nothing but herself and doing nothing but existing. (image 17) Paris Hilton is what Daniel Boorstin defines as a “pseudo event”; or, as Dyer summarizes, a star who

“appear[s] to be meaningful but [is] in fact empty of meaning. Thus a star is well-known for her/his well-knownness, and not for any specific quality” (13).

Perez, like Paris, is a signifier of celebrity. People talk to him, give him clothes, and feature him in articles not because of any talent of his own, but for becoming well-known through his association with stars.  In similar fashion, Perez has manipulated his image through his blog to be that of the quintessential “schwag-loving” star-fucker. (image 18) These are their public “personalities,” but as Boorstin points out,

"stars do not have a 'strong character,' but a definable, publicizable personality: a figure which can become a nationally-advertised trademark” (162).

"Camp" and manipulation

Paris Hilton's blog persona is also “camp” – a label that necessitates a greater exploration into Perez and his relation to the camp sensibility. As Susan Sontag notes in her seminal essay,

“indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” (275).

Reading through Perez' posts, his love of and revelry in “the spirit of extravagance,” “corny flamboyant femaleness/exaggerated he-man-ness,” and “things-being-what-they're-not” – all hallmarks of camp – are overwhelming (Sontag 279-83).  The bulk of the blog is committed to the lives of high-profile celebrities, but Perez also consistently celebrates extremely campy idols: “Chyna,” an androgynous professional female wrestler, (image 19) British glamour model “Jordan,” (image 20) known for her flamboyant personal life and multiple breast enhancements, and others as varied as singer Ricky Martin and fashion maven Karl Lagerfield. (image 21)  But these psuedo-stars represent only the most exaggerated of Perez' camp tastes; indeed, these men and women are so fantastically camp that it's difficult for those unacquainted with camp to appreciate such posts. 

In contrast, Perez' attention to Paris Hilton exemplifies a subtler form of camp taste that permeates the blog, based more on a love of surfaces and “instant character,” that constructs what Sontag refers to as

“a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment” (286; 290).

Paris may very well be “empty of meaning” —   she has manipulated her image to be that of a jet-setting, spoiled, ditzy fashionista, nothing but surface and image, as one-dimensional as the photos that appear on the screen in front of us. (image 22) Producing such a tightly controlled image, devoid of nuance or complication, is a feat worthy of celebration. Perez lauds Paris's immaculate self-construction, but the manner in which he does so – with an underlying sense of camp – effectively undercuts the seriousness with which she takes herself.

For camping, at its heart, is innately duplicitous: there is a “straight,” public sense of a thing, contrasted with a “private, zany experience” (Sontag 281). Put differently, there is the way that the star means her image to be perceived, and the very different way that camp receives it. Reveling in this disparity between intended and received meaning, camp makes the means of manipulation obvious to the point of enjoyment. With his blog, Perez has free license to camp writ large – writing without editorial censorship to an audience of millions, he lets others in on what has long been a members-only form of humor.

Perez characterized his early career by lambasting Paris on a regular basis – in a post from November 5th, 2005, Perez proclaims,

“Paris' new book allows YOU the opportunity to confess your deepest, darkest, dirtiest secrets to the bitch that's outfucked you and outskanked you and whom we all aspire to be!” (image 23)

But in the last year and a half, Paris and Perez have become “friends”; over the last year, Perez has posted a dozens of photos documenting his attendance at various events hosted or attended by Paris (images 24 and 25) . Here, the celebrity blogger is interpolated into the world of the pseudo-event. While the photos undoubtedly assist in manipulating Perez' own star image as gossip authority, the fact that the photos are sweaty, somewhat unattractive, ordinary, and even boring, affects the star of both Hiltons in a different way. By posing for and posting these photos, Perez reifies the pseudo-event of both Paris and himself; at the same time, he calls attention to the fact that Paris has normal, boring house parties like anyone else – exposing the cracks in her image as impeccably styled socialite.

Such exposure was made possible by new media. The fact that Perez could attend a party by himself, shoot dozens of pictures on his digital camera, and post those photos the next morning attests to the immediacy of the blog. Usually, gossip mongers are forced to wait for paparazzi photos to accompany their columns, which are published weekly or daily. Perez transcends the traditional model for gossip by going to the celebrity herself, documenting the night, posting it on his blog, and making it an event. As Lev Manovich emphasizes,

“with new media, a new area has emerged. As ‘professional technology’ becomes accessible to amateurs, new media professionals create new standards, formats, and design expectations to maintain their status” (120).

Amateur photographer and web designer Perez takes blurry photos on his digital camera. (image 26) He posts them to his blog using a pre-set template. Yet these, and other photos posted to the “Personally Perez” section of the site, have worked to close the gap between “professional” blog sites – Gawker is a good example of a slick, professional site – and “amateur” sites like Hilton’s. If Perez is getting the first-hand scoop, he maintains his status, regardless of amateur standards.  Or, better yet, Perez' style – first hand star-fucking, low production standards, camp humor – becomes the new standard.

Fashion

Celebrity fashion has always generated gossip, and Internet gossip takes no less of an interest in what stars wear. In fact, fashion may appear the purest, most superficial form of star manipulation, as I.C. Jarvie points out,

“one function a star serves is to fix a type of beauty, to help a physical type identify itself” (14). In this way, “types of beauty” are made to “define attractiveness” (14).

Dyer likewise asserts that a change in fashion is a change in social meaning – when a star dyes her hair from blonde to red, for example, it constitutes a change in the social meaning of her star. If, as previously asserted, stars rise and fall because of the ability of their individual social meanings to resonate within society, then a change in fashion can prove disastrous or fortuitous. The gossip blog does more than display the fashion of the star – through the innate functions of the blog, it subtly calls attention to fashion as a means of production.

Perez Hilton is by no means the blogging authority on fashion. For sites devoted to celebrity fashion, see The Satorialist or Manolo’s Shoe Blog. With that said, Perez, like all those interested in celebrity gossip, cannot escape commentary on, criticism and promotion of fashion. The dependence of Internet gossip on visual imagery makes it a constant topic. With each picture, one is immediately drawn to comment on appearance – clothes, face, hair, shoes, skin tone, hands – and use it as a starting point for interpreting the meaning or significance of the photo. Perez' camp sensibilities easily translate to an attention to fashion and surface: as Dyer explains in his essay “It's Being So Camp As Gets Us Going,” camp

“is a way of prising the form of something away from its content, of reveling in the style while dismissing the content as trivial” (The Culture of Queers 52).

Focusing on these elements of style, Perez has his clear favorites: and, of course, also his subjects of consistent ridicule. What distinguishes Hilton’s treatment of fashion from print media's lies in two key components to the blog: categorization and and reader-response.

Categorization

Blogs often have sorting and categorizing options built into their design. Perez' categorizing method is rather straight-forward. Each photo receives several tags: one for each star pictured, plus additional tags if it falls into a Perez-pre-established category, including “Gay Gay Gay,” “Fashion Smashion,” “Fun ‘n’ Fluff,” and “SIGHtings.” As evidenced by the titles, in sorting a picture into an established category, Perez establishes the meaning of the photo. For example, once a photo of Jake Gyllenhaal and a male friend working out is filed under “Gay Gay Gay,” it takes on an entirely new significance (images 27 and 28 ). The same holds true for Perez’ labeling of fashion. Placing a photo in “Fashion Smashion” (as opposed to “Fashion & Beauty”) automatically tips off the reader as to the intended meaning. Print media uses a similar technique to distinguish between the front pages (filled with celebs wearing beautiful dresses) and the back pages (“What Were They Thinking?” fashion designer critique of fashion mistakes, etc.). The blog one-ups the fashion mag with its ability to retrieve all “Fashion Smashion” posts, from one week to one year ago, from one easily clickable location. Explaining this aspect of Internet communication, Lev Manovich calls attention to the manner in which New Media creates “predefined menus” (e.g., Perez’ database of photos, sorted into categories) prepped for user-selection, a process that allows

“end users [to] feel that they are not just consumers but 'authors' creating a new media object or experience” (125).

When a reader uses the “StarSeeker” pull-down menu to select a category, he is creating his own experience of the blog, viewing it in a completely different form, order, and context than it was originally displayed.

This power of “authorship” over one’s own gossip experience takes on particular meaning when applied to fashion. Scrolling through the “Fashion Smashion” section, posts that initially appeared in no relation to each other co-exist on the same page. Jennifer Lopez appears smartly dressed and styled in a post entitled, “THIS is why Jennifer Lopez is a style icon,” (image 29) followed by a picture of Kirsten Dunst, hair and dress haphazard, stumbling down the street (image 30 ). The contrast that results from the user's personal authorship changes the meaning of the original post – Lopez’ fashion sense and classiness are heightened, while Dunst’s are lessened. In this way, Perez assists in establishing stars as superlatives – an idea key to Dyer’s conception of the star. Perez' sorting allows the reader to insinuate Lopez as the “most stylish,” while Dunst becomes the “most bag-ladyish.” At this point, as affirmed by Violette Morn, the star

“dissolves into the superlative, [is] indistinguishable from it, they become superlative” (Dyer 43).

“Most Bag-Ladyish” becomes the meaning of Dunst and determines her acceptance or rejection in society. The image of the bag lady conveys multiple messages: Dunst doesn’t care about fashion, which connotes she doesn’t care what the public thinks about her, which in turn conveys the idea that Dunst is disinterested in her fans and ungrateful for her success. Ungrateful may be translated as unworthy – if she were a worthy star, then she would care about her appearance in public. This is the “meaning” of Dunst’s fashion choices, disseminated and enunciated by Perez in his blog.

Reader-response

Perez Hilton pressures notions of “fashion” by inviting readers to comment on or “decide” whether an outfit, dye job, or new “look” is attractive. On May 8th, Hilton posted a picture of Jessica Simpson presenting at the 2006 ALMA Awards, which honor Hispanics in Hollywood. Hilton challenged his readers to examine Simpson’s curly auburn bob, tightly fitted orange dress, and deeply bronzed skin, and debate “Jessica Simpson’s New Look: Love it or Leave it? YOU Decide!” (image 31 ). Over three hundred reader comments follow, including “She looks like an oompa loompa” and “Does anyone else ever notice that in some pictures she looks like an old ass Texan grandma?” As the comments proceed, they transcend mere fashion commentary, declaring, “She is trying way too hard these days to be something she not,” “She and her sister symbolize everything that is wrong with our culture,” and “Kinda racist to go in black face (or in this case "brown face") to the ALMA awards, no?”  Here, we see a change in fashion connote a change in social meaning: as opposed to her former All-American, blonde-haired, innocent image, this picture encapsulates the change in Simpson’s star and social meaning following her separation from Nick Lachay. From reader responses, we gather that she appears as an absurd and fake chameleon, racially insensitive, an embodiment of “all that’s wrong with our country.” All this meaning, from a single photo. While many visitors to Hilton’s site do not participate in or read comments, such commentary nevertheless documents greater societal reactions.[9] Unlike letter sections in print gossip, these responses are immediate, uncensored, and interactive – they feed on one another, constructing an overarching sentiment towards the star and his/her fashion choice. In this way, they constitute a goldmine of public opinion, a way to monitor how society feels about a particular star at a particular moment.

As celebrities are dependent on visual imagery to maintain their presence in society, fashion will most likely always be a determining factor in their popularity. Gossip bloggers represent a heightened awareness of fashion – not only through their ability to post large numbers of images, but also through the particular characteristics of the blog that pronounce and reify the social meaning of each fashion choice and, by direct association, the star who wears it.    

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