Saturday, April 15, 2006

Democratising Dirt

Gossip is currency.
This has been true since the earliest homosapiens sniggered behind a rock about an unflattering gazelle skin belonging to the girl in the next cave.

Gossip is a distraction from oneself, but is also a way to reduce the gap between gossiper and gossipee. Hence the success of celebrity gossip, through which ‘ordinary’ people can temporarily blend Hollywood lives with their own.

But rather than use celebrity to elevate the reader, a trend in recent years has been to bring celebrities down from their pedestals and highlight their flaws: to make them ordinary, like us. Circling sweat patches and cellulite is certain to shift magazines. More bizarrely, one of the most popular features in Heat magazine last year 'exposed' a celeb buying sausages.

The likes of Popbitch, Holymoly & Gawker use the reach of the Internet to bring this celebrity gossip speedily to the screens of whoever is hungry enough for it.

But that’s not the interesting part.

The true power of the Internet is its ability to connect people and information; ALL people and ALL information. The Internet in this sense is a leveller and for every celebrity out there behaving badly, a hundred of us ordinary folk are matching them. Think nobody's interested? You're wrong.

The forward button is as dangerous for the likes of you and me as the shutter button on a camera is to a celebrity. Some of the following people found this out the hard way:

Remember the ‘Ketchup Lawyer’?
In 2005, Richard Phillips, a highly paid senior associate at a top London Law firm sent an obnoxious email to secretary Jenny Amner demanding the £4 it would cost to clean ketchup from his trousers. Phillip’s email, along with Miss Amner’s reply – which facetiously apologized for the death of her mother delaying her response - went from inbox to inbox at lightening speed. Within hours, this encounter had a global audience. The ensuing press attention eventually forced Phillips out of his job.

Stars like Paris Hilton are used to having their private lives turned inside out. When she let Rick Salomon film her giving him a blowjob she wasn’t to know (or perhaps care) that the video would be viewed online by millions of people only a few months later.

But for every Paris, there’s an ‘Elizabeth’
I’m sure you remember this email. Elizabeth had apparently performed fellatio on a guy in the toilet while Brad sat waiting for her at the bar. When Brad replied (quite brilliantly) to Elizabeth’s weepy apology email, he copied in his entire address book. Again, it didn’t take long for the emails to get round the world and back.

When Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone compared a Jewish reporter to a “concentration camp guard” his suspension was issued faster than the news headline ink could dry.

Ken is not alone. A similar example came to my attention (inbox) last month when the below internal email got circulated externally by staff (I have deleted the email addresses for legal reasons):

From: Allan Wills
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 17:43:48
To: London
Conversation: Apology
Subject: Apology

Hello everyone,

Last email I used the term "Nazi" regarding the move and I wish to apologise for the inappropriate reference. I meant it in a light, Seinfeld sense, but I realise it wasn't appropriate. Please accept my deepest apologies if anyone was offended.


How far that email got, I do not know but I do know the dangers of runaway emails have been acknowledged by Microsoft in the last couple of years. The company’s more recent versions of Outlook allow senders to put restrictions on forwarding and printing.

So business emails are slowly being dealt with, but that's just the beginning. When you consider the ubiquity of video phones, ever-increasing internet speeds and the success of video sharing sites like YouTube it’s only a matter of time before it’s Paris Hilton watching footage of some girl in Leeds giving her boss a hand job in the elevator.

So this is what we wanted, right? We’ve exposed celebrities to be sweaty sausage-buyers just like us. Our dirt, their dirt; what's the difference? We're all in this together.

While you wait for the next 'ordinary' gossip star to inevitably appear in your inbox, the only uncertainty is how genuine the stories will be. But in an age where entertainment is more important than truth, does it really matter?

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