Who needs a publicist anymore? The Internet-age reality is that practically no one does, not even the celebrity demigods of Los Angeles. Gawker Media recently reported that Brad Pitt, one half of the Brangelina empire, dropped his publicist. Despite this enormous personal career decision, Pitt has been drifting through the world with next to no negative coverage. Angelina herself has no full-time staffer paid to dismiss every bit of dirty gossip about her that enters the blogosphere. When did celebrities gain the right to pick and choose whether they must hire a full-time flack team to counterbalance all the rumors — whether minuscule or gargantuan — that their celebrity status will inevitably spawn?
Times are a-changin’ in Hollywood and Manhattan. Horrible rumors will surface no matter how saintly and charity-driven a celeb is. But the fact of the matter is that many rumors receiving extensive coverage in the blogosphere have at least some basis of truth behind them. One blatant example is Britney Spears’s reported bipolar disorder and heavy drug use throughout 2007 which inevitably led to more than one involuntary 5150 psychiatric hold and the custodial loss of her two infant sons.
Is Spears really a bipolar drug addict? I can only speculate, and I’m not sure we’ll ever know. But at the time of her 24/7-reported public meltdown, Spears was not being represented by anyone, unless you count the mischievous Sam Lutfi who allegedly — on the word of Spears’s own mother, who is about to release a tell-all memoir — force fed his “client” sleeping pills to shut her up during her manic “episodes.”
Spears is a unique case of a celebrity who absolutely needs a publicist to direct her every action and represent her in the most PR-friendly way possible. Had she been given competent public relations representation during her well-publicized divorce from KFed, the public wouldn’t have been fed the never-ending parade of Britney’s self-destruction via YouTube or popular celebrity blogs. Since her several forced hospitalizations, Spears’s father has taken control of her finances and hired a full-time team to control the singer’s media image.
Spears — who recently won three VMA awards after her disastrous performance last year — has since regained partial custody and is on her way to regaining her former pop queen title. Despite this one exceptional case, a publicist is not essential for a celebrity to appear holier-than-thou to their public audience.
Given this new Internet-spawned reality of constant celebrity coverage — whether it be through simple gossip blogging or more precise devices such as Gawker’s celebrity “stalker” map in NYC — many stars adjusted to this new reality, altering their images before a leak of pictures of them drunkenly stumbling down 5th Avenue. This new lurker-esque surveillance of popular celebrities has, in effect, de-legitimized the pre-packaged PR statements of yesteryear which typically followed a serious celeb flare-up.
Lindsay Lohan did just this when she issued a pre-packaged statement following her first DUI and cocaine arrest in May 2007. Unfortunately for her, this plea didn’t seem too heartfelt when several images surfaced on the Internet of the underage star passed out in the front seat of a car only a few days after said arrest. Despite the proliferation of such celebrity-obsessed blogs like Dlisted, Defamer, TMZ and the king of celeb trash, Perez Hilton, these blogs are still not viewed by the public as “legitimate” compared to published magazine articles.
Enter OK! Magazine, a print tabloid weekly run by former L.A. flack Rob Shuter, which prides itself on getting the best celeb exclusives in Hollywood. It was OK! that got the “Jamie-Lynn’s knocked up!” exclusive when the 16-year-old Nickelodeon starlet (and younger sister of Britney herself) reported she had a bun in her oven. Rather than giving out a formal press release with the insidious information, the Spears family chose to do a front-page feature, painting the family in the best possible light given the circumstances. While the family still got its fair share of ridicule for the disclosure, it was minuscule compared to what might have happened had the news been reported by a publicist, or worse, leaked on Perez Hilton’s gossip blog.
As many of these stars mature by creating families or actually growing up, many begin to intuitively realize that it probably isn’t such a great idea to stumble out of Hyde Lounge five nights a week or to be involved in yet another DUI conviction. As these stars become involved with more charity organizations and express their typically liberal political views, the public tends to see them more favorably, whether or not they had a sordid, sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll tinged past.
Angelina Jolie — mother of six, anti-poverty crusader and an admitted former heroin fiend — is the perfect example of this drastic change in public perception. And she, unlike the Olsen Twins and Lindsay Lohan, isn’t constantly coached by a well-paid PR rep.
Will other stars follow suit? Given the new reality of 24-hour blogging and heavily-circulated TMZ videos, celebrities now have a choice: either live up the pious image they hope to cultivate or simply live out their party-driven lives in a shroud of secrecy. Not all of us can be Branglina, so many up-and-coming stars will have to make this compromise now that PR-statements are increasingly viewed as a joke by a skeptical public. While this new reality signals a brave new world in terms of celebrity livelihood, blog-based rumors are certainly a lot more fun to read than some overpaid hack’s distortion of the “truth.”