The Picture of Dorian Grayism
July 2003

I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity. --Diana Vreeland

God willing, I will never know the travails of celebrity. In all honesty, the entertainment industry hasn't been pounding at my door - you see, I'm neither twenty-two nor savory from every angle so I am at a decided disadvantage. Even so, I am far too private and messy a person to want to live on a public stage where I must worry about strangers documenting my frequent vulgarities and embarrassing intimacies and selling them to the press. So I am regularly as agog as a priest buying sex toys by the fresh young faces who eagerly trade their privacy for fame and fortune. Truth be told, I'm probably more fascinated by the fascination of the public regarding each new iteration of the publicly young and nubile - and by the ever increasing precision it takes to be considered as such.

As with all hyper-competitive arenas, being at evolution's leading edge is imperative. Back when Andy Warhol was alive, there were fifteen whole minutes during which you could relax and be famous. Imagine! A quarter hour of "me" time when you only needed to be you - because you were the right time and place. Fans didn't require a body fat percentage below zero or Hindenburgesque breast implants. You could look like Barbra Steisand and be sexy in 1974. The brothers Gibb were juicy by the standards of the day. In the 1980s, an annual poll asked French women who they thought was the sexiest man alive and Woody Allen's name appearing on the top ten was metaphysical certitude year after year - I remember the nexus of his eroticism being summarized by "quelle tête!" Do people still want to get foxy with someone because of non-physical characteristics? Don't tell me things haven't changed -- do you honestly think Ernest Borgnine would have 42,300 Google search returns if he had started out in today's image-ocracy? How many copies of Rolling Stone do you suppose he would sell today if he was at his prime, wetting his lips and pouting, standing shirtless, barefoot and nippley wearing worn jeans that dangle precariously just above his pubes?

I cannot tell you when the change began -- the onset of erotic asphyxiation is fuzzy, whether in the bedroom or at the box-office. I can only say that Ashton, Britney, Justin and Beyonce are choking me with their sex and I can't be anything other than satisfied. That's because we live in a world of razor thin tolerances and within such constraints it is virtually impossible to decipher the intent of their gonadal provocations. So they must squirm and wiggle to navigate their impossible course. What is more engaging than hotties squirming for you?

The women squirm because they are trapped. From one side they are pressured to represent sweetness and light, purity and virginity. The other side needs lots of skin in the game to sell their wares. Somehow we expect our necessarily fetching and bouncy female stars to negotiate the non-negotiable duality between celibate bible-school counselors and youth culture aspirational icons, which in all honesty requires skanking for the camera. That impossibility is what leads Beyonce to chanting like a Gregorian about retaining her virginity and the virtue of Christian values while dressing like a porn star on set and in action. The same absurd expectations are true for Britney. Recently the Associate Press released an article titled "Britney Spears: I'm Not a Virgin / Singer who said she'd wait admits to sex with Timberlake". Wait -- Britney Spears isn't the chaste ingénue we never believed she was??? STOP THE PRESSES! How can newspaper reading parents be appeased while showing their kids a persona they want to consume without playing the bullshit game?

As for the boys, let's say that it seems the sexes have been somewhat leveled not by elevating the status of women but by dragging the men down to the same base. Their cross to bear is the ability to be perceived as heterosexual, yet in our quasi-enlightened age must not appear homophobic - and still allow us to see their nipples. Ashton and Justin have both appeared shirtless on the cover of Rolling Stone in the past few months-in a boy next door kind of way but, importantly, not a momma's boy kind of way. One thing is clear, their public sexuality is strategically potent yet antiseptic - notable but controlled, clean and far from dangerous or threatening. They are the cute and healthy (yet incorrigible! gosh darn it!) boys, that only Beyonce's chastity-belt-wielding father would loathe. We love their youthful horniness because, come on! they're just good kids having a little fun! Why else does everyone know that Ashton Kutcher is freaking Demi Moore? Justin Timberlake is every girls dream as well as every boy's - he's cute, straight, tight, he's nailed Britney and now he's allegedly poking Cameron. Boys are like that! It's okay, they aren't like Tommy Lee - they bathe! In this case, we feed ourselves the bullshit - the boys just have the uneasy task of maintaining an image of unbridled but sanitized heterosexuality.

If we are to be fair, we should acknowledge that talent shouldn't and isn't the factor that determines our relative admiration for most celebrities. It is their packaging that counts. There are always going to be stars devoid of talent. For the record, I think the Basement Jaxx mix of Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" is one of the best singles of the year and I give most of the credit to Basement Jaxx. Even it he was, God forbid, the next Michael Bolton, it shouldn't matter. Get used to it. Grow up. Michael Bolton's got a Grammy. We've paid Madonna's salary for millennia. I'm not against calling shit shit, but in the pop arena (movies, music, television) it's almost all shit - so why don't we just enjoy whatever gambits of salaciousness that are thrown our way? Life is short and Ashton Kutcher's affable, goofy, sexy and penisy delivery of his opening monologue on Saturday Night Live, dressed only in tighty-whities, is fun for me to look at. There. I've said it. Sue me. In my early youth, pop stars looked like Meatloaf (whom I never saw show up anywhere in his underwear, which is quite a relief -- as a gay man, I have enough problems) and Vicky Lawrence had a chart topping hit. They weren't creating seminal works of art. So given the alternatives, maybe mediocre performances from hotties isn't so bad. If you take the guilt out of guilty pleasure it is a lot more fun.