Journalism impact: Minor

EWScandalIssueI’ve given up trying to keep track of Entertainment Weekly‘s many annual lists. EW may be the most list-happy publication in pop culture, although it’s not as ambitious as Rolling Stone. For sheer pomposity, it’s hard to beat “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

EW‘s latest venture into list-keeping counts down “The 25 Biggest Celeb Scandals Since 1982.” The package is witty and playful as the editors repeat the all-caps and exclamation-pointed headlines of tabloids, but it goes all Church Lady on us when wagging a finger of showbiz moralism.

It’s difficult to find any moral compass in this feature, except the notion that sexual promiscuity (Woody Allen, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen) matters far less than offensive speech (Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Isaiah Washington). Even offensive speech is subjective. In a brief introduction, Sean Smith discerns that “Don Imus and Isaiah Washington both lost their jobs for saying something stupid. The Dixie Chicks initially lost album sales for saying something smart.” The closest the editors come to explaining this judgment is that The Dixie Chicks dissed President Bush before dissing him was cool.

I find it telling that the decisive criterion for each scandal is its “career impact” rather than how many people the behavior harmed, whether the celebrity expressed any remorse or whether there was any redemptive moment, whether metaphorical or clearly spiritual.

Religion hovers in a few of the top 25 scandals:

No. 25. Madonna angers the Pope! This item focuses more on Madonna’s oft-paraded sexual antics, but the photos do include her “crucified on a cross of glamour” moment. Career impact: Positive.

No. 14. Michael Richards talks like a 1960s Grand Kleagle! Career impact: Minor. Then there’s this tantalizing but vague postscript: “While on a spiritual journey in Cambodia last month, he told the L.A. Times that he has quit stand-up comedy.” (The Times reported: “Richards, 57, and actress Beth Skipp traveled to remote temples before visiting Angkor Wat on a tour sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Nithyananda Foundation. The sect adheres to the teachings of 29-year-old Hindu monk Nithyananda — an avowed ‘enlightened Master and modern mystic’ who’s referred to by his followers as ‘swamiji.’”

No. 11. Tom Cruise “dumps longtime publicist Pat Kingsley in March 2004 and hires fellow-Scientologist sister as her replacement”! This is EW‘s only acknowledgment of a Scientology angle to Cruise’s behavior, although the more obvious connections are his criticism of Brooke Shields for taking medication amid postpartum depression and his lecturing NBC’s Matt Lauer about Ritalin. Career impact: Major.

No. 3. Sinéad O’Connor rips a photo of Pope John Paul II to pieces”! Career impact: Major.

No. 2. Mel Gibson, while drunk, makes vile anti-Jewish remarks! Career impact: To be determined.

And here are two bonus scandals that appeared in an online roundup of scandals 26 through 50:

46. Lisa Bonet gets nekkid! “Nineteen-year-old Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet was about to headline her own spinoff, A Different World, when she made her film debut as voodoo priestess Epiphany Proudfoot in Angel Heart, an erotic thriller in which she fogged up the lens with costar Mickey Rourke while (fake) chicken blood poured down on their naked bodies.” Career impact: Major.

30. Anne Heche suffers from divine multiple personality disorder! “On Aug. 19, 2000, a newly Ellen-less Anne Heche knocked on a stranger’s door near Fresno, Calif., and made herself at home. It wasn’t until the following year, when she sat for a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters and published her autobiography, Call Me Crazy, that we got to know why: For years, Heche explained, she had an alter ego named Celestia, who believed she was the reincarnation of God. She and the Big Guy communicated through a secret language (sample: ‘Oh, Quiness, ah ka fota tuna dunna’). That day in Fresno, Celestia was making her way to her spaceship.” Career impact: Minor.

Thanks for the laff riot, EW! I’m not sure who’s more difficult to figure out: The celebrities who brought us these moments, or the editors who determined their moral gravity. Maybe this feature is the seed for an annual Top 25 Celebritards. Time to shower.

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  • KenCory

    What exactly is the point of this article? To tell us that the magazine “Entertainment Weekly” should not be any person’s source of intelligent discussion about morality? Duh. One look at at that cover should communicate all anybody needs to know about the content. This blog post is nothing but self-victimizing whining.

  • John S.

    I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is either. EW is just trash — waiting-room/lazy-couch reading. I’m confused if the writer expected more from it.

    The tone of this post also left me with the impression that the writer condones the speech of Imus, Washington, and Gibson. Is that the case?

    Get Religion is more effective when it sticks to critiquing features and hard news rather than entertainment. From this post, I’m not sure the writer understands entertainment publications like EW.

  • tmatt

    Hey folks, blame me. I requested the post.

    And study the list of the scandals. There are strong elements to the whole thing, as Doug noted. Check out the list.

    Religion and pop culture overlap ALL THE TIME. It’s quite amazing, actually.

    But you would expect me to say that…

    Saith tmatt, author of “Pop Goes Religion: Faith in Popular Culture.”

  • KenCory

    I don’t find it particularly “amazing”. Religion is a part of life. Most people consider themselves religious. There is nothing in our constitution mandating a seperation of church and pop culture. Seems pretty mundane to me.

  • Martha

    Sure, “Entertainment Weekly” and the rest of them are trash.

    But they’re what people are reading, and they’re a fair enough barometer of where the culture is at now.

    Gossip, scandal, celebs, trash, flash – all we need is the bread, we’ve already got the circuses.

    And religion is supposed to be out there in the lives of the masses, not confined to its own special little corral on the appropriate page of the grave, weighty, proper newspaper.

    I don’t think Douglas was criticising the piece so much as saying “Hey, here are topics where there are religion ghosts and yet no mention of them. So is religion dead for the ordinary man in the street? Yet if America is considered a religious society, how come no acknowledgement of the religious ghosts in these stories, pabulum though they are?”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Anne Heche story reminded me of something going on in Hollywood that the media hasn’t touched or commented on (just too, too politically incorrect).
    It is claimed homosexual behaviour and the desire to homosexually wed is somehow biologically ingrained and not a choice. Then how come Anne wanted out and decided for heterosexuality. And it seems I have read a number of other very underreported similar stories about lesbian or gay “partnerings” breaking up with one partner going heterosexual.
    It strikes me that many on the political-social left today are choosing to rebel against current society by announcing their “gayness” the way those on the left used to choose to embrace communism in the 1920′s and 1930′s.

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    I’ll jump in here to say only that I do not consider Entertainment Weekly trash or invariably shallow. Even recently, it has done fine reporting, such as its roundup of how Hurricane Katrina affected New Orleans musicians.

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “Then how come Anne wanted out and decided for heterosexuality. And it seems I have read a number of other very underreported similar stories about lesbian or gay “partnerings” breaking up with one partner going heterosexual.”

    Sexual orientation is a spectrum, not two absolute magnetic poles to which one “sticks”. Plus, as I’m sure you would agree, relationships are more than sex and people form partnerships for many (often complex) reasons. Heche herself, while claiming mental illness for most of her life, also says that she doesn’t (even now) identify as “straight”.

    “I have been very clear to everybody that just because I’m getting married does not mean I call myself a straight.”

    To reduce sexual preference down to two “teams” that one must pledge allegiance to is reductionist and doesn’t take into account the thoughts and feelings of all these people who have “gone heterosexual” as you put it. Was Senator Craig “homosexual” when he (allegedly) had sex with men, and now “heterosexual” when he denies it? Or perhaps sexual orientation is more than who you sleep with.

  • Stephen A.

    This magazine, while often focusing on trash and celebrities (sorry if that’s redundant) does illustrate how the Elites in this country view religion – if and when they view it at all – so it’s clearly a valid issue to address their take on religion.

    Though the fact that the American public gets so much of its morality and version of “normal” from these rags should give anyone who cares about religion pause.

    As for Miss Heche, a sexually confused somewhat insane celebrity is a mighty poor poster child for the Gay Movement, since she undermines the “It’s biological, end of discussion” argument that the Left demands is the case, much like the “Man-made Global Warming exists. End of discussion” argument in the world of science.

  • Will Harrington

    Martha, do food stamps count as bread? Maybe we are already there?