A couple of weeks ago, I was in the green room during a taping of Conan and saw someone reading a copy of Star with the cover story, “Kim’s Bombshell: Kris Is Gay!” I asked to take a look at the magazine and greedily read the details, learning from a “source” close to Kim that “she had confided to Khloe pretty early on that [she and Kris] hadn’t had sex for weeks after they returned home from their Italian honeymoon. Kim was really concerned.” And, “Khloe asked Kim if she thought Kris might be gay.” “You know,” I said to Sona Movsesian, Conan’s assistant, who was sitting next to me. “It was weird how in this week’s episode of Kourtney and Kim, Kris really overreacted to Kourtney having a naked yoga instructor in their apartment. He flipped out. Maybe he was covering for his attraction to this guy, ‘cause he really is gay?” I continued to cogitate on what this all meant: Did Kris agree to this marriage, which was doomed from the start, because, as a professional athlete, he needed a beard and Kim Kardashian is the ZZ Top version of a beard? Was it possible that he had always planned to get out of this marriage quickly, so he could be free to indulge his proclivities under the cover of being the former husband of a famous sex bomb? And then I stopped and took stock of myself: a 47-year-old, successful, educated man with varied interests and a subscription to The New Yorker who was seriously pondering the many ramifications and possibilities surrounding a tabloid story about the Kardashians. This realization left me with a feeling of self-loathing.
Let’s put aside my interest in the Kardashians for a moment to focus on a more general question: Why the fuck would I believe anything in Star? I know perfectly well that all of the tabloids in the U.S. pay “sources” to feed them tips and that those “sources” are often unreliable. Mark Ebner, a former reporter for The National Enquirer, told me that he once paid a waiter $5,000 for a firsthand account of the drunken escapades of a major star who had recently gone public with how he had cleaned up his act. And I’ve had an even more personal demonstration of how these stories are often wrong: About six years ago, I was the subject of a story published in In Touch ragazine that said I was romantically involved with Sharon Stone, and was seen making out with her in L’Orangerie, a French restaurant in Los Angeles. The problem with this story was that not only had I never met Ms. Stone, I’ve never laid eyes on her: not at a movie premiere, awards show, or waiting for her car at valet parking. Someone hard up for cash probably needed a story to sell and made up the whole thing. Or, possibly, they saw the beautiful actress with some other Jew-y looking guy (who is probably much richer and more interesting than I) and figured it was me. When the In Touch fact checker called to ask if the story was true, I said it wasn’t and let them know that I had been producing My Super Ex-Girlfriend in New York during the time he said I was canoodling with the actress in L.A. They ran it anyway.
If I ever make a reappearance in a tabloid, it likely won’t be with an actress; these days it would most likely be in connection with some star of a reality show whom I never met , since these publications now seem to be obsessed with them, acting as silent partners with these shows by functioning as adjunct delivery systems for extra, and more embarrassing, content. Cooper Lawrence, author of The Cult of Celebrity, told FoxNews.com that the K Klan has been known to plant stories about themselves in the tabs and may have done so in this case , in an effort to “protect their brand.” This story about Kris’s rage over a naked yoga instructor that had me so riveted probably isn’t true. Maybe it’s just a marketing ploy used to symbiotically bring more viewers to the show, more readers to the magazine, and more consumers to the products promoted by the Kardashians.
But the veracity of tabloids aside, the real question is: Why do I, or does anyone else, care about the Kardashians at all? I’m not an elitist, saying that we should only be reading War and Peace, Shakespeare, or The Economist. But even if you only wanted to watch reality TV, there are so many better shows to choose from. There are good reality shows about truckers, fishermen, antiques dealers, pawnbrokers, etc. They all have soapy elements but are still centered on people with skills and intelligence, rather than people who do nothing other than promote themselves and act foolishly — and I’m not just talking about Kourtney and Kim, but also the shows featuring every city’s Housewives, the idiots on New Jersey’s shore, and the club of bad girls.
Without too much introspection, I can figure out why I watch and read about Kim and Kris … and Camille and Taylor and the Situation and Snooki, for that matter: It makes me feel better about myself to watch these losers deal with the problems of their own making. Because they are of such low character, I am by contrast superior. And that conclusion is possibly more pathetic than whatever I have seen on the shows or in the tabs. I would like to think that television, our culture, and I could be better than this. So, my resolution this year will be to swear off this circus of Schadenfreude and limit myself only to viewing and reading shows and articles that aren’t only about seeing stupid people in embarrassing situations.
To be clear, this resolution doesn’t restrict me from buying any “best/worst beach body” tabloid issue that may catch my eye at a checkout line. That particular genre is inherently balanced between complimentary and inspiring, and belittling and discouraging, right?
Gavin Polone is an agent turned manager turned producer. His production company, Pariah, has brought you such movies and TV shows as Panic Room, Zombieland, Gilmore Girls, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Follow him on Twitter: @gavinpolone.