Best TV of the '00s: Celebrities
More of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about a very aught-like phenomenon: the cult of celebrity.
There is no clearer metaphor for the concept of being a celebrity than the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You work hard to chase your dream and achieve a career for yourself by making your name known to the masses of the universe.
Then when you've grabbed that star and become a regular fixture in the flash bulb of the press' cameras, how does the public honor your tireless toil and efforts? They throw you down on a sidewalk and walk all over you.
In the Aughts, however, a new celebrity oozed out of the primordial muck. A celebrity that still suffered the slings and arrows of the tabloid press and a complete loss of the right to privacy, but achieved their stardom by simply cutting out all that pesky hard work and tireless effort nonsense. These are the celebrities who became famous by simply because they were famous.
Allison says: What talent does Simon Cowell have? Not much. He can't sing. He can't dance. He thinks he's witty, but a lot of that is the English accent. But Simon does know how to exploit talent. He has a talent for that, without question. He's a latter day Ed Sullivan when it comes to presenting stars, and a latter day John Simon when it comes to being a critic. And for all that, on this continent and across the pond, Simon Cowell is one of the biggest celebrities on television the past decade.
John says: The one-time stand-up comic is the anti-Oprah, a daytime talk star that doesn't take herself seriously and has no interest in building any empire beyond the crowds she cheers up every afternoon. Seemingly the rarest of modern phenomena, she is a successful television personality devoid of pretentiousness and self-importance. She's an entertainer and happy to be just that. But when she does choose to speak up about political issues (as with California's gay marriage debate), her self-effacing attitude asks you to stop, listen and consider without violent prejudice. She's funny, too.
Isabelle says: As Brian said on an episode of Family Guy, "They're only famous for being famous." He wasn't talking about Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag but about reality stars just like them. Even if I haven't watched a single episode of The Hills, I knew who Spencer and Heidi (aka Speidi) were due to all the drama that was reported online. Just based off the titles of articles and posts, I knew that they were famous just for... being famous and that they weren't the type of celebrities I would enjoy as they sounded bratty and childish.
My assumption was confirmed when I was sucked into watching last summer's I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! Both acted like spoiled celebrities to whom everything was due. No matter what I think about Speidi, the duo was clever enough to make headlines all over the place and become famous for doing practically nothing!
Mike says: I used to respect Flavor Flav. Sure he was known as the clown prince of hip-hop, a freakish hype man with a rap sheet and a nasty drug addiction, but he was also a founding member of Public Enemy, one of the most influential rap groups ever. His flamboyant style stood in stark contrast to fellow PE member Chuck D's serious, politically charged sermons. It was a strange blend that led to some amazing music.
Sadly, Flav garnered the most attention as the star of a number of trashy VH1 reality shows. His appearances on The Surreal Life, Strange Love and Flavor of Love stripped away his credibility as a cornerstone of the early hip-hop movement. On TV, he became a gaudy court jester ready to ham it up for the camera. I doubt that his next series, in which he returns to high school to get his diploma, will show him in a better light.
Anna Nicole Smith
Annie says: Anna Nicole Smith's life reads like an elaborate joke that turns out to be a lot more tragic than funny and has no real punchline. It's not a very good joke. She had already gained a great deal of attention as the model that married an old billionaire, but this decade launched her to a whole new level.
Thinking back, I'm still not entirely sure if E!'s Anna Nicole Show wasn't just an elaborate hallucination, thanks mainly in part to her bizarre behavior and people like Bobby Trendy. This steadily kept her in the spotlight. Then there was Trimspa, her son's drug overdose days after her daughter's birth, her own sudden death, and then the ensuing investigation and paternity issues regarding her baby. Things just seemed to get worse and worse, keeping Anna Nicole Smith in the tabloids just for being Anna Nicole Smith.
Jason says: Admittedly, if the King of Pop hadn't passed away, he probably wouldn't be on this list. But he certainly had an interesting time in the '00s. He was definitely more of a celebrity figure than a musician.
He started the decade by launching his last album of original material, Invincible, to solid sales. But shortly after he would dangle his third child over a balcony and spend the rest of the '00s mired in controversy. And his every move was covered by the media. Martin Bashir's damning news special brought to light his intimate relationships with children, which was quickly followed by charges, a trial, an acquittal and Jackson's self-imposed exile from the US, all of it covered with fervor and zeal by the news outlets.
Things quieted down a bit, aside from reports of his financial woes, until his planned comeback concerts and death on June 25, 2009. News coverage again blanketed the story and subsequent funeral, proving that even beyond his end, Michael Jackson lived his life on television, in front of America.
Jay LenoBrad says: Whatever your feelings regarding Jay Leno as a personality, you have to admit that he made the news. Not only that, he was a centerpiece to a major experiment in the television format.
From the announcement of his retirement to the turn-around in which he would take over the 10 P.M. slot on NBC with a new talk show to the actual move, people were wondering about the effects of such a thing. Currently, the effect is incredibly low ratings and potential cancellation, but people are slow to respond to certain change (Saturday Night Live didn't really get popular until season three).
Only time will tell if the experiment was a success or a failure. Conan O'Brien waits for the results with baited breath.
Bob says: Not only did Martha succeed in almost every aspect of the media (daily TV show, Whatever, Martha, magazines, books, crafts), she did it after going to jail! She even made the best of that situation, cleaning and cooking in the big house, something the rest of us probably couldn't do if it had happened to us. Sure, you can say that her version of The Apprentice failed, but that was because Donald Trump's version was on at the same time and viewers were overloaded. Martha can do anything she wants, and this past decade she really proved that nothing can stop her, not tell-alls, not made-for-TV movies. Like they used to say about Sinatra, it's Martha's world, we just live in it.