Scandal sells. Tabloids have always made a tidy profit from the bad behavior of celebrities, and now even major news outlets slavishly report on the antics of various individuals whose only talent seems to be getting noticed by the media.
This book is not about those celebrities; it is a summary of the tales of even less-well-knowns who became famous for a few minutes via their scandalous behavior and what our reaction to their moral blunders says about the rest of us. Why do we buy those tabloids and tune in to the gossip programs? We may turn up our noses at this exploitation of human beings, but let’s face it—the media is only giving us what we want, isn’t it?
“A true scandal requires shame….” Kipnis writes, and shame is not as prevalent as it once was, at least not so you’d notice by following Facebook and Twitter where celebrities and others share the most intimate details of their lives. It’s a far cry from the days when there were public lives and private lives, and most people wanted to keep the two as far apart as possible. In the olden days, scandal could ruin a career rather than build one. Hollywood stars often had to agree to a ‘morals clause’ in their contracts, which meant that, if they engaged in questionable activities, they took pains to keep it quiet. Contrast that with the drug-addicted actor who shares his incoherent rants with the world via YouTube and the celebrity criminals who gleefully appear on talk shows against their attorneys’ advice and to their own inevitable detriment. It’s all part of what Kipnis calls “the rise of confessional culture.”
Even today, though, many of us are embarrassed to admit that we perk up at the mention of illicit affairs, topless princesses, and DUI-ridden actresses. But perhaps we needn’t hide our addiction to scandal after all. According to Kipnis, “…scandal is the pre-eminent delivery system for knowledge about the moral and political contradictions of our times.” Being outraged by the behavior of celebrities allows us regular folks to feel a little bit superior.
How to Become a Scandal takes particular cases of semi-celebrities and breaks down the story in a way that TMZ never did. From the astronaut in diapers to a powerful judge, from a political pal to a particularly creative writer, these case studies delve into the motivation that drove these individuals and landed them on the front page for all the wrong reasons.
At the same time, How to Become a Scandal turns a mirror on the rest of us, helping us to understand why we care what total strangers are doing. We may ask the rhetorical question ‘Are they nuts?’ but we keep on watching because there is a symbiotic relationship between us and these hideously amoral creatures who captivate us. We are the audience “commenting on the action like a Greek chorus,” Kipnis reminds us. Were it not for us, the celebrities would have no reason to perform.
Often humorous and always insightful, Kipnis gives us a glimpse of scandal from both sides of the screen and How to Become a Scandal brings us into close (and sometimes uncomfortable) contact with that part of ourselves that keeps the tabloids in business.