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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/15/2008

The Celebrity-Fan Relationship: Walking the Line

By Nancy Kerr

A couple of recent incidents have gotten me thinking about the boundaries between stars and fans. Confession time here, I enjoy Rosie O'Donnell's blog. Rosie has often talked about how amazing it has been for her, as someone who grew up admiring Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell and others, to now be in a position where she can meet, interview, even socialize with huge stars. Her blog is pretty egalitaria: She posts pictures of her kids, writes in her capital letter-averse style about what she's up to, and answers questions from site visitors (or "bloggers," as she calls them). I used to think it was kind of nice how people would ask for her opinions on TV shows or snack foods (the ultimate praise being "triple love it"), or vent about a little problem or pet peeve, or opine on the news of the day.

However, a lot of people just send in rude, nosy, even hostile queries. Why don't you wear makeup? Why does your son's hair look like it was dyed? Why didn't you do more to defeat Proposition 8? Aren't you nervous your kids will break something when you let them skateboard in the house? Why won't you accept Jesus? Perhaps even sadder are the people who write things like, "I write you every day and you never say hi to me. Don't you like me? Did you block me from the site?" Of course, the real question is, why does Rosie post these? Well, we all know that Rosie is mercurial, but sometimes I wonder whether it's possible at all for a celebrity to try to make contact with us normal folk and not have it get all weird.

Here's another example. We can all agree that Paula Abdul's poor suicidal stalker went way, way over the line. But what about the recent Oprah show on which a Brad Pitt superfan wanted details on his tattoos ? "Christina" Skyped into Oprah's studio and demanded that a visibly uncomfortable Brad explain why he had an "ice man" on his arm, and when he declined to elaborate, threatened to ask about his more intimate inkings. Was she rude, unstable or just a little bit overenthusiastic talking to her favorite actor?

Anyway, Rosie seems to have had enough of these pesky fans and their horrible questions for now. On Dec. 8, she posted only a single question: "Do you have final say as to what goes on the MSNBC website every day?" Rosie's response: "that is by far the most absurd thing i have ever heard." That was about 150 hours ago, and she's not currently accepting any new questions.

Have you observed other recent episodes of nosy fan behavior? And what do you think it is that leads people to act like such weirdos when they get the chance to talk to a star?

Elizabeth Terry produces online chats and co-moderates Dirda's Reading Room, a discussion group on washingtonpost.com.

By Nancy Kerr  | December 15, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

A fascinating and (I hope unintentionally) ironic main post for the day that Alec Baldwin will be chatting on washingtonpost.com.

Posted by: northgs | December 15, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Really? You LIKE reading a blog by Rosie O'D (or is it Rosanne Barr - I mix them up)?

I'm shocked. I didn't realize anyone really liked anything about the Rosie/Rosanne gals. I wondered how they continued to make any money.

And, if you are famous and you put pictures of your children on your website, you deserve any comments you get.

Posted by: Amelia5 | December 15, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

The problem is there's no one line for every celebrity. Some are naughty and some are nice when it comes to their fans. No one publishes (yet?) a list of who to approach and who to avoid. How do you know whether the celebrity welcomes the "I loved you in [title]" or just vants to be left alone?

Ringo won't sign autographs and Will Ferrell heads lists for rude behavior to fans, yet both surely wanted to become famous way back when. And neither appears to be retiring from public life and giving their salaries to charity.

People want fame, yet don't have any education on how to handle it. I envision a month-long immerson course for anyone with a new movie coming out that has good pre-opening buzz. Make the new Daniel Radcliffes and Emma Watsons of the day endure classes from former superstars on how to transition to "the new normal" of fame.

Learn the ins and outs of media tours, practice how to handle personal questions, decide which action figures and fansites merit support, recognize the evils of Annie Lebowitz's great ideas, and get advice on what clothing to wear for maximum coverage when faced with a potentially rabid fan who literally wants a piece of you and won't take no for an answer.

If the movie is a hit, the celebrity is ready for the crush of attention that follows. If the movie tanks, after that month of classes they might be thankful that they got the paycheck and can move on with life without worrying about avoiding stalkers and choosing security teams.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 15, 2008 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Rosie, if you'll recall, that the question about the MSNBC was only the second-most absurd thing you've ever heard.

The most absurd thing was, "Rosie, I have to tell you that people have been *begging* us to bring back the variety show format in a big way and we think you're the woman to do it."

Posted by: byoolin1 | December 15, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Hey Nancy Kerr, welcome. Liz must be getting a well deserved day off.

I think the rude questions and comments are the risk you take when you post a blog. She doesn't have to respond. Liz knows all about this, remember Friday?

However, the face to face personal questions that the uberfan of Pitt posed were just a toe over the line of decorum but isn't that just what the public (and the producers)wants? Gold for ratings.

There are plenty of stars out there who are successful at living private lives. If you continually put yourself out there for us wolves, someone is gonna bite. Mind you I am not equating the tasteless, rude questioners with stalkers. That is an entirely different matter altogether.

Posted by: hodie | December 15, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

td, those classes used to be called "the studio system." And they ran every aspect of a celeb's life. Manufactured dates with women for the gay male stars, dates with men for the gay female stars, married them off if they found out they were pregnant or shuffled them off to wherever to have the kid on the sly, etc. etc.

I don't know if that was better or not.

When I see Britney Spears melting down I think I miss that system that would've shuffled her off for a "vacation at a spa."

But then if that happened, we wouldn't have this column now would we?

Posted by: wadejg | December 15, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Forgive me if I'm not so sympathetic...

Ordinary people have to endure strange people on public transportation in various states of sobriety, the neighbor from hell, rude waitstaff, the Department of Motor Vehicles, TSA, airline employees, etc... without assistants, agents or lackeys.

"Rabid" fan shoots herself outside your security gates? Well, there are folks who live next door to crack houses who hear gunfire all the time.

Hate mail? Would you prefer bill collection and eviction notices?

Nosy questions from total strangers? Would you rather have prying questions from busybody relatives?

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 15, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

A fascinating and (I hope unintentionally) ironic main post for the day that Alec Baldwin will be chatting on washingtonpost.com.

Posted by: northgs | December 15, 2008 11:32 AM

LOL!!!!!!!

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 15, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Liz, would it be possible to retain Muntader al-Zaidi to deliver periodic sole-ful critiques on various celebrities? I think he would be a shoe-in. Though the insults to dogs will have to go.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Good point about the studio system, wadejg. Though I'd hope we're beyond the point of wondering if we need to marry off Neil Patrick Harris to his agent's secretary a la Rock Hudson.

I just looked at the link above for the Brad Pitt/tattoo story. And I am thankful for one more reason to dislike Oprah intensely. Oprah's shows are TAPED. That Huffington Post story should've been titled "Brad Pitt v. Oprah.

She threw him under the bus and lapped up the ratings. At any time she could've stopped the questions and/or cut the whole segment from the final broadcast. Instead she gave the crazy fan airtime and belittled her "guest" by letting the discussion linger. Beware the Big O!

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 15, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

She doesn't have to respond. Liz knows all about this, remember Friday?
Posted by: hodie | December 15, 2008 12:15 PM

You know, I just got around to reading everything from Friday's main story (I was too busy winning the Season 4 DVD set on the Lost chat). My guess is that people were googling "Jennifer Aniston Naked" and didn't exactly get what they were looking for.

My opinion on today's post is short and sweet - and has pretty much been covered already:
If you put something (opinions, pictures, etc) out there in the public domain, don't get a sandy va-jay-jay when people question it or call you an idiot. Reap what you sow!

Posted by: eet7e | December 15, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The return of something like the studio system would not be bad. It would provide more protection from the stalkers than than encourage it (ala American Idol) for ratings. We would still have plenty of stuff for the blog. Look at the heyday of Celebrity Gossip -- during the studio system.

As for Rosie, don't put pics of your kids on the freaking internet then claim you need armed bodyguards (but nobody else can have guns) to protect them. There is such a thing as cause and effect.

Posted by: epjd | December 15, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's rude to ask a celebrity why they have a certain tattoo. Tattoos are a visible statement and usually have a very specific meaning to the person. Since the person went to all the effort and pain to have it permanently inked on their body, they shouldn't be surprised that people are curious to know what makes that symbol or image so important to the wearer.

Posted by: buffysummers | December 15, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, here I am tempted to post questions to the Alec Baldwin chat about his brothers, like: "Alec, loved your work in Bio-Dome. Have you been staying clean after Celebrity Rehab?"

If I'm lucky, he'll call me a thoughtless little pig. Squee.

Posted by: MStreet1 | December 15, 2008 2:22 PM | Report abuse

They still have that studio system for the tweener stars over at Disney. Doesn't stop their celebrities from getting knocked up or taking nekkid photos of themselves. Not sure how tight they keep the closet door locked on the gay ones.

Posted by: yellojkt | December 15, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's rude to ask a celebrity why they have a certain tattoo. Tattoos are a visible statement and usually have a very specific meaning to the person. Since the person went to all the effort and pain to have it permanently inked on their body, they shouldn't be surprised that people are curious to know what makes that symbol or image so important to the wearer.

Posted by: buffysummers | December 15, 2008 2:19 PM

I agree. If you don't wanna answer the questions that get asked about visible tattoos then just say that you'd rather not answer it, your reasons are personal etc. etc.

Or maybe next time you should put them in an "invitation only" area of your body.

Posted by: wadejg | December 15, 2008 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Look at the heyday of Celebrity Gossip -- during the studio system.


Posted by: epjd | December 15, 2008 2:08 PM

Nope. There is lots more celeb gossip now - TV and the Net.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 15, 2008 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if there was a much gossip about the Church political hierarchy during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. I guess that if someone snarked too much on the Medici or on Pontis Max, that Swiss Guards would come in the middle of the night.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Dante was as catty as all get-out.

Posted by: yellojkt | December 15, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Sas
I guess that if someone snarked too much on the Medici or on Pontis Max, that Swiss Guards would come in the middle of the night.

Maybe they gave the snarker the same sort of surgery that the Swiss Guards used to have to get.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | December 15, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Josephus never met a self-serving lie he didn't like.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 15, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Machiaevilli's "The Prince" was really just medieval celebrity snark. A whole book of it, not just quick blog posts. Bow down to the master of Snark.

Posted by: epjd | December 15, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Machiaevilli's "The Prince" was really just medieval celebrity snark. A whole book of it, not just quick blog posts. Bow down to the master of Snark.

Posted by: epjd | December 15, 2008 3:12 PM

*******************************************

But people had longer attention spans back then and were able to properly spend the time digesting all of the relevant...oooh...shiny...

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 15, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse

But people had longer attention spans back then and were able to properly spend the time digesting all of the relevant...oooh...shiny...

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 15, 2008 3:21 PM

----------------------------------------

Ooohhh! Spit-take on keyboard!!!

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

But people had longer attention spans back then and were able to properly spend the time digesting all of the relevant...oooh...shiny...

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 15, 2008 3:21 PM

And no pesky distractions ... oooh, a bunny.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 15, 2008 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Ooohhh! Spit-take on keyboard!!!

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 3:24 PM

******************************************

Sweet, it's been too long since I've caused a keyboard to be ruined.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 15, 2008 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Dante? Machiavelli? I'm glad I posted earlier with the less erudite people (no offense, fellow earlybirds).

"Alec, loved your work in Bio-Dome. Have you been staying clean after Celebrity Rehab?" -- great snark, MoCo!

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 15, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if there was a much gossip about the Church political hierarchy during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. I guess that if someone snarked too much on the Medici or on Pontis Max, that Swiss Guards would come in the middle of the night.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 2:53 PM
===========
During the Golden Age of Spanish painting, portrait artists would portray certain members of the Spanish royalty as looking clearly derranged, ugly or mentally off.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 15, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

td, we are making lawyer jokes over in the Morning Mix.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 15, 2008 5:11 PM | Report abuse

During the Golden Age of Spanish painting, portrait artists would portray certain members of the Spanish royalty as looking clearly derranged, ugly or mentally off.

Posted by: mdreader01 | December 15, 2008 5:07 PM
----------------------------------------
Snarky, were certain members of the royalty ever disparaged by being portrayed a lawyers?

My favorite fine art depiction of lawyers:

http://www.artchive.com/artchive/d/daumier/thumb/daumier_3lawyers.jpg

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 15, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, MStreet -- I confused my mdreader with my MStreet when gave my "MoCo" props. (Darn ID system. Makes me crazy.)

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | December 15, 2008 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Don't blame the fans--celebs often make it difficult to draw the line between what's public and what's private.

For example, Brad Pitt publishes photos of Angelina breast-feeding and talks constantly about how many kids he wants. Angelina openly discussed sex during pregnancy, the size of their bed and which kids sleep there. Yet Brad considers his tattoos too "personal" to discuss. Go figure!

Posted by: PJinBoston | December 16, 2008 9:56 AM | Report abuse

saw the brad on oprah thing- he seemed more surprised than offended- O def kept it going- she was acting like a super fan herself- O REALLY wanted to know what the tattoo meant...he wasn't rude- just firm in not answering- btw, i liked the W photo shoot- all the stars do pub for their projects & this was at least not the same old, same old

Posted by: 2sweets1 | December 16, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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