Allow me to preface this by saying that, in general, I’m not a big consumer of celebrity news/gossip. I find that most of the time, frankly, I just can’t muster up the energy to care about who’s divorcing whom or which boy band member is dating which overaged actress. This sort of gossip strikes me as harmless but boring, but it must be doing something for somebody because we as a society seemingly can’t get enough of it.
So, I’m standing in the checkout line at the grocery store today after work and it’s taking foooooooooorever — the guy at the head of the line is trying to pay with a check from the Bank of Yemen or something — so I idly glance at the magazine rack. That’s when I find out that a huge bombshell has apparently hit the world of Hollywood gossipmongering:
- Ben Cheated on J. Lo! Can She Forgive Him? (Star Magazine)
- “Ben Cheated With Me” — Affleck’s Lover Tells All (National Enquirer)
Now, I would I have thought that the massive stink-bomb that is Gigli would have finally killed people’s appetite for news of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. But the tawdry details of this story are on so many magazine covers that it would seem obvious that I’m very wrong.
And then I thought about it some more, and I came to another conclusion: whoever Affleck & Lopez’s publicist is, they are freaking brilliant!
I mean, think about it. Your clients are starring together in the most ridiculed and least profitable movie of the year. Every story that could be squeezed out of their lovey-dovey relationship has already been written. Where do you go from there? How do you keep them square in the public eye? Well, a good fight certainly might do the trick! Especially one that’s larded down with illicit sex, and that offers both men and women a chance to vicariously identify with your clients in ways they find titillating (men get to fantasize that they’re Affleck screwing anything that moves, and women get to sympathize with wronged-woman Lopez). The story that is trumpeted in the tabloid headlines certainly fits the bill on all these points — it gives the gossips a whole new angle on the relationship to write and chatter about, which means your clients’ heroic conquest of the tabloid-media world can have a new lease on life.
The first rule of manipulating the media is that journalists must always have a story — and by “story” I mean a narrative, some tale that turns their piece from a simple collection of facts into a living, breathing thing. Left to their own devices, they’ll come up with that narrative on their own; but journalists are as lazy as the next person, so if you provide them with a narrative, odds are they’ll just run with it rather than go to the trouble of digging to see how well it actually fits the facts. (This is as true of political or business journalism as it is of tabloid celebrity gossip, by the way.) The “cheating” story shows that the couple’s publicist knows this well; note how it transforms their story, throwing out a stale, tired narrative line (“beautiful couple bucks Hollywood odds to try and find happiness”) and seamlessly introducing a new one (“cheating fiancee’s humiliation places glamorous relationship in jeopardy”). It even has a cliffhanger aspect — will she dump him or won’t she?
And, from your perspective, the best part is that this new twist on the story is that it provides opportunities for even more reinvention, regardless of how it turns out. If she forgives him, you can pitch “how-we-overcame-our-difficulties-and-stayed-together” inspirational stories; if she dumps him, you can pitch “why-men-can’t-be-trusted” bitter lonelyhearts stories. There’s upside either way! (Unless they split up and you’re stuck with Ol’ One-Expression Affleck as your client rather than Lopez… but even then there’s plenty of gold to be mined from the Maxims of the world.)
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the stories are true and not a concoction designed to reinvigorate the couple’s PR offensive; but since I didn’t read any further than the headlines, I’m probably not the best person to ask whether or not that’s the case. I like to think, though, that it isn’t. Not because I think Affleck is above cheating or Lopez is above pitching a public hissy fit, but because I like to think that somewhere in Hollywood there’s a publicist who’s sharp enough to save their clients even from a disaster the size of Gigli. You just can’t help but admire someone who’s that good at what they do.
UPDATE: Looks like Affleck is now distancing himself from Gigli, as well as from the whole concept of the Ben-and-Jen movie. Maybe the storyline is tilting in the direction of a tearful breakup. I wonder how long they can milk this stuff before they have to reinvent the story once again?