jul 29

Gossip Cop: Patrolling Celebrity

Let me ask you, what kind of person do you think Scarlett Johansson is?

You have probably never met her, and I definitely have not, yet we both seemingly feel like we could describe her personality with reasonable accuracy.

This is peculiar.

It's not shocking to learn that humans enjoy making personality judgments based upon scant evidence. But with celebrities it seems exceptionally dubious, since we actually know literally nothing about them first-hand. Lohan, Aniston, Springsteen, Cruise -- why do all these people seem to have well-formed personas? How much of it is real and how much is manufactured? What are the sources we use to scrape together these mysterious portraits?

There are a few known mythological origins. Maybe that profile in Rolling Stone had some lasting influence, and perhaps those eight minutes on Leno left an impression. But these sources, mediated and filtered and manicured, seem exceptionally unreliable. So what else is there?

Oh yeah, we have their work. Scarlett gave a lasting impression in Lost in Translation, so perhaps we know a little more about her because of how she gobbles sushi with Bill Murray. But wait -- she was acting. Can we really conclude anything about her personality from these flickering screen moments?

I've spent an inordinate amount of time considering this question: why do we think we know people who we'll never actually know?

Here's my best guess: we trust gossip.

Before mass media, gossip was merely personal information shared about a mutual acquaintance. In other words, pre-modern gossip was the original conversational marketing: valued information shared by reputable sources.

With the onset of broadcasting, publishing, and eventually the internet, the intimacy of gossip bred with the entertainment industry, birthing the hybrid offspring known was celebrity gossip. Of all the animals in the media zoo, celebrity gossip emerged as the most chimerical creature. Every day, hundreds of weird little stories pop up on sites with names like Hollywood Tuna and Egotastic and Celebrity Puke. Sometimes they make outrageous claims (Amy Winehouse just ate a drunk baby!), and other times the narratives are ostentatiously mundane (Tara Reid just ate a taco!). Through these morsels of checkout lane anti-matter, we form lasting opinions about celebrities.

That finally brings us to today's launch of GossipCop.com, a site that I did the strategy/design/development on. The premise is simple: investigate the accuracy of the daily anecdotes, the rampant rumors, and the cubicle grist known as celebrity gossip. Think of it as TMZ meets Smoking Gun. Or maybe Perez Hilton meets Columbia Journalism Review. Whatever -- the prevailing idea is that even seemingly unknowable information can be investigated in today's info-rich economy.

My three favorite features on the site:

+ Truth Meter. Every post investigates a piece of celebrity gossip and provides a rating, from 0 to 10, based upon the likelihood of the story.

+ Paparazzi Patrol. Rather than churn out more celebrity video, Gossip Cop looks at the underside of the celebrity gossip business. By turning the camera back on the paparazzi, the site reveals the gossip creators for what they are. (This feature was originally dubbed "Papsmeared," a name I really loved but which was ultimately dropped.)

+ Twit Happens. With its direct interaction and unfiltered access, Twitter could end up being the greatest invention in celebrity journalism since the camera. It is quickly becoming the ultimate device for determining how impressions are made, rumors are debunked, and celebrity battles are fought. This hand-picked list contains the best tweets of the day.

Truthfully, I'm not much of a celebrity news consumer. But I hope this site adds a new angle into the salacious, rumor-driven celebrity culture.

And maybe I can finally get to know Scarlett.


I am so happy that there is a site to post what is reported by these columnists and whether or not these reports are true

posted by Stephanie at 9:03 AM on July 29, 2009

THANK YOU.......

posted by GALLEXIE5555 at 9:22 AM on July 29, 2009

I was watching a TV show this morning and hear about your web site and was over joyed with knowing that there would be a site that for "once" would be reporting the truth. I am so tired of gossip magazines that will say anything just to get your money that i decided not to buy then any more. So, I just would like to say that it's good to see that someone feels the same way enough to get the real truth out. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. Naomi

posted by Naomi Santiago at 9:24 AM on July 29, 2009

Just a correction, Rex: the Mediaite link on the footer of the Gossip Cop website is broken (links to mediaite.htm instead of mediaite.com).

posted by Konstantinos at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2009

Hah, well, isn't that funny! Fixed....

posted by Rex at 10:25 AM on July 29, 2009

What's this about a bazzar? Rexie are you selling shea butter and incense at Union Square again?

I haven't met Scarlett Johansson, but I know exactly what type of person she is:
Her then BF (now BFF) Josh Hartnett brought her to his family's swanky Lake of the Isles home in Minneapolis some years back for the holidays. As a joke, to make her feel welcome, the family got a copy of People magazine with her on the cover for each person in the house. As the famous couple walked in, everyone had their noses buried in a gossip mag and glared skeptically at the couple.

Now, I don't know if this story is true or not, but the fact that she didn't make it through the weekend and soon after broke it off with our boy Josh, I can say that I've learned one thing for certain: Scarlett Johansson can't take a fucking joke.

posted by killer_weed at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2009

Oh, I'll bust that gossip!

I know for a fact that Scarlett made MANY trips to Minneapolis with her beau Josh. How? Because everyone texted her whereabouts whenever she came to town. (I was living there at the same time.)

Any MAYBE I chased to her to Bryant Lake Bowl one time. And MAYBE I hoped she'd look my way while she threw rocks down the lane. But MAYBE she didn't even notice I existed.

(Our friends know Josh, who did some good things for Minnie, but I never really talked to him.)

posted by Rex at 10:40 AM on July 29, 2009

papsmeared, ftw!

posted by kelly at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2009

OK, so you say its busted because I say she didn't make it through the weekend and then soon after broke it off.

Well, I never established a beginning of the relationship. Your assumption that I implied this trip was her first (to meet the family) is logically fallacious. To wit, the fact that GossipCop (and the rest of us) exists now isn't proof that the big bang didn't happen, but rather the opposite: evidence of myriad chains of events culminating in the visceral present.

I can only guess that Josh brought her to Minne (which is how its typed, ftr) on numerous occasions to do things other than hang out with his (if they are anything like mine) boring family. (I mean, really.)

I think maybe your obsession with Ms. Johansson has clouded your judgment, Sorgatz.

posted by killer_weed at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2009

So you think he brought her back to Minnie (I stand by this!) on previous occasions and DIDN'T introduce her to his family? That sounds far-fetched! "Hey honey, want to come back to my hometown and not meet my family?" Plus, I know they came back on CHRISTMAS.

It's not that your entire story may be false, it's that one part of it seems to be. Like, after the big bang, there was Intelligent Design.

(I can't believe I'm arguing about this.)

posted by Rex at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2009

I'm sure he introduced her to some family, but enough family to make an event out of reading embarrassing gossip mags in front of her? Doubtful.

This is the Midwest, man. Big families of Catholics and Lutherans who barely tolerate one another, who move just far enough away so as to not have to see each other except for the major holidays. The only opportunity for her to have met them, aside from the aunt and uncle who live on Lake of the Isles, would be that one time of year when they all drive in from Madison and Des Moines.

As an aside, the fact that you can't believe you are arguing this speaks volumes about my theory of clouded judgment. Just sayin'.

posted by killer_weed at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2009

Next up: a site about people who make sites about people who make sites about people (director's cut, with commentary).

posted by Eric at 6:14 PM on July 29, 2009

Let's get to the IMPORTANT stuff. Am I supposed to be seeing all those [caption] tags in Plaintext?

(I will probably never visit this site again after I'm done nagging about proofreading stuff, but I bet my wife could get into it!)

(Never mind, somebody fixed something before I could even make a smartass remark about it. I hate when that happens! I'm posting anyway!)

posted by CRZ at 7:13 PM on July 29, 2009

OK, another one I'm too lazy to answer on my own with research and stuff. What's the relationship between Mediaite and GC beyond an unfortunate sharing of DNS which caused my mail server to reject all the registration emails I requested from the site until I put in an exception? (Oh please oh please oh please let Dan Abrams tie into this somehow)

posted by CRZ at 7:50 PM on July 29, 2009

I'm an idiot. I just got my answer from TVNewser. I'm going home now. OK. Thanks for watching.

posted by CRZ at 7:56 PM on July 29, 2009

CRZ: Sorry I didn't get to your question last night... we out drinking the stress of a launch off me.

posted by Rex at 11:15 AM on July 30, 2009

Whenever you're reading a media story on the Internet, make sure that you are always aware of the source of the story. Look not only at the headline of the story but also at the name of the website itself. Is it a reputable news provider that you trust? If you read the story in a blog, is the blogger using unattributed quotes, or does he name the people he refers to so that the facts can be substantiated? Do the news stories you're reading have reliable bylines from well-known reporters?

With the Internet making it easier for websites to blur the line between news and celeb gossipor entertainment, consumers have more personal responsibility than ever to make sure they know and understand the source of their news and entertainment.

posted by pinoyblogger at 3:53 AM on August 10, 2009

NOTE: The commenting window has expired for this post.