How Gossip Mags Mess With Your Perception

Full disclosure: I am a recovering gossip mag addict, which is why I know so much about the content of the tabloids. I’ve been trying to cut back, but it’s hard when you consider that just a few impulse purchases a year when my guard is down ““ say, at the airport ““ cost more than a whole year’s subscription. ANYWAY. I’ve been tallying up the crazy ways that these lovely magazines manipulate their readers.

They disguise their most-invasive and unnecessary components as something lighthearted and fun. I’m referring specifically to Us Weekly’s “Stars! They’re Just Like Us!” and Star Magazine’s “Normal or Not?” features, though I’m sure other gossip mags have something similar. This is where they pair a picture of someone famous doing a mundane everyday thing that every human being is entitled to do with a caption like “THEY BUY IN BULK!” or “THEY TIE THEIR SHOES!”

While these features are supposedly a fun way to show famous people doing “normal” things, the truth is that these sections exist because these are the only photos and content they can get of non-complicit celebrities. These sections exist because the gossip magazines can only get pictures of Seth Rogen, Sandra Bullock, or anyone else who doesn’t play

Car swarmed by papparazzi
Stars: Just like us!

the game through a telephoto lens in a public place. Such as a public park or supermarket parking lot.

They decide who is noteworthy. And they don’t decide with simple calculations who is the most famous, interesting, or well-loved by the public. Their only option, after all, is to deal with cooperative stars. This narrows their pool considerably. Have you ever wondered why Us Weekly runs consecutive cover stories on MTV’s Teen Mom girls, or the Bachelor, or a Palin, instead of a big celebrity? Because they sit down for interviews. Their publicists answer phone calls. They want to be on the cover.

Now, I want to tread carefully here, because by no means am I saying that all (or even most) famous people like or encourage the stalker-ish coverage of gossip magazines. But think about it: How is it a sustainable business plan for the gossip mags to go scratch and claw and hound or harass a small group of unwilling participants when there are just as many who are easy to work with? There are a large number of people that have a symbiotic relationship with the gossip press, and it shows.

Have you ever noticed, for example, the disparity in coverage that different celebrities get for their engagements? Some get a little blurb on a blog or in a magazine, but others get details about the proposal, ring-flashing photos and the oft-repeated phrase that the groom-to-be “worked with [insert jewelry designer].” That’s a sure, if subtler, sign that the celebrity in question fed the information to the press.

Here’s another good, simple test: is a cover story accompanied with a new photo shoot? If you’re looking at a red carpet or paparazzi photo of the particular celeb (more on that later), it’s a sure thing that neither they nor their handlers had anything to do with the story.

Us Weekly Cover with Sandra Bullock
Get it? She's MAD

They are unscrupulous with their sourcing. Although the issue of anonymous sources is complicated, and I’m no journalism expert, it’s rather conspicuous how many “friends,” “insiders,” “sources” and “someone in _____’s camp” exist in any story that’s more than a paragraph long. Anonymous sources and paid tipsters are by and large a no-no for legitimate news sources. But the gossip magazines seem to take any statements they can get from hotel employees, wait staff, or general hangers-on and build a story around it. While those people may well be telling the truth, it’s a flimsy way to get information. What would your life look like if told in bits and pieces from people who don’t really know you?

They use picture tricks. Admittedly, gossip mags aren’t the only publications that do this; legitimate news sources are also guilty of pairing an unflattering picture of, say a politician, with an unsavory story about them. But gossip magazines are the worst. They’ll use pictures of starts between takes on set to show them “getting cozy.” They’ll create a composite picture of two celebs taken years apart. They’ll use public event photos to depict whatever emotion their cover story claims the star is feeling.

Think about a red carpet event, especially for a huge star. For the entire time they’re out there, dozens of cameras are snapping every second. What are the odds that they’ll have a moment where they’re looking tired, uncomfortable, maybe even glaring a little bit? Or, if their jaw is set and they look defiant, it’s the perfect picture for the “_______’s REVENGE!” story after a breakup!

All I can say is, I’m glad I’m not famous. And I really am going to cancel my Us Weekly subscription…

Image: Getty

3 thoughts on “How Gossip Mags Mess With Your Perception”

  1. Ha, ha, after my rant on your latest article about tabloids, I read this and I think you might agree with me!!! So did you cancel the subscription yet?

    p.s. You know OK Magazine sent me a free subscription for a year. At first when I started getting them, I thought they were trying to trick me or had gotten some credit card information w/o my knowing, then I realized it was a “complimentary” subscription. I guess they were trying to suck me in, but I throw it right in the trash, where I think it belongs.

  2. Thank you for this. I only buy these mags when I’m traveling, and while I do enjoy them, my brain gets spinning and then I start to feel dirty. I don’t like the idea of celebs who court these mags and then have the privilege of being more famous than they should be (Karadshians, Nichole Ritchie, etc) and then are forced to feel like they’ve sold their souls when things cross the line. The whole business is pretty ugly, but it’s so hard to look away.

  3. I really wish I could quit trash magazines, or lady mags in general. They are so good for the gym, damn it!! It is hard to read a book while plodding away on a treadmill, but looking at pictures of pretty people in pretty clothes? Way too easy. I’m trying, I promise…

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