For that last phenomenon is humanity at its most fatuous -- shallower than the L.A. River, as pliant as a Gumby. Are we so utterly lacking in agency and self-image that we turn to Rihanna or whomever to define our tastes? Yes. Emphatically yes. Our shallowness runs very deep.
The consequence is an industry within an industry. Around the globe, hundreds or thousands of wretches make their livings trying to get merchandise in the hands of celebrities so that another species of parasite -- the paparazzi -- might catch, say, Brad Pitt in a pair of D&G sunglasses. In fact, if Pitt showed up at the Golden Globes with Cheez Doodles in his nostrils, the next day #orangenose would be trending and Arca Continental shares would be up 4 5/8 points in active trading.
That's why the official swag bags distributed at the Oscars are stuffed with $20,000 worth of freebies, and unofficial ones twice that.
“It's just a direct opportunity than traditional advertising to reach the talent, and then reach the consumer, through the PR generated around the gift bags," Samantha Milo Haft, owner of On 3 Productions, told ABC News. “One photo of a celebrity wearing your product can ignite.”
Unfortunately, for the baggers of the world, there are thousands upon thousands of competing fashion items and only a few awards shows a year. So they have to be constantly vigilant for an ad hoc marketing opportunity -- a paparazzi-populated celebrity gathering where a brand can really stand out.
This has been a cold and miserable winter, offering very little in the way of TMZerendipity. But then the luckiest thing happened: Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose! In New York! On the eve of Fashion Week.
When good people die young, we mere mortals are hard pressed to divine Divine Purpose. Not in this case. God's plan was evident the moment the Hollywood elite began converging on the funeral chapel on the Upper East Side. For when Amy Adams pulled up to the chapel in her Town Car, the world could get a glimpse of how she was accessorizing.
And in case the world was paying insufficient attention, due to the tragic death, an alert Valentino publicist email blasted fashion journalists with the news that Adams was toting a Valentino Garavani Rockstud Double bag from the Spring/Summer 2014 collection. Bingo! For one extremely fortunate designer, cremation elation.
That email struck some commentators as the cynical exploitation of a man's death to pimp an overpriced tote bag. And they're not wrong. But everything is relative, and in the race to the moral bottom that defines the fashion industry, there is a difference between mere opportunism and malice aforethought. What if a brand sent free product to celebrities in advance of the funeral to boost the odds of a paparazzi bonanza?
Perhaps you think nobody could behave so reprehensibly. If so, you will need to think again.
Here sudden death, celebrity and the polar vortex converged for a perfect storm of perversity: the merchandising ghouls at UGGS Australia shipping out sheepskin boots to boldfaced names for maximum visibility during Funeral Week. (The company protested to the New York Post that it didn't explicitly solicit photo-ops, but put it this way: it's slushy where you live, too. Did they send you a pair?)
Yes, the human frailty of celebrity obsession is pathetic, and the surrounding ecosystem of parasites contemptible. But better a parasite than a scavenger. An orchestrated funeral-op is beyond sad. It's a sheepskin-booted kick in the stomach.