Here is the most important thing you need to know about Star: It is not a magazine; it is a picture book that chronicles celebrity distress. How else did Sean Penn's "man boobs" or Missy Elliott's fashion horrors pop up? I'm no celebrity watcher, but I do appreciate the occasional dollop of glamour. True, Britney Spears isn't Bette Davis and Vince Vaughn is no Cary Grant, but surely someone qualifies for the red-carpet treatment. Yet Star shines in a lesser galaxy, where celebrity is just a hunka hunka of burning loss presented in bite-sized bits.
Enter Bonnie Fuller. One cannot talk about Star without talking about Fuller. She made her bones at Cosmo, Glamour and Us, turning a profit at each magazine. In 2004, she debuted a revamped Star, snaring a jaw-dropping annual salary of $1.5 million in the process. During her brief tenure, Star went from a trashy newspaper tabloid no one took seriously to a trashy glossy tabloid that saw a 39 percent rise in ad revenue from January 2005 to January 2006. Plus, in the two years Fuller has navigated Star's hyperbolic bloodlust, her sucker-punch style has inspired a host of imitators: In Touch, Celebrity Life and Life & Style. How does she do it?
Simple. She's the anti-Christ of publicity. In her world, bad is good.
In the spread "You're Dead to Me!" Denise Richards (Charlie Sheen's estranged Mrs.) has a "shocking" affair with Heather Locklear's husband, Richie Sambora. It happened weeks after Locklear filed for divorce. Who would question its sources, known as "a source"? My favorite part of the article: a photo of Sheen surrounded by six little girls to promote Sheen Kidz, his line of children's clothes, the day after his wife accused him of frequenting underage porn sites. The opposite page carries excerpts of her restraining order, admittedly a nice touch.
TomKitten gets extensive coverage, too, mostly on the question of paternity. Is it REALLY Tom's Baby? The caps seem hyperbolic even by Star standards. Trust me, suggesting a DNA test is far more palatable than the notion that Suri is the product of L. Ron Hubbard's frozen sperm.
Finally, Gwyneth Paltrow's husband, Chris Martin, is reportedly lonely since she's had baby No. 2, presented as "Chris Is Lonely!" There should be a law against punctuation abuse. There are enough exclamation marks in every issue to send William Safire over the edge.
Sure, I mock, but what's the harm? Plenty.
Fuller traffics in that deadliest of arts: miscommunication. She's the Karl Rove of celebrity journalism, and I use the word "journalism" advisedly. Do fans want to see their stars overweight or discarded? Two years ago, Fuller told "60 Minutes": "I think it actually makes celebrities much more beloved to their followers, to their fans." Note to Bonnie: Put down the crack pipe.
Yes, celebs have problems, like weight gain. They also have top surgeons to slice and dice it off. And while Hollywood hotshots may hold the Guinness world record for the shortest marriages ever, they usually console themselves in palatial mansions with million-dollar salaries and cute cabana boys. Pity the poor readers: they haven't found parity; they've been snookered into forking over $3.49 an issue, or $52 a year, to learn nothing. So Brad and Angelina are going to name their child "Africa." It's kooky, but since she'll probably play with Apple and Moses and Suri ("pickpocket" in Japanese), she'll fit right in.
My major beef is what Fuller told the San Francisco Chronicle last month: "We're like Time or Newsweek, celebrity cooperation doesn't matter. We're there to report the news." Of course, like Bill Clinton's infamous "is," it demands on your definition of "news." Scooping Vince Vaughn's party-hearty ways isn't a Pulitzer category. Neither is recycling press releases: TomKitten had a baby! That's hardly a news flash. Even the cast of "March of the Penguins" knew it. If there is any "guilty pleasure," it's in the editor's lair. By ignoring those pesky rules real journalists are shackled by--corroborating stories, finding legit sources--Star deludes readers into thinking that rumor is reality. More to the point, by focusing on celebrity despair, Fuller seems to say, you forget your own.
At best, Star may be ideally suited as an ESL tool: no big words, no hard concepts. Hot! is self-explanatory. Arrows pointing to Sean Penn's "man boobs" or Bo Derek's Botox injections don't require translation. For newly arrived immigrants, Star may be a quick, painless introduction to English. After all, what's more American than watching the mighty fall?