You could write thousands of words about how Star magazine both reflects and contributes to the inexorable decline of civilization, but I will skip all that in the hope of being a savvier media consumer than my dad, who once expressed indignation on finding "Boogie Nights" "a rather lewd movie" (Mom: "We thought it was about disco dancing"). Celebrity mags are what they are -- trash -- and if you don't like it, you're free to go read Tolstoy or Rick Warren, or maybe just take a nap.

But even in the lowly world of celebrity rags, there are good titles and bad titles, with the sole criterion being interest. Basically, if I pick up a celebrity weekly, I don't want just any gossip, I want low-down dirty gossip, with extra points awarded for adjectives like "lurid" and "titillating."

Concisely, a good celebrity title makes its money by zeroing in on the wretched personalities, dysfunctional families, sexual perversions, and surgical misadventures of its subjects. If the person in question is a love or pity figure -- say, Taylor Swift or Jennifer Anniston -- it can slyly appeal to your worst impulses by recounting his or her failings with every appearance of sympathy, maybe even while celebrating positive qualities. If the person is a hate or envy figure -- say, Jon Gosselin or Paris Hilton -- it can just open the floodgates and let you bask in the torrent of righteous judgment.

Either way, the trash is trashy. And of course, editorial content makes up less than half the appeal of a good celebrity title: the rest is in the photos, which ideally capture moments of unfeigned emotion, amusing or alarming actions - or, best of all, something we're not supposed to see (personal quarrels, sexual escapades and violent lashing-out at paparazzi are all golden).  If it's a slow week, hot people showing skin never fails.

By contrast, you know you've picked up a dud when you can flip through the entire issue without even once experiencing that rubber-necking impulse, the compulsion to read a poisonous 75-word blurb or linger over a photo documenting, say, the late stages of drug addiction.

Such was the Nov. 30th issue of Star magazine. If I had to summarize it with one word, it would be "milquetoast." The opening spread of "star shots" is a good example: the first page is devoted to two photos of Britney Spears, her fiance Jason Trawick, and her sons (ages 3 and 4) in Sydney, Australia.

One full-page photo is a casually posed shot of the couple standing in front of a nondescript tree, apparently in Sydney's Royal Botanical Gardens, smiling for the camera.  And that's it: they're just... standing and smiling. A photo a mother might like. The inset photo, an unposed candid shot of the group touring Sydney Harbor, isn't much more interesting: the kids are cute enough, but no one is doing anything, and the family could be anywhere. To sum up: meh.  And that goes for the rest of the magazine, too.

One of the most annoying things about mediocre celebrity magazines is the over-promise -- the headline or cover tease describing some specific, alluring item of gossip that the pages within blatantly fail to deliver. Once again, Star is guilty of this sin. The cover story about Katie Holmes is titled "Katie's $15 million Tell-All," with a sub-headline "Behind Closed Doors with Tom!" and bullet points like "Tom's obsession with his body," "His bizarre daily rituals," and "Her Fears for Suri."  Flip to page 42 and you find a photo of the couple taking a walk in some park surrounded by fallen leaves. Katy wears an enigmatic expression -- are the leaves an autumnal hint that this marriage is heading for icy debacle? "Katie Tells All!" screams the headline, with the blurb below promising some choice gossip: "With their marriage contract still in limbo, Katie Holmes wants to talk. Newly confident Mrs. Tom Cruise is ready to spill all about their life behind closed doors -- and spare none of the embarrassing family secrets."

But sadly it's all a lie, as Katie doesn't actually tell anything -- at least not to Star. Instead, the article is a rather flimsy tissue of speculation that Holmes might threaten to write a tell-all book as a way of gaining leverage as the couple prepares to renew their marriage contract, which expired on Nov. 18th, their third-year anniversary.

Such a book, were she to write it, might be worth up to $15 million, according to someone. Nary a word from Holmes herself in the entire article, which is instead based on information from (in order) "insiders," "a set insider," "insiders," "publishing sources," "a source," "one insider," "the source," "another source," "the first source," and "a source." It's not Holmes who talks about Cruise's bizarre habits; rather,  these sources dish about the "secrets" Holmes might spill if she doesn't get more money from Cruise, like his habit of parading around the house in uniform, his junk food binges, his scary Scientology van, and his incredible vanity (OMG, no way!)

Of course the anonymous source is a standard, uh, source for celebrity gossip reporting -- woe to the set insider who is caught talking trash about Tom -- and I don't doubt all the quotes are from real people who may actually know something about what's going on with Cruise and Holmes. But, c'mon: that headline reads "Katie Tells All!" and even by the loose standards of gossip journalism that is misleading, considering she isn't quoted once in the story, and in fact hasn't actually told anything to anyone. 

A cynic might ask "Who cares?" -- figuring the people who read Star won't call the magazine out (or stop buying it) for a misleading headline, but I'm not so sure.  For what it's worth, if I were a teenage girl who had just shelled out $3.99 for the magazine, I would probably be pissed.



Published by:  American Media, Inc.

Frequency: Appears to be weekly

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