Paid. Owned. Urned.

Some things that make me sad: War. Religious fundamentalism. Disease. Famine. And most of all: the direct link between the item Jennifer Lawrence happens to be wearing and subsequent demand for that item.

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 ofFashion 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.

12 comments about "Paid. Owned. Urned.".
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  1. Karen Ticktin from brandthis, February 10, 2014 at 8:50 a.m.

    A new low.

  2. Michael Natale from MCM Media Sales, February 10, 2014 at 11:07 a.m.

    great article...sick society

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, February 10, 2014 at 11:13 a.m.

    PR is so low. Advertising would never stoop to this (sarcasm at work...hard to write it so that shows).

  4. Ric Dragon from DragonSearch, February 10, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

    There's a good 1/2 dozen great lines in this post. Bob; your writing is getting better & better. Kudos. BTW - whatcha wearing?

  5. Jonathan Hall from American Pop, February 10, 2014 at 11:30 a.m.

    As usual, spot on commentary. The fact that it was singled out as bad taste is heartening, though it had to come from outside the industry (PR or Fashion). Hopefully, big picture of this tragic event is that addiction will be treated as a health issue and not a law and order issue.

  6. Gary Burandt from ICOM, February 10, 2014 at 12:33 p.m.

    "Our shallowness runs very deep."
    Great line, Bob - and too true.

  7. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, February 10, 2014 at 2:34 p.m.

    While it's appalling and truly turns my stomach, it's not new and no one should be surprised. Politicians exploit tragedy for political gain all the time; and worse, it often gives them just the advantage they're aiming for. Comedians do it for laughs & money, and audiences look around with a hand over their mouth to be sure nobody can see them chuckling. I've seen T-shirts advertised on the internet within hours after tragedies, saying "I survived the such-and-such". Does no one remember all the companies which took a (mostly deserved) beating for tacky uses of the 9/11 tragedy in their advertising? Sorry to be such a cynic, but this is 21st century America. Shallow is the new ambitious.

  8. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, February 11, 2014 at 11:10 a.m.

    If I told a few women that if you put something on their feet that would ruin their feet and posture, would it matter, I think not...and it has not...

  9. Steve Stepanek from US+Partners LLC, February 13, 2014 at 1:53 p.m.

    Spot as usual.

  10. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, February 16, 2014 at 11:50 a.m.

    great article, brilliant title. Always enjoy your rants. and @Christina Ricucci - 'shallow is the new ambitious'. I think there is a T-shirt in that :).

  11. Warren Whitlock from, February 16, 2014 at 12:05 p.m.

    #orangenose is already a meme

  12. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, February 19, 2014 at 6:05 a.m.

    Have just received word that at this years Oscars a big name star will be wearing tennis shoes under her expense gown, don't tell anyone...

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