I will preface this article by admitting some kind of objectivity on this topic; while I know my celebrity gossip and consume the entertainment news the same as everyone else, I am not part of the Twitter-generation. For me, if I have people I idolise, I place them on a pedestal and want them to remain there; I’m not interested in hearing about their exercise regimes and their toilet habits, because this humanises them and the moment someone is humanised, I find I can’t idolise them anymore. For example, when the paparazzi’s topless photos of Kate Middleton surfaced, I refused point blank (and still refuse) to see them. The impenetrable façade of inaccessibility of the Royal Family is something I do not want to be shattered by candid photos of private moments that we were never intended to see; I’m not even slightly curious. I pick up Heat magazine, skip to ‘Torso Of The Week’ and then put it down again. I’m not your typical gay man in this regard.
The difference from this and the rise in the Cult of Celebrity is the rise in the consumption of celebrities for the sake of celebrities’ sake; interest is sparked just because someone is a celebrity, not because of the cause of their fame in the first place. Magazines like Heat, Closer and Now, blogs like Perez Hilton and TV shows like the whole of the E! Network have cemented the idea of celebrity as a legitimate form of entertainment by itself. Most of the western world will have heard about Amanda Bynes’ recent unusual behaviour, but how many of us could actually name one thing she did before she went crazy? Not very many I would guess. And while we all shake our heads and pity the poor young girl who’s clearly going through some kind of meltdown, we all revel somewhat in all its media coverage and can’t wait to hear what she’ll do next. And gay men are probably the worst culprits of this.
Readily available information on the internet, constantly there at the touch of the screen of your smartphone, means that the source of word-of-mouth gossip about celebrities can be quickly verified, regardless of whether it is true or not in actuality. While Facebook has given us the ability to be constantly updated about our friends’ and acquaintances’ activity, this is reliant on the people in question releasing that information themselves in the first place. Celebrity gossip comes from sources all over the internet and so information is released quickly, updated regularly and we can always be abreast of reports trickling out. Take for example when Whitney died. I was out in a bar at the time the news broke. I spotted a reference to it on Facebook, checked an online news source, shared the information myself and then told my friends who I was physically with at the time; my part in the spread of gossip all happened within the space of a minute. The old adage of the spread of gossip as a question of morality appears to have changed within the space of a generation; pieces of gossip are now treated solely as pieces of information. Technology has created systems in which people, celebrities and the media propagate gossip about themselves and others and we have all become the managers of our own online image and lives.
Gay men typically have less familial responsibility than their straight counterparts. The undisputed power of the Pink Pound is widely appreciated, as gay men have more money to spend on themselves and more time to do it. With this extra time comes extra media consumption, and when you have a sect of people who are often more interested in entertainment than others (more on this shortly), of course the likelihood to consume celebrity gossip increases. And while they may not give a damn what Amy Childs is famous for, they may well know the ins and outs of her love-life. The unrestricted access that the media now allows us sates that curiosity created by opportunity. It’s at the stage now where we can almost be outraged by the idea of information not leaking!
In their formative and teenage years, gay men often feel a disconnect from their families due to the burden of their sexuality weighing heavily on their shoulders. Heterenormative society often presents no outlet for early expression of this, so frequently this exhibits itself early in the association with larger-than-life creativity and colourful exuberance in others. This is where gay men’s love of the kitsch and camp often comes from; a lingering but immature attachment to inoffensive bubblegum entertainment. Tastes obviously mature as anyone gets older, but the nostalgia exhibited in gay men toward these external influences in their teenage years is tantamount to the nostalgia shown toward more family-orientated activities and memories by straight people, because for gay men, these icons and outlets of expression can almost feel like family members due to the inherent disconnect with their own families.
I’m not arguing that all gay men have this same need to transfer their attention from family onto celebrity, nor am I saying that this doesn’t happen to straight people either, but I would say that it seems likely to be the cause in many cases. In some, it may simply be the lure of glamour, the iconoclasm of success and simple jealousy of their fame that can lead gay men to be so obsessed with celebrities, their achievements and their missteps, but the a-typical gay man’s love for gossip and real idolisation of icons and Z-list celebrities alike must come from somewhere. I’m no psychologist of course, but I would wager it all comes from that age-old “we didn’t get enough love in our childhoods” – or teenage years at least. Cue fifteen-year-old Ben flouncing out of his living room, slamming the door and deciding that at least Nicole Kidman would understand him – she’d be surrounded by creative-types and flamboyant gays – she would definitely understand. And to an extent, I guess I still subconsciously believe that.