When print newspapers finally die off, today will be among those remembered as reason why. Hundreds of thousands of NY Times readers opened the magazine to find stories about Megan Fox and the Octomom perfectly suited to Us magazine and even Star, and while they were painted as portraits examining the shrewdness of each woman's personal fight for fame, these pieces were nonetheless complete PR plays for products being sold by these notorious women.
Megan Fox is, to recount, the star of celebrity magazines and Transformers (the DVD for the sequel is timed for this story), and on a hot career track where people like to talk about how completely crazy she is -- in other words, that's the category developed to break her apart from queens Lindsay Lohan (drugged-out lesbian), Jennifer Aniston (lonely girl) and her idol, Angelina Jolie (Oscar-winner, Mother Teresa, rights-fighter). And for the Times to donate seven meaty pages to someone Maxim gives parties for, during an era when serious artists are being relegated to back pages of regional weeklies, marks a shameful day for expensive journalism.
So, is Fox nuts? Only because that's the role she was given. At this stage in the landscape of shrinking media, it's more obvious (and tiring) to the naked eye that a performer must devise a banner-sized public role to rise above the noise. Witness Colin Farrell. When he first arrived on our shores he was, according to early profiles, quite a nice chap -- a well-spoken Irishman with a wide acting talent and swarthy, leading guy looks. Didn't matter to the casting people -- he was another import. So he started talking about his cock in Vanity Fair, variously picking up women and talking about his cock with reporters in tow, getting drunk at Hollywood parties, and feigning Casablanca-style shock at a sex tape leaked on the Internet. Now he was a terrible naughty boy, chatted-about and in the public eye, muttering one rude remembrance after another.
Since then, Farrell has made a lot of money for a lot of people.
Megan Fox is in it to win it. She fits whatever bill gets handed her, and in the oddly edited magazine piece she was given plenty of space to try out whatever thought-bubble her people could jot down. Fox openly opines about the lies she told newsstand magazines, about her calling Transformers director Hitler (because she's "a girl" no one protected her!) and, naturally, about the long-lasting relationship she's kept up with a cast member of the first 90210. (For laughs, Hirschberg explains the boyfriend "is still acting," which you know made that guy's day.)
It's boring to say but -- she's the angel, the whore, the good girlfriend, the contemplative thespian, and for good measure, the person Hirschberg decides "is not warm or friendly [that day] or particularly interested in small talk." Small talk in Hollywood? Only smart parts.
There has to be a lot of cackling in gossip circles about this major media play. Page Six staff must be back-slapping each other reading how Fox "studied" the media and came up with her own characters that she could "play." In a tribute to an earlier, quainter day, this particularly onerous article feels it fascinating that she said stuff to magazines and blogs just to get in print. Well, golly!
That is specifically the line PR people dealt the Times to get them to buy a rational reason to devote real estate to a future Trivial Pursuit Question who costarred with Lohan in Confessions of a Drama Queen; enjoyed a few stand-and-strut roles with boys and toys; and had three lines per episode alongside Kelly Ripa in an unsyndicated sitcom.
Fox Fame hasn't worked its magic, though. No matter how much PR she's done, Megan Fox is the Snakes on a Plane of the 2000-and-lates: people want to read about her, view photo shoots on Vimeo.com, and virally toss her quips to Twitter friends, but they stay home when money needs to be handed out! The only movie that had Fox alone above the title (Jennifer's Body) recently failed in a way that usually puts big stars out to temporary pasture. Fox blames it on the R-rating and (clever line, PR team), claiming males -- her gravitational audience -- bought tickets to a PG flick and snuck in, in droves.
But according to Fox/Hirschberg, there were no PR people! Turns out, all these lines were manufactured by the lass at Hirschberg's feet! Loads of celebrities shrug how they got in the public eye without any help from people who construct messages for a living -- Trump, Susan Sarandon and the boys from Google, to name some liars -- but that's insulting to professionals. Anyone who reads the entire Fox article will see how each utterance was constructed by people whose role is to clue the actress in about what part she should play with the collusive media.
To hear Fox talk about how she studied (that word again) Marilyn Monroe in order to comprehend the character that MM devised for herself is both nauseating and confusing. The constantly working Monroe did not spend every waking hour talking to reporters. And like most earners, Marilyn had a slew of people feeding her photo ops and situations for every arranged moment and marriage; in the end, as Elton John said, she had no idea who she was supposed to be.
I'm not going to take shots at Fox's abilities, but let's list them: She is an actress who stands next to A-level male stars and begs to be rescued from toy robots run amok. She is pretty and young in a Jennifer Grey-after-the-nose-job way. She refused to sing, dance, or tell any personal stories while hosting SNL. She admits her acting weaknesses to a reporter. She sighs about fainting on the set of her newest movie. And why are these rambling, random thoughts from a hottie-of-the moment right for the paper of record?
Being quotable to the press (Hirschberg tosses off the "tabloid narrative" as folly for lesser peers) is a skill Fox has perfected. And being naked in magazines can't be easy -- she says. How in the era of YouTube video fame can anyone not get that if you memorize lines well, you never have to be spontaneous? Even the Times writer admits the ploy is not working: "It's not a conversation, it's a presentation," she says of Fox's gabbing.
Today is a standstill moment for Times reporters who have to be doing the math, wondering will it work: Do we sell more copies because voluptuousness is on the cover of our weekly magazine? But it has to be bad when editors see the misnomer "self-manufacture" bobbing up in the article -- it's in the title too -- and subsequently being proven wrong time and again, as Fox glibly notes who provided the timing for her to say certain bon mots at points in her tiny career.
[The Octomom story about the Jon & Kate-ripoff has to have been killed by a supermarket magazine as old news: It's just a process piece about why she indentured her kids, though it is a little more consistent than the Fox news. Why the NYT think any of their readers would care about a woman who destroyed her womb and soul to get a TV show is a whole other post. But Nadya Suleman, however, was game enough to tell her interviewer who her Svengalis in her life are. Kind of refreshing, if a little gross.]
The final interview from Hirschberg says why a plethora of Times readers will see thousands of words of bullshit by Megan Fox as the last subscriber straw. There in the closing paragraph the writer says it: "In a few short weeks, she had gone to happily outrageous to virginal and controlled."
That's right. In this dark year, when real knowledge is more important than hastily thought-out contrivances, you read an article and ask yourself: who is controlling whom?
Follow Richard Laermer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/laermer