Sunday, February 11, 2007

15 Minutes Stretched to 15 Years

In 1992 Anna Nicole Smith's Faux Marilyn Monroe Replaced Claudia Schiffer's Faux Bridgette Bardot in Ads for Guess

. . . Faux Celebrity?

. . . Guess

One of the strangest things about the media's coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's sudden death is how many commentators cannot pinpoint her celebrity-making moment. What's more, most don't even mention her breakout appearance in Guess's gimmicky (but extraordinarily popular) early 1990s black-and-white ad campaign evoking sexpots of eras past -- a campaign that in the process turned the Faux Faces into Celebrity Names in their own right. Recall that time period, if you lived through it: Guess had come on strong in the mid-1980s as the jeans to have branded on your rear end if you were in high school or college. Buying Guess jeans cost at least double the price of any other brand, and the silhouette was unflattering on most figures (too tight in the wrong places, too short on most legs) but if you were a typical teen you had to have them.

By the early 1990s the Guess juggernaut shifted into high gear with the introduction of its black-and-white sultry-sexpots-of-past-eras campaigns featuring Claudia Schiffer and Anna Nicole Smith. These ads appealed to a young GenerationX that didn't yet have its own Face but longed for the fun and the glamour of such personas, even if they were fakes. (How much more did that prime us and our culture for the entrance of true original Kate Moss less than one year later, over at Calvin Klein in 1993? Moss's waif look became the look that embodied the moment; the term Supermodel, if already coined, entered common usage.)

It could be argued Anna Nicole Smith appearing in that classic Guess ad campaign shouldn't have amounted to even 15 minutes of fame, but it *was* a bonafide celebrity-turning breakout moment (as our society defines celebrity, anyway). Claudia Schiffer's celebrity-turning breakout moment came in that campaign, too, and last I checked Claudia Schiffer is still a Celebrity Name to this day. So is Kate Moss, for that matter. Do any of them deserve it? Have any of them done anything other than run away with their breakout moments and stayed in the headlines with their questionable antics? (Isn't that really all that's needed to attain and sustain celebrity these days?)

Probably the least controversial is Claudia Schiffer -- but then everything is relative when it comes to the cult of celebrity, I'm not saying the woman isn't nutty, she was engaged to a magician (David Copperfield) for more than half a decade. But anyway. Tabloid junkie that I am I never could muster much interest in Anna Nicole Smith. I probably do know more about Claudia Schiffer -- and exponentially more about Kate Moss -- than I know even now, after the barrage of coverage upon her death, about Anna Nicole Smith. Kate Moss once upset a young female fan by denying her an autograph, prompting the girl to say, "Claudia Schiffer is much nicer than you," to which Moss reportedly snapped: "But I'm miles prettier." NOW THAT'S TABLOID YUM-YUM TRASH. What an ugly Supermodel (and we as a culture no doubt deserve someone as nasty as that epitomizing us). But Anna Nicole Smith? Nah. Not interested. Never was. From the get-go she was a Faux, never an original, we all understood that. (The hardcore cable news channels now are desperately trying to force-feed to the public Anna Nicole Smith as the second coming of Marilyn Monroe upon her death, attempting to engage in Myth Making, round two. But will anyone buy it? The point is that NOBODY EVER DID.) But obviously the woman did interest somebody. Correct?

Maybe not. Maybe the media just runs with the hokey and the train wrecks year after year long after everyone's lost interest and the media should have let the celebrity go off to meet her own fate in her own private reality show some 14 minutes earlier. Maybe we're all really THAT passive when it comes to celebrity and frankly don't really care, but if it's on we'll watch it, if the tabloids are poking fun we'll read it. I know I certainly don't hold any celebrity in high regard (hate to break it to celebrities who mistakenly believe fans adore them when in fact they revel in the jilted, the miserable, the every wrong embarrassing turn and bad photo. Yes, it's all sick. And no I don't know where I'm going with this, I admit.) Still, was it not bizarre to have so many commentators in the media say frankly they "don't get" Anna Nicole's Smith's celebrity -- especially during a week when Newsweek splashed Paris Hilton (who, appropriately enough, is the current "celebrity" model in Guess's latest advertising campaign) on its cover? And they said this even as they ran with the Anna Nicole Smith death story nonstop through the news hour! Disingenuous much? Finally, couldn't it be argued that this whole aspect of "not getting" why so-and-so is a celebrity is, in fact, now a defining characteristic of celebrity today?


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