Sex clicks: Nevermind everything I

Sex clicks
: Nevermind everything I said in the long post below on buzz, fame, and the Web. If we just add sex appeal to weblogs, they’ll be huge, I tell you, huge.

: After the first female suicide bomber, Muslim Pundit asks how far away we can be from kid bombs: “Sadly, if the Palestinian terror groups think it will add value to their insidious PR campaign, I wouldn’t put it past them. Palestinian kids are already programmed, and heavily brainwashed from childhood, to hate Jews and Israel. At the very least, would there be any shortage of them willing to go out and do the dirty deed?”

: There has been much buzz about buzz lately, thanks to the death of Talk magazine, not to mention America’s newfound priorities after 9.11 — and, by the way, the rise of weblogs (even as we witness other sectors of the Internet falling into a sinkhole the size of Enron’s shame).

So what does it all mean? Well, I’ll tell you.

There are really two related but distinct forces at work: buzz and celebrity. Both are cornerstones of our culture — not just the pop sort of culture in People but our economic culture; celebrity and buzz are our chief exports; they drive marketing of damned near every product except perhaps steel and soybeans; they even try to set the course of politics. They will not go away, no matter how quiet Tina Brown may be or how serious our concerns may become. Celebrities are too powerful and too important to fade away.

I was lucky enough to watch a major cultural shift when I worked for People magazine in the ’80s. I was there when the stars learned the true value of their names and faces; they sold magazines. And at that moment, the balance of power and economics shifted: Journalists were no longer the gatekeepers to the audience; PR people became the gatekeepers to the stars; they managed access and thus managed the message; they got the power. The power of celebrities will not die. They define the big time.

But I believe that our relationship to celebrities will change — or already has. We will still love to watch them and gossip about them and buy what they buy. But as a result of 9.11, I do think we’ll be less likely to listen to them when they think they have something to say (Richard Gere: just be quiet). I said this in the very first day of this weblog: “Now that we know what real heroes look like, it’s real hard to take seriously all the heroes we in the media and America created before the terror: that is, celebrities.”

Buzz is a different matter. Buzz is what we talk about. Editors, journalists, pundits, producers, stars, and flacks all like to think that they create buzz and often, they do — but in the end, it’s up to us what we buzz about. And in the arena of buzz, I’ve been lucky a second time in my career to witness a fundamental shift of power. The Internet created that shift. It is the place where we the audience — we, the people — create buzz. It is — note the address above — a buzzmachine.

And that is what is giving the bloggers such a, well, buzz: With the sheer force of opinion, we create or find a critical mass of like minds. We telegraph what’s hot to each other ahead of everybody else. We buzz.

But make no mistake about it: this is not the big time. Celebrities play to audiences of millions, weblogs to thousands. That’s not to say one is better, just bigger.

So we are seeing shifts in the landscape of fame: The opinions of the stars probably do matter less; the opinions of the audience do matter more. But this is no earthquake.

Now read what Andrew Sullivan said in The Wall Street Journal about the cultural meaning of the death of Talk and the end of the Tina Brown era:

In the 1990s, the key political word was spin, and the parallel media word was buzz. Mr. Clinton was the master of one; Ms. Brown was the mistress of the other. Between the two of them, the word substance struggled for relevance. And that’s why, in the end, Talk failed….

What did her in was the changing culture. By the turn of the millennium, you could feel a shift. The burst of the dot-com bubble, the slowing economy, the election of George W. Bush, the retreat of Hollywood from Washington, the emergence of Internet media–all these began to generate a new, more substantive mood….

Sept. 11 was the watershed for Tinaism–not because of what it did to the economy, but because of what it did for the culture. That day reminded us that there are more important things than winning the news cycle, that the old virtues still matter, that substance counts, and that the opposite of “hot” is sometimes true. This culture is here to stay for the foreseeable future and it is one in which Tina Brown, as epitomized by Talk, has simply nothing to say.

Smart quotes but I’m not so sure I buy it all. What killed Talk was primarily (a) spending too much money and (b) getting too little revenue and, perhaps, (c) not finding its voice, its place in life soon enough (I was never a faithful reader; it didn’t yet hook me). And though Sullivan is quite right that we are a more serious nation today — look around; we are — I’m not sure that’s what did in Talk. Business basics did. That’s what did in the half of the Internet that’s already dead. That is what did in Enron. Business basics.

All in the family
: One of the stupidist PR moves I’ve ever seen came this morning on Today with the appearance of Ken Lay’s wife and family. They are utterly blind . Mrs. Lay is trying to bid for sympathy because she says she’s now facing bankruptcy; all their hundreds of millions were in Enron stock. Awww, poor boobala. She also makes noises about the facts coming out in an investigation — yes, they will, honey, and who do you think was in charge of this mess: your husband. The buck stopped with him and was quickly squandered. Whether or not Lay and his lieutenants did anything illegal, they clearly pushed the limits of good sense and blew billions of dollars and along with that the livelihoods and futures of thousands and thousands of families. So we are supposed to have sympathy for the Lay family? Their PR advice is every bit as good as their financial advice.