It all started with a dubious website for underemployed writers and a post that can best be described as the Internet equivalent of a casting call for a Valtrex ad. “Writer wanted for popular celebrity blog. Style must match exactly. I need to take a break for personal reasons and want to keep posting continuous for the readers. You will post under my name only. Send two sample posts to email@example.com. Pay good.”
It was the last bit that snagged me. I needed money and I don’t have a lot of pride. I also don’t have a lot of knowledge about celebrities so I went over to the site and checked it out. It was your basic celebrity blog: paparazzi pic, 100-word snarky description and hundreds of venomous commenters. I could totally ghost this. So I practiced my typos, snagged a couple of (probably copywrited) pictures off another blog and sent it in.
The reply was immediate via an obviously faked e-mail account. “I’m putting your posts up. If the readers like them, you’re in.”
The readers liked me. Or at least my slightly better grammar (I couldn’t help it!) didn’t tip them off that I wasn’t Madame herself. Although technically it could have been Monsieur. Throughout our entire time together I never was exactly sure whom I was speaking to or what exactly the crisis of a personal nature entailed.
The job description was straightforward: There was a morning push and an afternoon push. I needed a minimum of four posts in each push. The pay per post ended up only being “good” if I could do each push in under an hour. Four posts of 100 words? Easy peasey.
My first day, I blocked out an hour before the morning push was due and started scanning the photo sites Madame had sent me for a usable picture. Sifting through pages of blurry camera phone shots (if only Big Foot were considered a celebrity!), irrelevant and thankfully indiscernible nudie pics and thousands of inane comments took me forty five minutes and left me with an undated picture of Rihanna on a beach and an Angelina Jolie promo shot from her latest movie. But they were of a decent quality so I downloaded them and dutifully started the posts. Blankness. How was I supposed to know what Rihanna does at the beach? Sweating now as I watched the clock tick by, I hastily googled her, hoping to find some story that would give me titillating information to attach to the otherwise bland picture. Still nothing.
Timidly I e-mailed Madame, who responded promptly from her Blackberry, “Don’t worry about the story. Just get good pic. Write something. Love sources.” Well, that was the gist of it anyhow, minus the punctuation. I gulped and finally wrote some inane blather about her unflattering bikini and athletic thighs. As soon as I hit post, I knew I’d betrayed my gender. And my own thighs. And intelligent folk everywhere. I hastily edited it to add a line about her “glowing skin.” All better. Right?
The commenters eviscerated me. The picture was apparently over a week old, had already been discussed ad nauseum earlier, and how did I not remember that her thighs were fat, not athletic. One more-observant-than-normal person wrote, “Madame, are you sick? Is this even really you?”
Madame was furious and let me know it short, grammatically challenged bursts. What I took away was that I needed to, duh, check the archives before I posted and also check the archives of every other celebrity blog on the Internet to make sure they hadn’t already covered it. If they had, I had to either scrap the post or come up with a better angle. Slowly I realized that this was going to take me a lot longer than fifteen minutes a post. There are only so many angles on Angelina Jolie, and I’m not just talking about her collar bone.
I stumbled along through the rest of the morning push, coming out with several inoffensive, mostly incoherent, but at least current, posts. There was Liv Tyler. And something about Lindsay Lohan (isn’t there always?). I had to kill the Angelina Jolie story because, frankly, I couldn’t think of a single new thing to say about her.
Madame checked in with me before the afternoon push. I asked her how she knew what celebrities ate (or didn’t) and watched and did in their spare time. There wasn’t even a pause before I got her reply, “I don’t.” And that was the missing piece. All that time I had spent researching my story? Unnecessary. The direction was implied: just make it up. With this new knowledge I flew through the afternoon push and the next couple of days. Just as I was beginning to think this job was going to work out (when I bothered to think about it all, which I tried not to do because then I had to pay attention to the Jiminy Cricket drowning in the fountain of bile in my stomach), a celebrity struck back. I had felt safe in my electronic nowhereville, hadn’t even imagined that the people I was writing about might actually read what I had written and, heaven help me, have an opinion about it.
Michelle Williams tripped me up. Heath Ledger wasn’t dead yet and so she was still a middling celebrity. But she made the mistake of wearing a blousy shirt and getting photographed at an unflattering angle so I did what any good first-time celebrity blogger would do: I cried pregnancy. I even cited a “source” confirming the happy news, that actually linked back to an interview with Williams in which she discussed nothing even remotely close to children or pregnancy or even Heath. It was no bigger a lie than any of my other posts (and probably nicer) but, strangely, the celebrity blogs went haywire with it. The link was posted on numerous other sites, corporate media ones even, all citing me (well actually Madame) as the source. Apparently none of them bothered to fact check my post. By the next day, it was everywhere. Williams’ rep even issued a statement vehemently denying the rumors.
Madame was giddy. I was horrified. How angry was Williams when she when read my post? Was it possible she could sue me? I’d been a celebrity blogger for all of three days and suddenly I was facing possible legal action? Madame comforted me by pointing out that celebrities don’t have time to sue everyone who writes crap about them. Plus Williams got tons of free publicity out of it, so she probably secretly liked it. Great, now I’m a literary rapist.
If Michelle Williams was the beginning of the end, then Posh Spice was my undoing. Like every Gen-Y’er, I could tell you what I want, what I really, really want. Even if that thing was the incoherent “zig-a-zig-pie.” But I had made the mistake of not keeping up with Victoria Beckham as she dropped the rest of the dollar-store dried parsley and transformed from merely a condiment to the whole spicy meatball – not that she would eat one.
So when I heard on the early radio gossip show which I only listened to since becoming Madame’s flunky in the vague hope it would be able to make up for 10 years of cultural laxity, that “unauthorized” pictures of Posh had surfaced, I didn’t know enough to drop my scrambled eggs and run for my computer. Apparently the pictures showed a small unidentified growth under her right armpit that the host insisted was evidence of her plastic surgery. Because we need evidence? But I jotted down the website anyhow.
Eventually when I made it onto the web, I typed it in and sure enough there were a few of the most unshocking pictures of Ms. Spice-Beckham I’d ever seen. (Seriously, if you caught the August 2007 cover of W then you’re already 10 steps down the skank path from these pics.) There was no explanation other than a melodramatic “See these pictures now before her lawyers get to us! They won’t be here long! Tell the world!!!!” Tell the world what, exactly? That Posh has a huge skin tag? Cancer of the armpit? A too-tight shirt and a phenomenon women around the world know as “armpit boobs“?
Still, I was becoming accustomed to the minutiae of Celebrity Blogging and besides my morning push started in a mere hour. Plus the pictures were high-res and in my book that was reason enough to use them, even if they had been, say, Madeleine Albright in a bikini. Armpit boobs it was.
Suddenly, shaming lazy abusive boyfriends everywhere, Madame’s pre-dawn stalker e-mail arrived, wanting to know what I was working on. Her “crisis of a personal nature” obviously didn’t involve her fingers, retinas or perfectionism. I told her about the radio show only to be interrupted with “U got scooped by RADIO??? Our readers go to US first!!!!” – thereby making up for an entire week’s worth of omitted punctuation.
I didn’t bother pointing out that a) I’m not psychic and b) none of the other celeb-sites were reporting it either. Somewhere a radio reporter was cackling gleefully. Radio: 2 Internet: 8,234,987,201 (in 2.3 seconds) I threw the post up and e-mailed her the source link, feeling a teeny bit excited that we were the first site to report it. An uncharacteristic silence reverberated from her BlackBerry. I took that to mean she was proud.
I would be wrong.
Madame: WHAT HAVE U DONE
Madame: Am taking it down
Madame: Obv faked
Me: If using photoshopped pics is off limits, we’ll have to retract 70% of our posts, including every magazine cover you’ve ever ran. I didn’t add, “If honesty were truly a virtue then there goes the remaining 30% and you’ll have to go back to selling beanie babies on E-Bay.”
Madame: Lawyers (the “idiot” was implied)
Me: I thought we didn’t have to worry about that (See Williams, Michelle).
Madame: Idiot (no longer implied)
Me: Thank you?
Madame: THIS IS VICTORIA BECKHAM
Me: Yes, we’ve established that
Madame: $$$ = LAWYERS
Me: Which is why we never cover Tom Cruise?
Madame: Look… this isn’t working out
And then I knew what was coming. A brief flare of indignation.
Me: Are you firing me?
Madame: Your morning push is late
Me: But I HATE this job! You at least owe me the dignity of QUITTING.
Madame: Don’t owe you anything
Me: Crap. Does this mean I’m not getting paid?
(Note: In writing this post, I did go back and try to find the original Posh Spice Underarm Growth pictures. Not that I tried very hard, but I did google at least seven different search strings, and nothing came up. As far as I can tell the original site was pulled and no other celeb blogs reported on it. Apparently the lawyers got us.)
Anyone else had a job they are too ashamed to tell their family about? What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? (Unless it’s hooking, I win.)