In the early days of Manhattan Cable—now Time Warner—a man who called himself Ugly George could be found on the system’s Channel J, which was a public-access channel devoted to sexual content: porno film loops, escort service ads and The Robin Byrd show. George, whose given surname is Urban, was a chunky, homely guy who roamed the city dressed in a silver Lost in Space-style jumpsuit and shouldering a portable video-recorder backpack to which a handheld camera was connected. Upon encountering a busty and/or attractive woman, George would attempt to coax her out of her clothes and videotape her for broadcast on his Channel J show. Despite having a face for radio, as they used to say in the pre-Sirius days, and a body that wouldn’t be out of place on The Biggest Loser, Ugly George had a pretty impressive rate of success with getting women out of their clothes. And though, personally speaking, five minutes of George’s work was enough viewing for a lifetime, I always admired his originality and his moxie. It’s one thing to roam around the city asking women to take off their shirts for your camera, to do it while wearing a silver space suit and backpack that looked like a jerry-rigged version of something that the Apollo astronauts wore when they walked the moon—well, that took real balls. And for me, George embodied the unreconstructed, in-your-face New York City spirit that drew me to this city in the first place.
My last conversation with Ugly George was in 1998, when I interviewed him for my Transom column in The New York Observer about a website, he was starting up. The fact that George was talking to me while pumping nickels into a pay phone didn’t exactly instill me with confidence that his venture would succeed, but I found it heartening that George was attempting to adapt to the times, even if the porn that was on the Internet even then made George’s stuff look like outtakes from The Benny Hill Show.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the increasingly ephemeral/unstable nature of celebrity. That’s not a new concept, clearly, but what if that instability could be expressed in terms of the baseline of digital technology: binary code? Which brings me to my rather unscientific theory: the proliferation of celebrity media has reduced the many gradations of fame to just two: you’re either a 1 or a 0; relevant or irrelevant. Being a 0 doesn’t mean that you’ve been forgotten, just that, at the moment the measurement—or judgment—is made, you hold no value for the celebrity media machine. And that means that the qualitative judgments that you or I may make regarding an actor or a singer/songwriter, no longer apply.
Daniel Day-Lewis may be the finest actor of our generation, but, right now, almost a year after the release of There Will Be Blood, he qualifies as a 0 on the binary scale of celebrity because his name is not attached to any projects currently being flogged by the celebrity press. (Day-Lewis’ reluctance to do interviews really has nothing to do with it.) Paris Hilton was a 1 for a long time because she made a porn movie and dated a couple of Greek shipping heirs. A few weeks ago, she was a 1 because of her response to John McCain’s Obama attack ad. But, shortly before this little PR moment, she had been a zero for a long time.
So, here’s the most controversial part of my theory: 1 = 1. In other words, if, at the same time that Daniel Day-Lewis’s next movie is released, news breaks that Paris Hilton was involved in a threesome with John Edwards and Rielle Hunter that was captured by Hunter’s video camera, then all four will be 1’s again, even though, on so many levels, there’s simply no comparison.
My good friend the Dylan freak often quotes these lyrics—from “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”— when he gets tired of hearing me bitch about how things aren’t the way they used to be. And even though I’ve always been a Springsteen-over-Dylan kind of guy, I’ve grown to love those lines. They work as both a kind of prayer against self-pity, and one of those little mantras I keep repeating to myself right before I do something potentially foolish or fatal—like start a blog. As I sit laboring over this first post—beginning has always been the hardest part for me—I have very little idea where I’m going to take this. I’m not even sure I’m cut out for blogging. For me, the Devil, and maybe God, too, are in the details, and details are the first things that get cut when brevity is the order of the day. I also fear that I’m just too old-school in terms of my journalistic upbringing and mindset to be able to make this thing fly—that my attempts at blogging will be about as appealing as a bald, paunchy guy in a t-shirt and cargo pants trying to rock out among the lithe, long-haired and barely clothed beauties at a Vampire Weekend concert. And yet, I can’t help but think that I spent four years working for one of the original blogs of the pre-Internet variety, the gossip column Page Six, where I learned how to combine reporting with perspective in 20 lines or less. I was good at it then. Let’s see what happens now. Time to be born.
The Game Has Changed
John Mellencamp: One from the Heartland
The Esquire Decade
The Gossip Behind the Gossip
Puff Daddy’s Black and White Ball ’98
December 3, 2006
The Bling of Comedy
February 8, 2004
November 30, 2003
Triumph Sniffs a Hit
October 19, 2003
Jack Carter Smothers Brothers at Rip-Roaring Friars Roast
October 12, 2003
Me and Mr. Johnson
Here’s a link to my latest feature in Vanity…
And Featuring Scarlett Johansson in the Role of…Angelina Jolie
Following last night’s screening of Gomorra, an invitation-only crowd…
See Naples and Die of Heartbreak
If you have any connection to Italy, be it…
This past summer, I wrote a profile of comic…
If You See Something, Say Something (to the Girl in the Hot Chiffon Top)
The police presence at my local subway stop was…
Shipment of Fail
The Huffington Post
Geeks of Doom
Big Apple Music Scene
WFMU’s Beware of the Blog
Funny or Die
The New York Observer