How the Media Legitimized Perez Hilton, Cyber-Bully Extraordinaire
Perez Hilton has proved that demonstrable talent or skill is no longer a prerequisite for fame. These days, all that's needed is a proclivity for peddling the sleaziest material imaginable.
Hilton created a career for himself out of enhancing paparazzi shots of celebrities with crude white drawings of genitalia and bodily fluids and posting them on his blog, PerezHilton.com. He regularly described young actresses in the most misogynistic terms imaginable, relentlessly attempted to bring gay celebrities out of the closet and reserved a special brand of hate for conservative women, such as referring to "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck as "Elisab----" or re-posting lesbian comedian Margaret Cho's graphic oral sex fantasy about Sarah Palin. As a reward, his Web site reportedly receives 24 - 30 million views per month.
The mainstream media aided Hilton's rise to the top of culture corrupters. Since 2006, he has been the focus of 49 television news reports. He has been cited as an "expert" on all things related to Hollywood in 32 news stories. The Los Angeles Times recently labeled the blogger a "tastemaker."
Then, in what was surely the crown jewel of this self-appointed "queen of all media's" tiara, the Oxygen Network attempted to place Hilton on the ballot for Best Host of a Reality Competition at this year's Emmy Awards, which honors achievements in television. Hilton hosted the Oxygen Network's "The Bad Girls Club" season three reunion. Apparently to network executives, calling women "b----es" and crudely commenting on their body parts passed for "achievement," since that's what Hilton did during the show.
Hilton's reach extends beyond the Internet. Last spring he positioned himself as a "civil rights" leader when he asked former Miss California Carrie Prejean about her thoughts on same-sex marriage. When Prejean defended traditional marriage, Hilton posted a profane response to Prejean on his blog and made it his mission to smear her at every opportunity. Five months later, he is still posting Prejean's picture on his site with a penis drawn in place of a microphone.
Hilton also oversees his own record label under Warner Bros. Records, hosts a twice-daily gossip report that airs in 55 radio markets and recently launched CoCoPerez.com, a Web site devoted to fashion that is backed largely by the Gap. Ad space on Hilton's original blog costs up to $72,000 for "a single 24-hour wallpaper-style ad that incorporates the banner logo across the top of the site," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Celebrities themselves, often the target of Hilton, further credentialed him as a mover and shaker in the entertainment industry.
Donald Trump, part-owner of the Miss Universe Organization which produces the Miss USA pageant, told reporters he'd "love to have [Hilton] back" as a judge, even after the blogger's despicable treatment of Prejean.
Madonna acknowledged Hilton's role in pop culture with a video she created in 2008. Carlos Diaz, a correspondent for "Extra," explained to CNN Headline News' Brooke Anderson during the April 16, 2008 "Showbiz Tonight" that the video indicated Madonna's desire to "appease Perez Hilton." He claimed, "Madonna is always on the cutting edge and understands the power of the blogger that is Perez Hilton."
That Madonna, a superstar whose entire career is based on controversy, felt the need to "appease" a blogger to avoid becoming his target further validated Hilton as a pop culture force with which to be reckoned.
Through it all, mainstream media outlets gave Hilton a free pass to say and do outrageous things simply because he's Perez Hilton.
Perez Hilton is actually Mario LaVadeira, a Cuban-American from Miami who attempted careers in acting and public relations before becoming a blogger. Hilton's persona is a nod to his Cuban ancestry and his admiration for celebrity socialite Paris Hilton. The biography section of his first Web site, Pagesixsixsix.com stated, "He is the trashtastic Cuban cousin of Paris and Nicky...his motto is, ‘I'm gay, but I'm not as big a slut as Paris.'" (He is not really a Hilton cousin.)
Hilton revealed in a recent interview with Business Week, "When I first started my Web site, I used my real name until I started receiving death threats and I realized that it's not a good idea to use my name when I'm talking about things that could really upset people."
Hilton's foray into celebrity gossip mongering began in 2004 with his Page Six knock-off, PageSixSixSix.com. In March 2005, the entertainment news program "The Insider" crowned Hilton's site, "Hollywood's Most-Hated Website" and increased the popularity of the site to the point that its server crashed. Hilton changed his Web site to PerezHilton.com later in 2005 after the New York Post sued him for trademark infringement.
Hilton survived other legal challenges, including a 2006 copyright infringement case brought by the photo agency X17, which was ultimately settled out of court. Universal Studios sued Hilton in 2007 for posting a topless photo of actress Jennifer Aniston taken from unreleased footage of her movie, "The Break-Up."
VH-1 premiered "What Perez Sez," a gossip show, in 2007. Hilton served as host, and discussed topics such as divas, reality stars and the MTV Video Music Awards in the five episodes that aired.
Liz Smith, the grand dame of celebrity gossip, complained about the methods of today's gossips to CNN's Howard Kurtz in March 2009. "I think the real problem is that there is no control on the way people gossip now. There are no editors, publishers, lawyers aren't - the Internet is just wild."
Hilton's blog is as wild as gossip can get and nobody is safe from it.
Take Carrie Prejean, the former Miss California. Of the 51 pictures of her that Hilton posted on his site, 18 of them featured drawn-on penises or semen dribbles. This was after Hilton posted his video response to Prejean's defense of traditional marriage in which he stated in part, "She lost, not because she doesn't believe in gay marriage. Miss California lost because she's a dumb b----. Okay? This is how a person with half a brain answers the question I posed her, which is, ‘Vermont recently legalized same-sex marriages. Do you think other states should follow suit, why or why not?'"
While talking about his rant with MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell on April 20, Hilton rescinded his apology to Prejean and noted, "I called her the b-word, and hey, I was thinking the c-word and I didn't say it."
In addition to Hilton's label of "Elisab----" for "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck, he scrawled "What rhymes with hunt?" over a picture of her and her former co-host Rosie O'Donnell in a post about another O'Donnell related another attack on Hasselbeck.
Margaret Cho's re-posted comments about Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin are not fit for this report.
These items are not mentioned on news or cable networks in discussions about Hilton. ABC's Jake Tapper labeled the blog, "snarky, amusing, cool and fishy in a 2007 "I-Caught" report about Hilton. In 2009, CBS correspondent Erica Hill called Hilton's commentary "a little tongue-in-cheek, maybe some snide remarks here about some perhaps not so flattering moments."
NBC's Hoda Kotb labeled Hilton's drawings "cartoons" during the January 6, 2009, edition of "Today" and claimed, "People love that." Hilton responded, "When I sit down to work on the Web site, I ask myself, ‘How can I make these words and images as entertaining as possible?' So that's why I doodle on them, that's why I create nicknames for people, create words. I just want to entertain folks."
ABC's Chris Connelly touched on the nature of Hilton's blog but did not reveal how truly offensive the blogger's enhancements and other commentary truly are. He said in 2007, "He draws disparaging things on the photos to suggest a star is having sex or is on drugs. Putting drugs in their nose, putting ‘smelly' next to their behinds?"
Hilton answered Connelly's question about his "doodles" and admitted that "it's childish, and it's all in good fun." He continued, "I'm not People Magazine, which is very well read but kind of boring. I'm dangerous."
Actress Demi Moore doesn't view Hilton's drawings as "good fun" or "entertaining." She struck back at Hilton via Twitter recently and accused the blogger of being much more than "snide."
Moore accused Hilton of peddling child pornography after he posted a photo of Tallulah Willis, Moore's 15-year-old daughter, in short-shorts with the helpful label of "ass" written next to her bottom. This, and another photo that has since been removed of Tallulah in a low-cut shirt caused Moore to Tweet on September 3, 2009, "Clearly Perez Hilton isn't taking violating child pornography laws very seriously. He might not but there are a lot of people who do!" She later clarified, "Let me ask all of you, what is it called when someone is telling people to look and focus on a child's "boobs & ass" while providing photos?"
Earlier in the summer Disney star Vanessa Hudgens found herself the victim of Hilton's white pen when he "enhanced" a photo of her by adding a white puddle at her feet and white droplets on her legs. Hilton also nicknamed the star "Vadge" in this particular post, which is a slang term for vagina.
Other examples of Hilton's work include a picture of a haggard-looking Lindsay Lohan, complete with a penis drawn on her chest and what appears to be semen leaking out of her mouth.
Even the young children of celebrities are fair game according to Hilton's standards. While generally admiring of Suri Cruise, the 3-year-old daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Hilton affirmed the notion that anyone connected to a celebrity should be camera-ready at all times when posted an unflattering picture of the tot on his site in February 2009 with the scribbled caption of "bad angle?" over the top of it.
But according to the media, Hilton can write his vile observations and "doodle" his cartoons just because he's Perez Hilton.
Media Response to Perez
Over and over, the media fail to hold Hilton responsible for his actions and continue to give him carte blanche to proclaim his right to spew his vitriol.
During a January 10, 2009, CBS interview in which Hilton promoted his book, "Red-Carpet Suicide" he stated, "I'm not the New York Times. I'm not trying to be objective. My Web site is called perezhilton.com, and I'm very opinionated ... I do hold myself to journalistic standards though. Like, I don't make up stories, which is actually more than I can say for a lot of the celebrity magazines who flat out print lies week after week. I do take what I do very seriously."
Hilton stated in a September 11, 2007 I-Caught report on ABC, "I'm dangerous because I have no censor button and I speak the truth. And people are afraid of the truth."
Jake Tapper, who interviewed Hilton for that segment, failed to point out that people are more offended about his drawings and misogynic language than are afraid of his "speaking the truth."
Even after Hilton's attacks on Prejean, which accounted for much of his media attention in 2009, press outlets largely failed to hold him responsible for his words.
Carolina Bermudez, the senior editor of In Touch Weekly, excused Hilton's treatment of Prejean on the May 7, 2009 edition of "Showbiz Tonight. "Perez has a little bit of a bully streak in him. We all know that that's his shtick. But you know what? This is his job. It is his job to report on celebrity gossip. And the fact that he's taking it a little bit too far, would I do it? No. But that's just how Perez is," she stated.
Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of CNN Headline News' "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell," also defended Hilton on "Showbiz Tonight," while completely misrepresenting the original Prejean incident. She stated on April 22, 2009, "I think everybody is attacking him and saying, ‘Oh, he was impolite.' Well, guess what? If somebody went up to you - anybody at home in America and say, ‘Hey, you know what? In my opinion, you shouldn't have the right to get married,' wouldn't you be ticked off? Are you the one who has to remain completely polite in the face of that?"
Lola Ogunnaike, CNN's entertainment correspondent, told her colleague Howard Kurtz during his May 10, 2009, "Reliable Sources" that "the bigger story here [of Hilton and Prejean] is you do not want to get in a fight with Perez Hilton. You're just not going to win. Don't even bother. He's the queen of all media. You don't want to go there."
Gay Reaction to Perez
Hilton has long considered himself a gay activist, first by outing gay celebrities and then by inserting politics into the Miss USA pageant. He defended his practice of forcing gay celebrities out of the closet in 2006, when he told "Access Hollywood," "I know there is some controversy about outing people, but I also believe the only way we're gonna have change is with visibility. And if I have to drag some people screaming out of the closet, then I will."
As for his question directed toward Prejean, Hilton asserted to CNN's Kurtz on April 26, 2009, "I really am being genuine when I say I'm doing this not for me, but I'm doing this for equality. I'm doing this for what I think is right and just and fair. And I'm speaking out because I have a voice, and I'm going to use it."
But even some gay activists aren't enthusiastic about Hilton's tactics. In 2006, Corey Scholibo from The Advocate, a gay-oriented magazine, told former Hilton friend Japhy Grant, "It's not our policy to out people. We only out people when they have come out to us personally or when they have been previously written about by other organizations."
GLAAD also expressed concern about Hilton's methods. "Media speculation about a celebrity's orientation is not something we support. This kind of gossip can lead some people to the decision to come out, as we've seen recently, or it may drive others further into the closet," Damon Romine, the organization's spokesperson told Grant. "People are going to become more guarded and secretive and not less, because they don't want to create any opportunities [for anyone to out them]."
Kim Ficera, a contributing writer for AfterEllen.com, a lesbian-oriented entertainment site, wrote in 2006, "Although Hilton talks a good game, saying that closeted Hollywood celebrities are hypocrites who, as public figures, deserve to be exposed, his delivery sucks. Why sabotage the validity of his argument by being mean and immature?"
"If he's emotionally incapable of exhibiting even the tiniest bit of compassion for closeted people, if he can't be sensitive to the fact that coming out is a very personal decision and that the process can be difficult for some - especially celebrities - I feel sorry for him," continued Ficera. "If his juvenile behavior is his shtick, I think it makes him a much more pathetic figure, and one the gay and lesbian community should not support."
Ficera also noted, "To instigate real change on a level that the global gay community can benefit from, he should be targeting the hypocrites in state houses, not in movie houses."
More than that, Ficera encouraged the gay community to disavow Hilton's methods. "If we support behavior like Hilton's, we applaud shallowness, arrogance, rage and invasion of privacy, and risk becoming what we despise. And if that happens, all of the semen splashed on all the faces of every closeted star in Hollywood won't distract the world from the egg on our faces."
Not much has changed in the course of three years. A July 2009 Advocate profile of Hilton revealed little respect from the community he claims to represent.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis, a writer with The New York Times Magazine, penned the Advocate piece and issued the following verdict on Hilton:
In person, Perez comes off as significantly less vitriolic than his blogger persona. I found him to be surprisingly laid-back and even likable in real life, but he's not a deep or nuanced thinker and seems generally unwilling (perhaps unable?) to look critically at himself. He seems all too eager to genuinely believe his own spin, to make up his mind and then go searching for the evidence - or the rationale - to back it up. And though his close friends praise his honesty, he doesn't strike me as all that intellectually honest.
Hilton also did little to endear himself to the gay community when he called will.i.am, a member of the Black Eyed Peas, a "faggot" during a confrontation that took place between the blogger and entertainer after a music event in Canada earlier this summer.
GLAAD issued a statement that said, in part, Hilton's use of that particular word "legitimizes use of a slur that is often linked to violence against our community. And it sends a message that it is OK to attempt to dehumanize people by exploiting anti-gay attitudes."
Hilton's apology wasn't enough, and inspired GLAAD to release a second statement which encouraged him "to take this opportunity to reflect on his use of demeaning and defamatory language against many different communities on PerezHilton.com."
As far as Hilton's rage at Prejean went, CNN's Kurtz echoed exactly what Ficera said three years ago about where Hilton should direct his efforts if he was truly interested in change.
Kurtz told him, "Your anger and your emotions should be directed toward the politicians and the judges who make these laws, not necessarily at one beauty pageant contestant, who happens to have an individual view that you don't agree with."
As Ficera so eloquently put it, "But that wouldn't be much fun for him, would it?"
After all, Hilton is a person who admitted to the Advocate that calling 16-year-old Disney star Miley Cyrus "a slut" is "fun." He also freely tosses around the "b-word" and the "c-word" when talking about women, but thinks it's "silly" that others would consider him a misogynist.
Beyond the Screens
Hilton has consistently claimed that he's dangerous. And he is dangerous to Hollywood and to those who don't wish to cross him because of the tyrannical power he holds in pop culture today. But he's also dangerous to larger society because he is continually rewarded for his nasty behavior.
Hilton is a cyber-bully who hides behind a computer screen to lash out at others. Cyber-bullying is played out in countless ways all across the nation. Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftsecurity.com, told CNN on April 22, 2009, "When someone like Perez Hilton, who is hired by Donald Trump, then goes out and spews vile content about Miss America, you know the problem is a lot bigger than it seems."
Siciliano further argued, "What we're seeing here is people who are being held to a higher esteem are ranting in this way and it gives millions and millions of other people the blessing to go ahead and do the exact same thing."
Hollywood has lavished Hilton with awards and given him more and more opportunity to spread his particular brand of venom. Hollywood might fear him, but in refusing to stand up to him, it has also paved the way for someone more vile, more offensive to come along and knock Hilton off his throne.
The message used to be treat others as you would want to be treated. The new message is treat others like garbage and you too can be a Hollywood "tastemaker."