Keeping Tabs

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Rags

Why the tabloids never run out of material. 

Once in a while, Keeping Tabs is seized with a bit of nervous anticipation. What if, one week, the tabloids simply ran out of gas? After all the rich material they’ve bestowed on us over the years, might there someday be nothing tabloid-y left to say or no one left to say it about? But the feeling always passes, and Keeping Tabs is reassured that the tabloids’ well will never run dry, because they essentially say the same few things about a fairly limited universe of people … over and over and over again.

Here’s a look at how this principle has played out during the last two weeks in Tabloidland (helpfully organized, tabloid-style, into bulleted points):

  • Play up the not-yet-happening romance. Last week’s Globe story about a “sizzling romance” between Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts (“It’s Love!” trumpeted the cover) reached a new high (or would that be low?) for the non-romance romance, eclipsing even the pairing of Prince William and Britney Spears. The Globe doesn’t even try to gin up any innocuous evidence that might make it look like Pitt and Roberts, who are currently shooting a movie together, are an item. No, no. Their “passionate love affair” is nothing more than a prediction from “world-renowned astrologer and palmist” Anthony Carr. Carr, you may recall, was last seen vouching for the ancient art of “rumpology” in the National Enquirer, the very publication that this week enlists an “expert” to explicate what the shape of your ears says about your personality. “Brad and Julia both have significant others, but there are forces of nature greater than they can control,” warns Carr. “The stars WILL rule and are bound to bring them together!” We should have known; Roberts is a water sign and Pitt a fire, which Carr points out adds up to … steam.

  • Embellish quotes liberally. Keeping Tabs has long been fascinated by the tabloids’ peculiar dialect, which allows people to speak in conveniently expository statements that defy the rules of conversational syntax. A friend of singer Rod Stewart, for example, supposedly told the Enquirer, “Doctors told him he might have a problem with his thyroid gland, located at the base of the throat.” Similarly, an eyewitness explains to the Globe that when an overzealous fan tried to kiss Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean at a recent appearance, “one of his bodyguards—a brawny monster with fists like hams—shoved his hand at the girl’s head to push her away.”

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. The tabs love to underscore their specious claims with equally specious photographic evidence. The Enquirer’s story about Nancy Reagan’s devastation over daughter Patti’s revelations of drug use, for example, is accompanied by a file photo of Mrs. Reagan sniffling into a tissue. A Globe story about basketball player Kobe Bryant’s “los[ing] his heart” to “lovely” Vanessa Laine comes with a picture of Bryant holding his hands to his chest (all that’s missing is the trademark red circle to show us where his heart would be). And the Star story about how Elizabeth Hurley has “wash[ed] Hugh [Grant] right out of her hair” gets a photo of Grant running his fingers through his hair. Nice try, but no cigar.

  • No detail is too small. This week’s Star reports that Andre Agassi’s “eccentric” behavior may have put the kibosh on his “love match” with Steffi Graff. When Andre does the laundry, “He stirs the soapy clothes with a broomstick and uses entire packages of softener for a single load,” a source tells the Star. And then there’s the National Enquirer’s interview with Madonna’s high-school classmate Tanis Rozelle, who reveals that the Material Girl “had thick tufts of hair growing out from underneath [her] armpits. It caused a minor controversy, but after a while people just accepted it. It didn’t stop her from raising her arms high while cheering—even when she wore a sleeveless uniform.” Thanks for sharing.

  • Any girl seen within a 10-mile radius of Prince William is a future queen. This week’s Star announces that the “real love of [Prince William’s] young life is a blue-blooded beauty” named Alexandra Knatchbull, a goddaughter of Princess Diana. This one is clearly very serious, since William was seen kissing her “on both cheeks” at a school hockey match. Now for the obligatory acceleration of the timetable: “Although a marriage wouldn’t take place for several years,” reports the Star, “palace insiders already see Alexandra filling the void left in the hearts of the British people after Diana’s death.” Clearly. What was her name again?

  • Death sells. The mention of death—or the prospect of it—is a tabloid staple. Tabloid injuries are always life-threatening, and anyone who is in even the remotest bit of trouble must have someone worrying that they are going to die or affirming that if circumstances were just a tiny bit different, they would have died. (Click here for more celebrities in dire straits.) So the tabs had a field day with the double-barreled plight of Friends star Matthew Perry, who not only is facing a mysterious health crisis (the Star says a liver transplant “may be the only thing that can save his life”) but also crashed his Porsche into the wooden front porch of a neighbor’s house. “If he had crashed into a cement or concrete porch he would surely be dead,” an eyewitness told the Enquirer.

Also on the deathwatch are June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters, whose family “fears she’ll die” without drug rehab, and Whitney Houston, whose “badly shaken loved ones fear that the beautiful songbird could drop dead from a cocaine-induced heart attack.” (The requisite expert affirms that this is a possibility, of course.) Nor is there a statute of limitations on mentioning past brushes with death. ER’s Goran Visnjic was “nearly killed when he escaped from the Serbian army” nine years ago, a 10-year-old Peter Fonda was “clinically dead for several moments” after a gun accident, and Catherine Zeta-Jones “nearly choked to death” when she was 4. The latter is included in the Star’s riveting “How Top Stars Triumphed Over Childhood Health Woes” package. Yes, that’s really what it’s called.

  • When all else fails, there’s always O.J. This week, Simpson resumed his rightful place in the tabloid spotlight by having a very public fracas with girlfriend Christie Prody at a Miami hotel. The Globe says they argued over Simpson’s desire to have Prody appear with him in a porno movie. The Enquirer says it was a more banal disagreement over Prody’s driving drunk, although it did reportedly culminate with Simpson, his “eyes lit up with anger,” yelling, “You keep this up! Don’t push it, bitch! You’ll die just like Nicole! You don’t want to go there! I don’t want to go there!”

The Enquirer reports that Prody’s mother, Cathy Bellmore, is understandably upset. “I’ve told her, ‘Can’t you find a man your own age instead of hanging on to this 50-something has-been who most of the civilized world believes brutally slaughtered his ex-wife?” (See also: Quotes, Liberal Embellishment of.) But the Globe says that Prody has “been working on improving her self-esteem, writing herself notes like, ‘I love you—signed me’ and ‘You’re a great girl—signed Christie.’ ” Pssst. Christie! Listen to your mother—signed Keeping Tabs.