Where will you be in 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 50 seconds? Will you have clicked out of this link already?
Before I tell you my thoughts on the matter, you should know that you’re reading the opinion of an enthusiastic optimist: one of the few living souls in journalism who still believes that celebrity op-eds are not dying… they’re just coming alive.
There are many (many) people who think that celebrities come across as laughable parodies of their personae in the op-eds they pen. I am not one of them. In my opinion, the value of a celebrity op-ed is, and will continue to be, based on how on-brand a celebrity can come across in the body of work, and the click value celebrities can bring when their op-eds go out into the marketplace. Content farming has shrunk the numbers on celebrity op-eds drastically, and every celebrity has handled this blow differently.
In recent years, you’ve probably read the articles about celebrities who have decided to give away their thoughts on social media daily, for this promotion or that coveted retweet from Rihanna. My hope for the future, not just for celebrities, but in every young girl I meet… is that they all realize their worth and ask for a celebrity op-ed. Editors will be confused and say, “But you’re not a celebrity! you’re just a girl!” But deep down she will know that her words matter just as much as Taylor Swift’s, James Franco’s, Sean Penn’s, Tyra Banks’ or Bono’s.
Celebrity op-eds are art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be taken as the gospel. It’s my opinion that celebrity op-eds should be read widely, and my prediction is that they will be so long as we keep foisting them upon starstruck editors who can’t say no. I hope the editors don’t underestimate celebrity writers, or undervalue the stink these stars could raise if they treated them like a Normal when editing their celebrity op-eds.
Arrows Through The Heart
In mentioning web traffic, I’d like to point out that people are still reading celebrity op-eds, but now they’re also linking to them on their social media platforms. They are linking only the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart or have made them feel strong or allowed them to feel like they really aren’t alone in feeling so annoyed with whatever the annoying thing on the Internet is at that moment. It isn’t as easy today as it was 20 years ago to write a celebrity op-ed that dominates the news cycle, what with all the social content celebrities create on a daily basis, and that should challenge and motivate all celebrities.
There are always going to be those celebrity op-eds that break through on an emotional level and end up reblogged on people’s Tumblrs for the next week. The way I see it, fans view celebrity op-eds the way they view their relationships. Some are just for fun, a passing fling (the ones they read on their phones while waiting for their perpetually late friend to show up, that they will forget were ever published after Shia LaBeouf fatigue sets in). Some celebrity op-eds represent seasons of our lives, like relationships that we hold dear in our memories but had their time and place in the past. Jodie Foster understood that when she wrote about Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s breakup.
However, some celebrity op-eds will be like finding “the one.” We will cherish every word their assistants slave over until the next celebrity op-ed about fame’s challenges surfaces. This is the dream bond celebrities hope to establish with their readers. I think the future still holds the possibility for this kind of bond, the one I felt when I read Angelina Jolie’s heartfelt medical confession earlier this year.
I think forming a bond with readers in the future will come in the form of constantly providing them with celebrity op-eds on everything. No, I did not say “celebrity opinions” (we already have those on Twitter); I said “celebrity op-eds.” I believe couples can stay in love for decades if they just continue to write each other poorly penned letters and passive-aggressive notes, so why can’t this love affair exist between celebrities and their fans?
In the overshare generation we live in, we tweet every night of our lives knowing that our ephemeral thoughts have already been articulated better by someone else. To continue to show readers something they have never seen before, I suggest we replace all professional writers with celebrity columnists wishing to shine a spotlight on every thought that enters their minds. My generation was raised being able to watch celebrities on every channel if we got bored, and we read all their mundane thoughts on social media. We want to be caught off-guard, delighted, left in awe. I hope the next generation’s celebrity op-ed columnists will continue to think of inventive ways of keeping their readers on their toes, as challenging as that might be.
There are a few things I have witnessed becoming obsolete in the past few years, the first being a filter. Celebrities haven’t been asked to express their “expert” opinions enough since the invention of the iPhone. The only memento “kids these days” want is a selfie on Instagram or celebrity Twitter beef. It’s part of the new currency, which seems to be “how many followers you have on Instagram,” not “how many war-torn countries you’ve been to that you can write about.”
A friend of mine, who is an opinion editor at a major newspaper, told me that when the assigning for a recent section came down to two writers, the editor chose the writer who was a celebrity. I see this becoming a trend in journalism. For me, this is a victory that would not have been achieved without James Franco’s tireless efforts to establish himself as a legitimate writer. In the future, writers will get assignments because they have millions of fans — not because they are good writers.
Another theme I see fading into the gray is true expertise. These days, nothing you read on the Internet seems to come from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. The wild, unpredictable fun in professional writing today is that anything goes. The New York Times sounds like a tenth-grade textbook, and Vox sounds like the set of questions at the end of each chapter; Complex sounds like Rush Limbaugh with a fetish for booty, Air Jordans, and A$AP crew; Vice sounds like Hipster Runoff; Salon sounds drunk; every headline and promotional tweet sounds like Upworthy — and to me, that’s incredible progress. I want to see celebrity op-eds that reflects all of these writing styles, and I think that in the coming decades the idea of knowing what you’re writing about will become less important as celebrity columnists replace all professional writers.
This moment in publishing is so exciting because the creative avenues a celebrity can explore are limitless. In this moment in journalism, the power of personal branding is not only accepted… it is celebrated above all. The only real risk is being too afraid to take a risk at all.
I predict that some things will never change. There will always be an increasing fixation on the private lives of celebrity columnists, especially the younger ones. Celebrity op-ed writers who wrote back in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s tell me, “It was never this crazy for us back then!” And I suspect we’ll be saying that same thing to younger celebrity columnists someday (God help them). There continues to be a professional writer vs. celebrity columnist debate, and for as long as those labels exist, I just hope there will be more celebrities brave enough to speak out in op-eds. All famous people need somewhere to write, even Eva Longoria defending her new Lifetime show or Suzanne Somers peddling factual inaccuracies regarding Obamacare.
And as for me? I’ll just be sitting back and growing old, watching all of this happen or not happen, all the while trying to maintain a life as a professional writer without being replaced by celebrity columnists who don’t need the money.
And I’d also like a nice garden.