"Everyone deserves a voice, not everyone deserves a microphone."
Last night Perez Hilton repented in America’s hottest church, Oprah’s Lifeclass. Like many viewers, I feel a mixture of emotions towards the blogger. I also feel a mixture of emotions towards the ways we contributed to his success. As a comedian, I know all too well the drunken state of validation that comes with the audience’s approval, or simply, the audience’s attention. For seven years we’ve supplied his blog with attention (and thus approval) with every click.
Hilton was one of the first to take the internet, make it a microphone, and use it at full amp. He capitalized on a dormant feeling within our collective consciousness; a feeling of isolation and frustration. Until roughly ten years ago, if you weren’t a person in the public sphere, you didn’t have a voice (at least not one that traveled easily). Since the invention of television, pop culture consumers have been swallowing images through a one-way medium, without means to label pills easy or hard to swallow. Internet made the images more pervasive, but also allowed the consumer to comment on the images.
And comment Perez did. He democratized fame in a devilish fashion, and in doing so, unconsciously anointed himself the bully of Hollywood High. But we must have been craving this bully; someone casting fear (for once) not on the nerds, but on the homecoming court. By viewing, we signed a contract of acceptance. And so a dance began, which included millions of participants. Not even Perez can flash mob alone...well, he could, but it wouldn’t go viral. Shaming his bully-hood is undeniably fun, but we can’t lose sight of the fact we embraced him.
Perez told Oprah he used to justify his behavior as “comedy,” but Perez was not embraced for his comedy; he was embraced for his shock. Comedy has a premise, shock does not. Comedy aims for truth, shock aims for only the ugly truth. Most importantly, comedy contains story, and story makes the storyteller vulnerable. It’s this vulnerability that makes what Kathy Griffin does art, and what Perez does...well, something else. A comedian tells jokes, not comments. Jokes aim to express a greater truth through an opinion, whereas comments are mere opinions. Perez was always a commenter, never a comedian. But like a car wreck on the highway, most of us slowed to 5mph to inspect his comments.
The question isn't what Perez’s celeb-bashing rise and Oprah-approved transformation says about his journey towards self awareness, but instead, what it says about ours? If you’re like me, you’ve posted something (that last Yelp review?) that contained a Perez-type cadence. As a comedy blogger, I struggle daily to appear somewhat irreverent yet show I’m capable of reverence; Hilton’s brand of entertainment never aimed to display this capability. But it’s undeniable his success celebrated a seed that, albeit ugly, at times blooms within us all. The keyboard beckons us to display our wilting rose to the world, when maybe a diary entry would suffice. Watching last night, I couldn’t help feel we were all caught acting as if we don’t live in glass houses.
J.Ro's glass house tweets @jasonromaine