Lainey Gossip: Celebrity Fandom Goes Professional

Curator's Note

Over the last decade, Elaine "Lainey" Lui has risen through the ranks of the professional gossip world.  Initially, she emailed her celebrity musings to a select group of friends; the audience grew exponentially, prompting the creation of her gossip blog  In 2006, Lui, a native of Toronto, was hired as a gossip correspondent for CTV's eTalk; she has since reported from The Oscars, Sundance, and Cannes, mixing with the very celebrities about whom she has written. 

Lainey plays favorites, gushing over the rotating members of her Freebie Five, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brangelina, the list goes on.   Preferential treatment is nothing new: Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Walter Winchell all had "teacher's pets." If you supplied Louella Parsons with scoops, she would reciprocate with preferential coverage. If you lied, her wrath would have no bounds.  Parsons and Hopper were imbricated in the Hollywood scene; Winchell had a reserved table within the New York 'cafe society.'   While Lainey brushes elbows with the stars on the red carpet, she is neither their confidant nor friend.  Rather, she's a fan -- a fan who has parlayed her devotion and affection to a place of privileged interaction.

Here, Lainey reports on her first-hand experience at Cannes, emphasizing her proximity to the action with quips like "I was waiting in line behind Diane Lane....."  Between taping such segments for eTalk, Lainey frequently updated her blog, including the following concerning an encounter with perennial favorite Ryan Gosling:

....But it’s the way he looks at anyone he’s paying attention to. You get ALL his focus. When he speaks to you, and when he listens to you, you are the only thing that matters in his life at that moment....I watched them walk away from us towards the other side of the palais. His gait, his pants, I can replay it all day in my mind. 

Lainey the Fan became Lainey the Professional Gossip through the use of new media technologies: email, linking, rudimentary blogging software.  What does her ability to realize the "dream" of fandom -- and the general rise of celebrity gossip blogging -- say about the current line between fan and celebrity, between amateur and professional, between gossip and journalism?  



This column reminds me of Rosie O'Donnell's talk show in the 90s. Whereas initially, her appeal seemed to be that she was "just like us," that her getting to meet celebs was similar to us "normal folks" getting closer to our favorite famous folks, she soon moved from being one of us to being one of them. So I think the question for Laney may indeed become how to remain identifiable and emotionally close, how to remain a stand-in for fans rather than just another (albeit D?-list) celebrity in the making?

[And clearly from my comment, it is apparent that I do think there's a line that can be crossed, that it's mostly impossible to be fan and celeb at the same time...]

 Good question, Kristina.  I think that Lainey has been able to tread that line through her constant engagement on her blog -- a much more personable means of communication than a newspaper column or television broadcast.  As noted, she writes in a particularly fannish style in the selfsame moment that she describes standing in line behind Diane Lane, encouraging reader identification.  

At the same time, part of me longs for the Lainey that truly was 'just like me,' spending most of her day in PJs, as opposed to jetsetting and getting her hair blown out.  

 I guess then we're more favorable to fans-made-good than the constructed pseudo-fans? But in the end, even when they're working as hard as they can (and apparently somewhat successfully in Lainey's case), at some point they move from familiar to foreign...or maybe to <em>unheimlich</em>? :)

Like Rosie O'Donnell, this also reminds me in some ways of Kathy Griffin or Chelsea Handler, in navigating that line between fan, celebrity gossip, and personal experiences and affinities while continuing to draw on both sides simultaneously. Other elements are at work with Handler and Griffin, but I find myself loving their stand-up most when it becomes more like they're gossiping with us over drinks about their last appearance on The View or working an awards show with Paris Hilton. Their self-deprecation (especially in Kathy Griffin's case) helps negotiate that tension between their performance as stars and peformance as fans, positioning them as desperate for but ultimately unsuccessful in "making it" in Hollywood.

THis self-deprecation seems largely absent with Lainey, and might be the reason why, like Kristen and Louisa, I kind of get an uneasy feeling from her. Becoming a star herself (or at least participating in the Hollywood system herself) may be living the "dream of fandom," as you say, but it makes me wonder if the negotiation of our love/hate relationship with that Hollywood system may need to be more visible in order to make that crossover successful for her own persona.

There's something so strange and discomfiting about this video! I'm trying to put my finger on what it is, exactly, that rubs me the wrong way. I think it has to do with the way her self-presentation keeps shifting between a sort of expected professionalism (such as it is in this industry) and a particular performance of girlish fannishness.

When she's narrating imagery, it's almost as if she could be any narrator, but when the camera cuts back to her, it always seems to be for the spectacle of her investment, response, and fetishization of the actors she's speaking about. And then there's that moment when she oh so casually slips in the sponsor--that grey goose cocktail she was waiting for. The whole thing feels like an (awkward? monstrous?) sewing together of the fan and the professional/commercial. 

And the type of fannishness on display is so specific: cleaned up but emotionally intimate at the same time. It's this purposeful, strategically public rendering of something we'd normally expect to be private or at least locally interpersonal.

In response to your closing question, then, I feel like this video exposes the incongruities and fissures that emerge out of such a merger of fan and professional. And it's that that makes it so uncomfortable to watch! (for me, at least...)

 Really glad you point to the weirdness of the clip -- something I didn't have space to address.  Because Lainey works for a Canadian program, I've rarely seen her on television; she doesn't post clips of herself on her site, so you have to seek them out on the eTalk site.  And I wholeheartedly agree that there's something slightly uncanny, or at the very least awkward, about this clip.  It's not that she's necessarily not made for television, but there's a flimsiness to the actual gossip -- these topics would *never* warrant a post on her site -- added to the necessary product placement.  When the fan turns professional, the added baggage of professionalization seems to weigh down and pervert the process of gossip collection and dissemination.  

I wonder if what we're seeing here is a new figuration of the fan as a sort of organic intellectual. I kept thinking of Bill Simmons while reading this post, as he seems to be the sports-world analog to Lui. It's certainly a different representation or framing of fandom than what we might've seen ten years ago (the simpsons' comic book guy, nick hornby's record-store nerds, etc).

Has the internet 'mainstreamed' fandom, democratized it, or just made it more marketable?

Annie, thanks for this post. I have always had mixed feelings about Lainey. I think she does tell great narratives about celeb relationships and the ways that the industry creates/concocts these fables to sell to the "minivan majority." But I also abhor her squeeishness about certain people who don't play to fans, i.e., Gwyneth. Part of the problem is that she's more fan than gossip columnist...she's for all intents and purposes a lotto winner of fandom. (can you see my thinly veiled dislike of her?)

All that said, I think her story gives false hope to people who believe they too can luck out and travel to Cannes just to get drunk on Grey Goose and gawk at Marion Cotillard (her story LITERALLY every year she attends).

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