To the list of perennial press stories—the schoolgirl who refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag but is off to Harvard this fall, the old Vermont farmer who voted for Dewey but doesn’t much care for today’s Republican party—may be added the importunate celebrity invitation.
This newly minted tradition began two years ago when a pair of ambitious Marines—one male, one female—invited Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake to their respective Marine Balls. Now, the 2013 version is in the news. A nerdy high school student in Los Angeles posted online a “charming” video invitation to his senior prom, and sent it along, via Twitter, to his heart’s desire: Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton.
Miss Upton, like Miss Kunis before her, quickly recognized that this (a) put her in a slightly awkward position, but (b) was an opportunity for some friendly publicity. So she replied, once again via Twitter: “You can call me Katie if you want! How could I turn down that video! I’ll check my schedule ;).”
At which point, if you will excuse The Scrapbook, we pause to gag.
There are several ways of looking at this. From the celebrity point of view, these can be win-win situations: The Marine invitations to Kunis and Timberlake were undoubtedly made half in jest; but the willingness of the two stars actually to attend the balls, and apparently enjoy themselves, was testament both to their good nature and support for the armed forces. It also did no harm to their image.
But there is another angle as well, nicely captured by the Onion last week in one of its inimitable headlines: “Scarlett Johansson Immediately Rejects Heartwarming Prom Invite from High School Senior.” The Onion made the point—satirically, of course—that these public pleas “essentially amount to emotional blackmail.”
The Scrapbook has no deep conviction on the subject, except to say that celebrities are free to ignore such gestures, in which case the whole dreary phenomenon would quickly disappear.
So it was with some measure of surprise when we opened the pages of the Washington Post the other morning, and discovered that the Post takes all this very seriously indeed. Prompted by the Upton prom invitation, reporter Jessica Goldstein talked to the author of a book entitled Celeb 2.0, as well as a “social media theorist,” and managed to include a touch of Post-style snark in her analysis: “Depending on how generous your definition of ‘celebrity’ is, you can add former Laguna Beach star Kristin Cavallari to the roundup. She was asked to a Marine Corps ball on Twitter and replied with a yes in less than 30 minutes.” Speaking of the Onion satire, Goldstein explained that it “nails what’s so bizarre about the requests.”
Bizarre, perhaps—but is that for the Post to say? The annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association used to be a (metaphorically) sober gathering of journalists assembled in a ballroom to hear the president deliver a speech on some suitable topic of interest. Now it has become a televised laugh fest, featuring an address by an actual comedian, an obligatory presidential stand-up routine, and frantic competition among the organs of the press, including the Washington Post, to lure as many out-of-town celebrities—Kim Kardashian, George Clooney, Lindsay Lohan, Ozzy Osborne, Charlize Theron, Steven Spielberg, Kelly Ripa—as possible to their tables.
If the Post has deplored this development, or refrained from competing with Vanity Fair or NBC for the honor of inviting the cast of Duck Dynasty, we are unaware of it. Which is something to remember the next time the Post treats celebrity suck-up fever with disdain.