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Mar. 6 2010 - 9:46 am | 228 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

Doing P.T. Barnum Proud: The Rise of ‘Stuntertainment’

HOLLYWOOD, FL - JANUARY 09:  Nicole 'Snooki' P...

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A friend and I play an informal game of one-upping in which we send each other links to ever more outlandish stories of folks who have achieved success (usually in the form of a book deal, a talk show appearance or an NPR interview) through what I like to call stuntertainment. Stuntertainment involves the undertaking of a gimmicky project or activity for the purpose of attracting publicity and parlaying said publicity into a payday. Think David Blaine’s whole career. Forget having a good cocktail party anecdote, nothing less than landing a literary agent or a two-minute spot  on Good Morning America will do.  Shtick, of course, reigns supreme.

In the online arena, Julie Powell is the pioneer of this approach. Sauteing and baking her way through Julia Childs’ Mastering the Art of French Cooking (the documenting of which makes the task seems like a hellishly grim one) earned her a book deal, which led to a movie directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

At least Powell’s stuntertainment feat involved some genuine sweat equity on her part. The bar has gotten considerably lower since then. We’ve gone from Julie and Julia to Look at this Fucking Hipster and This is Why You’re Fat (the books). Yes, convincing people to send you pictures of skinny-panted dandies on the subway and snaps of bacon-wrapped banana splits (with the bananas replaced with Twinkies, natch) is now enough to land you a book deal. Why pay your proverbial dues if you can just pay for a domain name instead?  But the stuntertainment isn’t limited to blogs and websites. No, it has become its own industry. The Fake AP Stylebook Twitter account was  live for mere weeks before the publishing industry came calling and William Shatner is set to star in a tv pilot based on the tweets of @shitmydad says.  And let’s not forget about the realm of reality tv, which seems an almost antiquated route to fame compared to being an online flash-in-the-pan these days. Why, there’s Jersey Shore’s Snooki telling Conan O’Brien that she wants to use her current name recognition as a springboard to fulfilling her ultimate career aspiration -  her own VH-1 dating show. And yes, she already has the name picked out.  Somewhere, P.T. Barnum is smiling.

But I think I might have finally come up against the nadir of the phenomenon. There was a false alarm with the woman who spent a year and $5000 living her life entirely according to advice offered up by Our Lady of Perpetual Self-Help, Oprah, but the ultimate prize (and isn’t that what he’s in it for anyway?) goes to Nick Waters. Nick and his wife watched thirty so-called “chick flicks” in thirty days, blogged about it and now:

The masochistic experiment – 30 Chick Flicks in 30 Days: One Guy’s Exploration of Romance Through Movies Loved by Women – has mystified men and women alike, and also landed the couple an agent and a shot at spinning their tale into a book and a movie.

No, the article wasn’t published in The Onion. And, yes, watching a month’s worth of Meg Ryan movies is now grounds for a possible book or movie deal (Quick, spread the word to all your unemployed friends!). I’ll happily hand you a tissue as you weep for humanity’s literary future. Welcome to the age of stuntertainment. Forget  the odious personal branding,  that’s old news.  We’ve moved on to multimedia personal grandstanding. Heck, were he writing it today, Nabokov would have probably tested the waters for Lolita via a YouTube web series.

Sure you don’t need another tissue?


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  1. collapse expand

    Would Gretchen’s Rubin’s “The Happiness Project” also qualify as one of these media gladiators?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/fashion/28rubin.html?scp=1&sq=happiness%20gretchen&st=cse

    • collapse expand

      Not that I claim to be the almighty arbiter of stuntertainment (even after coining the term), but I’m inclined to say no, especially because she didn’t spring to mind as an example while writing the post. I think there’s a definite line between shtick and angle/niche (which everyone at T/S attempts to define for their own columns) and Rubin falls into the latter camp. Maybe it’s her level of personal investment in the project (it seems to have some intrinsic value to her own well-being)? Or the fact that she’s coming from a place of privilege in which a gimmick seems almost unnecessary to gain access to the resources needed to publicize one’s hobby horse (I’d put Jessica Seinfeld in the same camp)?

      I also don’t include the likes of Barbara Enhrenreich and Norah Vincent, but that’s because their work is more clearly in the realm of immersive journalism.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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