Oct 13 2010

Celebrity Tell-All

Published by at 12:28 am under Uncategorized

Celebrity Tell All is a largely encompassing genre  that is an autobiographical sub-genre detailing events or the whole life of a culturally notable individual. To truly define this nouveau literary sub-genre it is necessary to break it down into what it is comprised of. Firstly, it refers to the celebrity or one who has a “condition of being much extolled or talked about; famousness, notoriety”. The second half of the whole term: “Tell All” is synonymous with other sub-genre’s of autobiography which are: addiction and trauma memoir , confessional autobiography, life-writing,e tc. This sub-genre can overlap into any other sub-genre of autobiography as long as it is associated to a celebrity. Wikipedia defines a synonym for ‘celebrity tell all‘ or ‘sensationalist and celebrity autobiographies‘ as a scandal involved memoir serving a public taste for gossip or ‘titillation’ written mainly by ghostwriters. Wikipedia acknowledges a critical point about celebrity tell all’s here and that is that they are written by ‘ghostwriters’, indicative of the fact that much of the time celebrities do not write these autobiographical works. Ghostwriters, as defined by the O.E.D are “hack writer(s) who does work for which another person takes the credit”. What is further interesting besides this is that most of the time a celebrity tell all is not only trademarked by who it’s written of, but of what it reveals. Wikipedia referred to the fact that these works usually offer up titillating gossip for the masses which overlap into the sub-genre’s of confessionals. Currently there is website which features celebrity readings of  ‘their’ autobiographies called www.celebrityautobiography.com. What is extremely daring about the webpage is that it states: “And what’s remarkable and unforgettably hilarious—It’s all in their own words”.  Once again, a declarative statement against the use of ghostwriters and that the site affirms that these Celebrities are reading their own words, what can be corrected here is that celebrities are reciting paraphrases of their memories. In summation a Celebrity Tell All is an autobiographical work about a Celebrity, which can overlap into other sub-genre’s of autobiography, primarily memoir, confessional, or trauma memoir, usually written by a ghostwriter which offers up sensationalist and provocative information concerning private details about that celebrities personal life.

Controversy & Debate

The Canadian publication “Canadian Review of American Studies” brought up several prominent topics and incidents regarding Celebrity Tell Alls and their impact on their audiences. Although Julie Rak’s article in this journal focuses on James Frey’s fictional memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” it brings to mind a controversial and current Celebrity Tell All entitled “High on Arrival” by Mackenzie Phillips. This delightful example of a sensationalist or controversial Celebrity Tell All involves Mackenzie Phillips, daughter of John Phillips, founder and member of the band the Mama’s & the Papa’s. Mackenzie reveals an incestual relationship with her father that began during her latter teenage years which has now completely altered the memory of her deceased father. The controversy here lies in the fact that her family’s reputation has been exposed to the public  in her ‘Tell All’ memoir. Rak feels the credibility of human experience portrayed in a genre meant to tell factual truths has been exploited and demerited by the commercialization of ‘popular autobiography’ or ‘celebrity tell – all’s’.  Clearly, there is debate over whether Phillips did the write thing by exposing her family so public-ally in an attempt to deal with these traumatic events from her past while straining relationships with other family members. There are other members of her family who deny these allegations made against her father or question them, which include two of his former wives and his younger daughter Bijou Phillips. Bijou was reported saying in an article on cnn.com: “”I understand Mackenzie’s need to come clean, but it hurts because the man in question isn’t here to defend himself . . . I hope she can come to terms with this and find peace.” The article also includes a statement by former band member and ex-wife of John Phillips: Michelle Phillips, stating that “Mackenzie’s drug addiction for 35 years has been the result of many unpleasant experiences. . .Mackenzie has a lot of mental illness. She’s had a needle stuck up her arm for 35 years. … She did ‘Celebrity Rehab,’ and now she writes a book. The whole thing is timed.” This accusation made by Michelle Phillips draws credibility away from Mackenzie Phillip’s clean intentions in writing her memoir and focuses on how damaging the ‘sensationalist’ qualities of a memoir can be and whose lives they affect, she also indirectly accuses Mackenzie of riding high off of increasing fame from the reality television show she was on and that publishing this novel was a timed attempt to keep that fame increasing. While Rak writes about James Frey’s fabricated memoir which was publicized on the Oprah Winfrey show she raises a great overall point about the diminishing/depreciating value behind Celebrity Tell-Alls: “The controversy about Frey and the lawsuit that resulted in the possibility of giving readers a refund makes a link between the popularity of non-fiction in mass culture and the memoir’s position within capitalism as a commodity. During a time when political and spiritual leaders are becoming hard for the general public to trust, auto/biographical representations by celebrities and by “ordinary” Americans are on the rise”. The celebrity tell all has become a multi platform base of outreach for any kind of celebrity looking to gain the public’s attention, thus bankrupting the value behind a memoir or autobiography. Tim O’Brien, although a fictional memoir writer, proposes the idea that the emotional impact of a story trumps the factual legitimacy of it. Mackenzie Phillip’s “High On Arrival” provokes severe debate over what should remain as private within a family and what factors go into purporting that it is acceptable to publicize defamatory statements about someone, especially the deceased. Her memoir is a clear indicator of what justifications go into printing such a sensationalist memoir and the cost of doing so.

Notable Examples

High On Arrival by Mackenzie PhllipsDamn You, Scalet O' Hara by Darwin Porter

Here's The Story by Maureen McCormick

A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin by Kathy Griffin

Damn You, Scalet O' Hara by Darwin Porter

Contribution to the Genre of Autobiography

Julie Rak writes “Studying auto/biography within popular culture is a good way to examine how truth is produced, consumed, bought, sold, or even—sometimes—how identity itself is resistant to its own commodifications in the twenty-first century”. Popular autobiography, or in the case of the Celebrity Tell All which is inherently Popular autobiography, allows for the commodity of truth-telling to come into examination and allows a democratic and broader examination of how truth is exhibited in this particular genre, how it is reacted to by a larger audience than by a memoir written by someone who isn’t sensationalist and a celebrity which might reach a smaller audience. Rak also points out that “. . .popular auto/biography is at the heart of what it means to live and represent life in the United States today”, so that this perspective on this genre is beneficial to the overall genre or parent genre of autobiography, because it also speaks about popular culture and continues to re-examine how the self can truthfully be deconstructed or identified to the masses and the extent to which the private can be made public with respect to defamation of character. Mackenzie Phillip’s Memoir is a great example of this deconstruction of identity with regards to the major criticisms she has received from her family on how credible her statements were regarding her relationship with her father. Thus celebrity tell all’s benefit the genre as a whole as they bring into question the value of large commercial production of popular autobiography and allow for greater re-examination of how to represent the self through writing.


  • “ghost-writer”  The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Chris Baldick. Oxford University Press, 2008. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  CUNY Queens College.  29 September 2010
  • Canadian Review of American Studies – Pop Life: AnIntroduction Project MUSE Journals Canadian Review of American Studies
    Volume 38, Number 3, 2008
  • CNN, Breeanna Hare. “Mackenzie Phillips: ‘I Understand This Is a Difficult Thing’ – CNN.com.”CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. 28 Sept. 2009. Web. 27 Oct. 2010.
  • “Autobiography.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobiography#Sensationalist_and_celebrity_.22autobiographies.22>.
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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Celebrity Tell-All”

  1.   P. Burgeron 13 Oct 2010 at 1:45 pm

    OK, well, I think you have a pretty good start with the basic definition, though that section still needs some editing to clean it up a bit: the language is quite rough, and the different ideas could be separated visually somehow to make it easier to follow. Also, I’m not sure that you give enough credit to ghostwriters. They aren’t always hacks (I guess I disagree with the OED here?) but they are paid to write for somebody else, and sometimes they do get credit (i.e. a co-authorship)

    The rest of this post gets away from the topic at hand. Under “controversy” you spend a lot of time describing a scandal that, though it became quite well-known, is not about a celebrity tell-all, it’s about a fake memoir written by a previously not-well-known writer. Though A Million Little Pieces may tangentially be related to tell-all, the book itself is not a celebrity tell-all because it isn’t about the life of a famous person, and it’s all fake. Thus, I think that you need to remove this section and replace it with something that adheres more closely to your particular term.
    Under your notable examples, I’m not sure that any of these are actually celebrity tell-alls. First of all, Persepolis is not by a celebrity (the author was not famous before writing this book. Satrapi is a well-known artist BECAUSE of this book) and, more importantly, it is a political and personal memoir that isn’t scandalous or confessional. You are conflating a “tell-all” with all autobiographical writing, even though you explain, in your definition, that tell-all is sensationalist. For this reason, I don’t really think Obama’s memoirs are tell-alls, because they aren’t sensationalist. I haven’t read Palin’s book (I don’t think I will!) but I don’t get the impression that it’s sensationalist. When dealing with political memoirs, there is a difference between simply writing memoirs and telling scandalous secrets. I think you might be better off looking at tell-alls by or about famous musicians, movie stars, athletes, or other notable figures who have either “told all” or have had “unauthorized” salacious biographies written about them. This is more in the spirit of the celebrity tell-all than a rather straightforward memoir such as Dreams of My Father.
    Lastly, in your “contributions” sections, you have some interesting points to make, but you don’t have any sources. On what are you basing this information? If you have read criticism to back up your claims, cite them. It will give your claims more credence. Let me know if you have any questions, I’m more than happy to answer them or give you any suggestions.

  2.   P. Burgeron 13 Oct 2010 at 1:46 pm

    PS: please add the blogroll to your blog!

  3.   pamelaburgeron 20 Oct 2010 at 2:38 pm

    you have not posted your final glossary project page yet, and it was due 9/15. Please post it by Friday at the latest, or you will not receive credit for this project.

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    Kheran Panday's Blog » Celebrity Tell-All

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