Does it matter that celebrity magazines make things up, with all the stories attributed to conveniently anonymous “sources”, “family friends” and “insiders”? I’ve been trying to work this out, in the knowledge that I am certainly not the target audience. Faced with a stack of the glossies, my first thought is: who are all these people?

Here is a sample of the dubious and mutually contradictory information from this week’s crop of glossies.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are on the rocks because Brad has admitted he still has feelings for his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston. An “insider” states he is missing a stable home life with Jennifer, because Angelina doesn’t want to settle and is always travelling. This from New Weekly, recently voted magazine of the year for “excellence and achievement” in “delivering an energetic celebrity package”. Did accuracy matter in this award? Guess not.

Because according to Famous and New Idea Angelina Jolie is a “stay at home mum” who is so insecure about Brad while he is on the set of his latest movie that she has started calling him ten times a day.

New Idea has an extra story about how Jennifer Aniston is “ready to take the plunge again” with new boyfriend Vince Vaughn, who has apparently proposed recently. But Famous says that the Aniston-Vaughn romance is about to be broken off, and that Vaughn is on the verge of a breakdown as a result.

I took a very unscientific straw poll this afternoon among a group of professional young women, all of whom read celebrity gossip. “It’s like having mutual friends you can gossip about,” one said. Did it matter to them if it was made up? Opinion was divided. They wanted to think there was some truth to the articles, but on the other hand conflicting accounts could be fun, because they fuelled the gossip. As in “Oh, well what I’ve heard is….”

One magazine tries to distinguish itself amidst all this bullsh-t. Who Weekly makes the radical boast “we research our stories, we check our facts and we never make it up”. Taking them at their word I tried to work out whether it made a difference. It does. Who Weekly has less celebrity gossip! They use the photos big, but with less text.

And the circulation figures show Who on just under 161,000 copies, compared to New Idea’s 433,177. Credibility, it seems, is not a killer market advantage.

Does it matter that these mags make things up about real people’s lives? I think it does. There is already enough sadness and confusion in the world.

But what bothers me more is that I have come away from a week of surveying celebrity gossip feeling quite depressed. In this make-believe world there is no such thing as fidelity, love or trust. All happiness is fleeting, all vows breakable, all love suspect, all body shapes open to criticism, and all “trusted friends” likely to betray your most intimate secrets to the media. It’s much gloomier than reality. Even than the front page of the day’s newspapers. No wonder depression among young people is on the rise.

Yet I know the target market regards these magazines as escapism and good entertainment. Obviously I just don’t get it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey