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Bonnie Fuller gets flak from every direction. They say she can't dress, that no one wants to work for her, that she sold out the sisterhood by using her power at Marie Claire for evil instead of good. I even read somewhere that good-natured Gwynny called her the Devil. But when my copy of the revamped Star magazine came in the mail a few days ago, it occurred to me that no one has addressed the real issue: In trying to make her Star all fancy, she's sucked the fun right out of it.
Now it has fashion tips, snappy prose, and interviews with celebrities themselves—rather than the traditional interviews with their scorned high school sweethearts. The stars are actually smiling into Star's cameras now, rather than hiding behind their middle fingers. A magazine like this is presumably more attractive to advertisers. But the beauty of the old Star was that it was so utterly without pretense, so unapologetically trashy. What has Bonnie Fuller done to the Star of my childhood?
She announced that the magazine was "no longer a tabloid" last week, but I noticed subtle changes creeping in after she took over back in July. Some might call them upgrades; I wouldn't. First the number of telephoto-lens stalker pictures of crusty-eyed celebrities went way down. Then the paper stock went up: On April 1, its sooty tabloid pages were replaced nationwide with something a little more, well, glossy. (It had earlier in New York, but—thankfully, in this case—I don't live there.) Just as she did with Us Weekly, Fuller is making a grab for a younger, hipper, richer readership. But if I were you, Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConaughey, I wouldn't be looking so happy about it.
I'm certainly not, and here's why: My family—the girl part of it, anyway—has been reading Star for years.
My grandmother's the one who started it. She got it each week at the supermarket, to our great embarrassment—we figured it was no different from its pals in the check-out line, the Globe and Weekly World News, which run headlines about Sasquatch and the Spider Baby and stayed on the topic of Michael Jackson buying the Elephant Man's bones till the story was way past its prime. But Star, as my mom and sister and I soon discovered, was different. It stayed out of Big Foot territory, and whatever it reported on Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas—I'm raiding the archives here—was actually true, even if all the quotes came from a mysterious "source close to the star."
Of course, by "true" I don't necessarily mean "factually accurate," though I swear it was. The old Star was right in its attitude, too. Unlike snazzier magazines—and the popular culture in general—it didn't feel obliged to kowtow to the rich and assy. And aside from coining the phrase "Wacko Jacko," Star was surprisingly un-mean-spirited. It was more like, Well, hey. Cameron Diaz has some pretty kickin' acne. Just thought you should know.
We Haegele girls bonded over this stuff. When I was about 12, mom replaced grandmom's supermarket habit with a gift subscription, and each week we convened at grandmom's to discuss it. Here's how important this was: Whenever her issue didn't arrive with Friday's mail, grandmom immediately called the post office. This was in a fairly small town, too, where most people knew most everyone else. Can you imagine? She was sure the mailmen were sitting in the back room, reading her Star before she did.
Back then, when Star felt like something only my embarrassing family knew about, the cult of the celebrity was not what it is now. That change is thanks in large part to Fuller herself, who dreamed up the super-popular, hip hybrid magazines that are part scandal sheet, part Cosmo. Reading Star back in the day, well, that was a little unusual, and, like most publications that fly under the radar, it was special. It had a trashy relationship advice column called "Dear Meg"—"Once a cheat, always a cheat," was a catchphrase—and another, even grosser, write-in feature called "Ask Dr. Luger"—"Describe the rash to your G.P. before it spreads," was one bit of wisdom. We loved it for that neighborhoody, over-the-washline feel. It was a magazine for the people, no-nonsense and trustworthy, in its own ridiculous way.
I can't trust this new Star, with its shiny cover and features like "The Most Gorgeous Girl of the Week." Because the thing is, headlines like that aren't just cheesy, they're disingenuous. Bonnie's Star is chatty, sassy, and, like so many other celeb mags—like Us Weekly—anything but sincere. In pretending to be kinder and gentler—in being fascinated with instead of repulsed by Bennifer, in going bananas over Courteney Cox's pregnancy "bump"—Bonnie Fuller's Star contributes to a culture of jealousy and celebrity dehumanization that's a hell of a lot more insidious than, say, printing Hugh Grant's dorky mug shot. Mostly, the Star we knew and loved didn't think that famous people were worth more than unfamous people. I can't say for sure what the old Star would have said about Kobe's rape case, but I bet they wouldn't have called it a "sex romp."
My grandmother died a few years ago, and I'm sorry to say we can barely keep up the old family traditions. I've got my own subscription, and it's often a couple days late, but who would swipe it? I can't get my sister to come over and look at it with me any more, even when I have beer. The new Star might now be a magazine that certain editors are less ashamed to be associated with, but it's not my Star anymore, the one I could trust to be real with me. That one is as long gone as Colin Farrell after a one-night stand, which is a real shame.
At least grandmom isn't around to see it.
Katie Haegele is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Utne Reader, the Philadelphia Weekly, and the fiction anthology Women Behaving Badly.