I've given up trying to keep track of Entertainment Weekly's many annual lists. EW may be the most list-happy publication in pop culture, although it's not as ambitious as Rolling Stone. For sheer pomposity, it's hard to beat "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." EW's latest venture into list-keeping counts down "The 25 Biggest Celeb Scandals Since 1982." The package is witty and playful as the editors repeat the all-caps and exclamation-pointed headlines of tabloids, but it goes all Church Lady on us when wagging a finger of showbiz moralism.
It's difficult to find any moral compass in this feature, except the notion that sexual promiscuity (Woody Allen, Rob Lowe, Charlie Sheen) matters far less than offensive speech (Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Isaiah Washington). Even offensive speech is subjective. In a brief introduction, Sean Smith discerns that "Don Imus and Isaiah Washington both lost their jobs for saying something stupid. The Dixie Chicks initially lost album sales for saying something smart." The closest the editors come to explaining this judgment is that The Dixie Chicks dissed President Bush before dissing him was cool.
I find it telling that the decisive criterion for each scandal is its "career impact" rather than how many people the behavior harmed, whether the celebrity expressed any remorse or whether there was any redemptive moment, whether metaphorical or clearly spiritual.
Religion hovers in a few of the top 25 scandals:
No. 25. Madonna angers the Pope! This item focuses more on Madonna's oft-paraded sexual antics, but the photos do include her "crucified on a cross of glamour" moment. Career impact: Positive.
No. 14. Michael Richards talks like a 1960s Grand Kleagle! Career impact: Minor. Then there's this tantalizing but vague postscript: "While on a spiritual journey in Cambodia last month, he told the L.A. Times that he has quit stand-up comedy." (The Times reported: "Richards, 57, and actress Beth Skipp traveled to remote temples before visiting Angkor Wat on a tour sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Nithyananda Foundation. The sect adheres to the teachings of 29-year-old Hindu monk Nithyananda -- an avowed 'enlightened Master and modern mystic' who's referred to by his followers as 'swamiji.'"
No. 11. Tom Cruise "dumps longtime publicist Pat Kingsley in March 2004 and hires fellow-Scientologist sister as her replacement"! This is EW's only acknowledgment of a Scientology angle to Cruise's behavior, although the more obvious connections are his criticism of Brooke Shields for taking medication amid postpartum depression and his lecturing NBC's Matt Lauer about Ritalin. Career impact: Major.
No. 3. Sinéad O'Connor rips a photo of Pope John Paul II to pieces"! Career impact: Major.
No. 2. Mel Gibson, while drunk, makes vile anti-Jewish remarks! Career impact: To be determined.
And here are two bonus scandals that appeared in an online roundup of scandals 26 through 50:
46. Lisa Bonet gets nekkid! "Nineteen-year-old Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet was about to headline her own spinoff, A Different World, when she made her film debut as voodoo priestess Epiphany Proudfoot in Angel Heart, an erotic thriller in which she fogged up the lens with costar Mickey Rourke while (fake) chicken blood poured down on their naked bodies." Career impact: Major.
30. Anne Heche suffers from divine multiple personality disorder! "On Aug. 19, 2000, a newly Ellen-less Anne Heche knocked on a stranger's door near Fresno, Calif., and made herself at home. It wasn't until the following year, when she sat for a 20/20 interview with Barbara Walters and published her autobiography, Call Me Crazy, that we got to know why: For years, Heche explained, she had an alter ego named Celestia, who believed she was the reincarnation of God. She and the Big Guy communicated through a secret language (sample: 'Oh, Quiness, ah ka fota tuna dunna'). That day in Fresno, Celestia was making her way to her spaceship." Career impact: Minor.
Thanks for the laff riot, EW! I'm not sure who's more difficult to figure out: The celebrities who brought us these moments, or the editors who determined their moral gravity. Maybe this feature is the seed for an annual Top 25 Celebritards. Time to shower.