In the mid-1990s, Los Angeles-based Swiss journalist Tom Kummer began selling exclusive interviews with American celebrities to Germany and Switzerland’s largest news outlets. The interviews, which have Mike Tyson quoting Nietzsche and Pam Anderson discussing Neuromancer, became sensations in the German-speaking world. As it turned out, Kummer never actually met his subjects, but was fabricating the interviews from the privacy of his Koreatown apartment.
Pamela Anderson, Friday, March 15, 1996
Tom Kummer: Pamela, you’ve just come from your personal trainer. How are you feeling?
Pamela Anderson: Just great. When I run on the beach, I feel my whole body. And when I feel my whole body, I love life. I look at the birds in the sky, the dolphins in the ocean, the crabs in the sand, and feel one with the earth. And when I love life and my body like that, then Jack – my personal trainer – tells me, “Pamela, you are the most beautiful woman in the world.”
Kummer: Andy Warhol once observed that beauty is just another form of intelligence. Do you believe that?
Anderson: Oh, tough question. Let me think about it. I would say – yeah. Although no one thinks I’m that intelligent. But I’ve come to accept that. Tommy, my husband, can confirm what you say. I’m no dummy.
Kummer: Does it bother you that Tommy has the name of his ex-wife, Heather Locklear, tattooed on his butt?
Anderson: I’m glad you ask. I really don’t care, although no one seems to believe me. The newspapers are saying I’ve forced Tommy to get rid of the tattoo. That’s not true. I think that every man goes through countless periods of admiring different sex symbols. And they shouldn’t be ashamed of that. I think Heather is a magical person. I just think she has a poor diet. That’s her real tragedy.
Kummer: Who tells you that kind of thing?
Anderson: I have my informants. In Los Angeles, that’s really important. I have good sources that tell me that Heather doesn’t eat well. I think that’s awful. But actually, it’s none of my business. But, for example, I don’t want to be told what to do by any nutritionist who’s already worked for a woman like Heather. That’s out of the question. I have to protect myself from that.
Kummer: In your opinion, what kind of woman does Heather represent, and how is she different from you?
Anderson: Heather is a Bo Derek fan – always has been. I’m not. Heather always wanted to be a supermodel, unlike me. I’m different. I’m more like Isabella Rossellini.
Kummer: Excuse me? In terms of ideals of beauty, Rossellini represents more of an avant-garde ideal. Whereas you, with your body, put on display rather crazy things –
Anderson: What makes you think that?
Kummer: Do I really have to explain that to you?
Anderson: Yes, please do.
Kummer: Well, in contrast to Rossellini, people call you the “hottest blonde tits of all time.” You often say that your man fucks you until you drop. In contrast to supermodels, you get wasted with rock stars, and you openly admit that your body is a work of plastic surgery. And you are shamelessly cheeky. God knows you don’t have anything in common with Rosselini.
Anderson: I think I do. Look, like Isabella, I face incredible pressure to look sexy. I’m paid $132,000 per episode of Baywatch. And people give me everything possible in order to make me look as hot as a lifeguard. Millions of viewers know exactly what my body looks like, and they’d recognize any changes immediately. I don’t leave anything to chance. I can’t afford to.
Kummer: Do you even have any control over what you look like today? You work with a team of experts and consultants.
Anderson: I admit openly that at least half of my income goes to my consultant. But, in any case, I’ve remained a woman that does what she wants. That connects me to Isabella Rosellini and distinguishes me from supermodels.
Kummer: Rossellini illustrates the grandeur of nature. You’re more of a child of high-tech beauty care.
Anderson: That’s exactly it. I make the best of myself, and that’s what Rossellini does, too.
Kummer: I actually think that – in California – sexiness is quickly equated to beauty. In Europe, people are more careful.
Anderson: I don’t think so. Sexy is always beautiful.
Kummer: In Canada, when you were still advertising for canned beer, you didn’t have any rolls under your chin, your breasts were half as large as they are today, and your hips were somewhat wider. How do you imagine the future of your body?
Anderson: Wonderful. I’ve got everything under control. My implants ache occasionally, but that’s normal. I plan to breastfeed my children.
Kummer: You’re four months pregnant – but you don’t show.
Anderson: It’s fine. I spoke with my doctor about it.
Kummer: Your gynecologist?
Anderson: No, my general practitioner. He’s responsible for my nutrition and he oversees a special vitamin program that I’ve been on for six months.
Kummer: What kind of vitamins?
Anderson: Four red ones, three green ones, two black pills – I won’t say more.
Kummer: What’s so secret about it?
Anderson: They’re pills that keep me from my usual appetite and also keep me nourished.
Kummer: Pamela, you embody every materialistic zeitgeist. Reality loses itself in simulation, and the cult of the body is the most consistent reaction to that. Have you found the meaning of life in this?
Anderson: I don’t exactly know what you’re talking about. But I can be certain of something: I don’t have to seek out any “meaning of life” in order to be happy. It’s become trendy to hate sex symbols – because pretty much every girl is jealous, and because no man other than Tommy can have me.
Kummer: How many men have you been with?
Anderson: I’ve had 18 intimate relations in my life. I won’t say more.
Kummer: To you, where does the body begin – in the soul, in the face, in the skin and hair, in the individual organs, in the cells, in the DNA?
Anderson: At the moment, I’m intensively occupied with my hips, because they have the biggest influence on my appearance – or, that’s what I believe. As
a woman approaching 30, I have to work particularly hard at this. Completely privately, though, I believe in the secrets of the blood. Like many Japanese people, instead of astrology, I believe in blood types. I can’t, for example, be in love with someone with Type B blood. I’m type O – explosive – and Tommy’s type A – very sensual. He can recognize every plant in the world.
Kummer: It was my understanding that you’ve already operated on your hips.
Anderson: That’s not true. I’ve simply trained hard.
Kummer: Were your lips always so lush?
Anderson: Yes, of course.
Kummer: You openly admit that you’ve had cosmetic surgery, but you don’t want to say exactly how. Right?
Anderson: Exactly, because that’s my trade secret. Otherwise, a lot of girls would look just like me.
Kummer: Anna Nicole Smith tried –
Anderson: I would like to clarify something about her: she weighs 200 pounds. She is fat, dumb, and a liar. And the worst part is that she has no discipline.
Kummer: You repeatedly stress your discipline. What does a typical fitness day look like for you?
Anderson: I wake up at six, and I wash with a brush and a bar of soap. Then my trainer comes to pick me up and we go to the gym or to the beach. Then I eat breakfast with my cosmetician. Currently, I’m involved in a completely customized beauty care routine.
Kummer: What’s your understanding of beauty care?
Anderson: I’m currently undergoing a precautionary electro-liposuction and a precautionary electro-ridopuncture against wrinkles. That means a weekly bio-facelift, color- and aromatherapy, and a live-cell therapy. Although active relaxation and mental training are more important for my well-being.
Kummer: For example?
Anderson: Shiatsu and yoga. Acupressure relieves tension and pain and strengthens the body’s immune system. In the last months, I’ve discovered countless energy-points on my body. That’s wonderful. When these points are pressed or heated, their respective organs are simulated. Beauty comes from the inside – I’m very much convinced of this. Using yoga, I’ve developed a breathing technique to harmonize body and soul. Beauty training doesn’t have to be brutal. You just have to find yourself, and then you’ll feel fit and beautiful.
Kummer: Do you believe that your relationship with your body has changed in the past years, due to countless interventions and cures?
Anderson: I don’t think so. I’m just becoming more beautiful.
Kummer: But you have to perceive your body differently. You don’t wear the same size dress as you did ten years ago. And meanwhile your bra is 34DD, right?
Anderson: That’s not completely true. I’ve developed a very familiar relationship to my body. I perceive the changes as completely natural – so much, in fact, that I don’t even see them as changes.
Kummer: Your breasts are bigger, your face is longer, your hips are slimmer, your nose is smaller –
Anderson: On principle, I don’t talk about it, because it just inhibits me.
Kummer: There have always been so-called “dream women,” but you’re the first to be featured in Playboy six times. Does that have a particular meaning for you? Does it make you feel superior?
Anderson: No. I consider myself very professional and disciplined. That’s the only way in which I’m superior to most beautiful women.
Kummer: In Baywatch, you sometimes seem very bored with the world. Is that the secret to why men are driven so crazy by you?
Anderson: If I only knew. But I wasn’t brought to Baywatch because of my acting talent. That much is clear.
Kummer: Soon, you’ll hit theaters as a canvas print of the “BarbWire” comic figure. Is she the LA Version of “Tankgirl,” a coarse girl in a post-apocalyptic world?
Anderson: The first step is to come to terms with the body you were born with. I’m lucky in that my proportions are correct – that’s the biggest secret. With hard work, I can influence a lot in accordance with my wishes.
Kummer: You talk more than men would expect from a sex symbol. Do you think that your fans get annoyed when you talk so much about your body?
Anderson: My body is consumed by millions of people. That’s why I have to strain myself so much. But I also want people to listen.
Kummer: What do you think of Madonna?
Anderson: I think that she sucks. She doesn’t know what she wants. First she’s one thing, then she’s another. She talks to me about feminism and about sex, and I don’t like her music. Why do you ask? Do you think she’s sexy?
Kummer: I think what she says is sexy.
Anderson: I can’t understand why. If people think I’m vulgar, then they have to at least consider her perverse.
Kummer: You also really go for it. Your video with Tommy –
Anderson: is something completely different. We are married and faithful.
Kummer: So do you mean that Madonna, in contrast, took the sexual provocations too far, and thus killed her own sex appeal?
Anderson: I would never think to boast about sex games.
Kummer: In the US, one sees your Playboy poster at truck stops, biker joints, and police stations. You are the sex symbol for American hick culture. Does that bother you?
Anderson: A million Baywatch fans worldwide can’t be wrong. People just love me. And if cops sometimes let things slide because they worship me so much, I think that’s great. However, I’m generally afraid of my fans. I don’t understand why people think that naked pictures are keys to my real personhood. Today, I was followed by voyeurs. Fans break into our house. I have to walk day and night with my bodyguard.
Kummer: A reporter for the gossip tabloid Star is said to have once, during an interview, asked if he could grab your breasts. He clearly thought you would engage in his little game.
Anderson: A complete asshole. Men like him are rapists waiting to happen.
Kummer: Do you really have no idea why your looks have the effect they have on men and provoke them to do crazy things?
Anderson: I abhor men like that. I don’t grab every guy’s ass when he struts across Santa Monica beach.
Kummer: Now, with the Internet, virtual reality has arrived at the doorsteps of your fans. Do you fear the competition of a digital techno-body?
Anderson: Not really. Tommy and I have looked at virtual cybersex programs a few times. And I have today. It frightens me.
Kummer: Case, the protagonist of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), has a snobby contempt of living bodies. Computer fans claim that they won’t be interested in “meat” any longer. Can you understand that?
Anderson: I read that book a while ago, and it totally fascinated me. But I think it predicts something that won’t be real for a long time.
Kummer: So you can’t imagine catching your husband having cybersex one day – one hand on the keyboard, the other in his pants?
Anderson: Is that a joke? I don’t find that funny at all. Sex can’t be imitated on the computer. Never. Can you imagine a truck driver hanging up a poster of a cybergirl in his truck? Never.
Kummer: You have to admit that the line between body and technology has become rather fluid.
Kummer: The cosmetic surgery industry is said to be worth 500 million dollars. And it’s only increasing.
Anderson: So what? That doesn’t interest me.
Kummer: After muscle and breast implants, soon faces will be made of silicon. Are you in support of this development?
Anderson: I just went to one of these wonderful beauty farms in Germany. Personally, I was convinced. Germany has the most luxurious farms in the world, with a fantastic mood. There are women there who have, through beauty therapy, developed a completely new sense of life.
Kummer: Your hobbies – dancing, sex?
Anderson: That’s not completely true. From time to time, I trim the bushes in our garden. Although I take care not to get scratched. The cost of insuring my body is rather high.
Kummer: Along with Claudia Schiffer, you’re the most famous blonde in the world right now. Why do gentlemen prefer blondes?
Anderson: I can’t say. Tradition. I’m lucky it’s that way.
Kummer: You don’t get bored of stereotypes?
Anderson: I’m not a stereotype. I’m Pamela.
Kummer: Wonderful. But what bores Pamela?
Anderson: Men who give their wives diamonds. I can’t stand a woman who brags about the size of her rock.
Kummer: What do you and Tommy fight about at home?
Anderson: I want to buy a lot of trapezes. Tommy thinks we already have too many. I swing nearly every day over Tommy’s piano while he’s playing. Naked. That makes him go crazy.
Kummer: And when you swing up and down, you feel really happy. Do you think that there can be beauty without emotions?
Anderson: I can’t look beautiful without having fun. I’m sure of this.
Kummer: And how do you have fun?
Anderson: For example, when Mötley Crüe comes to visit us. They kick box and try on my bikinis. I swing up and down on the trapeze wearing only a huge Mad Hatter hat and heels. That’s what I call fun.
Kummer You met your rock hero Tommy, and then married him four days later.
Anderson: Oh, Tommy. He visited me during a photo session in Cancun. He came up to me, hugged me, and licked my face. I thought that was really cool and beautiful. I don’t know any other man who can talk so sensually about plants. It just makes me melt.
Kummer: So your husband stimulates you through his knowledge of gardens. Does reality play any role in your life?
Anderson: Of course. You think that only my body is responsible for my sexual fantasies?
Kummer: Pamela, more important for me is the question: Does good sex make one beautiful?
Anderson: That is the big secret. Though no one will ever learn that from me. It’s a beautiful thing that only my husband will know what I look like having sex.
Courtney Love, Friday, 14 February 1997
Tom Kummer: Ms. Love, we’ve been speaking for a good fifteen minutes, but I can’t understand your answers. Why don’t you tell me what you’d like to talk about?
Courtney Love: On the Riviera, there are seagulls that sip gin and tonics on the rocks. Let’s talk about them. Every third ice cube is filled with the brain tissue of extinct American dinosaurs.
Kummer: And this moves you?
Love: I’m sorry. I’m feeling depressed, empty, and stupid. My poetry burns up. Minotaurs eat the genitals of the moon. I’ve been spending time with a lot of film people. It’s unhealthy. I really need to get back to my band.
Kummer: Actually, I wanted to speak with you about your incredible performance in the new Milos Forman film, The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Tell me simply – what do you want from life?
Love: I have too many guys hitting on me. Men that slide toward me on their knees and want to go down on me because I’m the most famous widow in America since Jackie Onassis. But other than that, everything’s fine.
Kummer: Let’s pause a moment on your stock answer: “I deceive so honestly that I’m beyond deception.” What does that mean?
Love: It has to do with my naïveté. It’s so real that no one can understand it.
Kummer: Where does your certainty come from that you’re so “real”?
Love: I always wanted to be completely pure because my parents were so rotten. When I was eight, my dad gave me LSD. That was his biggest achievement as a parent. He was a hopeless Grateful Dead groupie. Today, he’s the worst pig on the planet. He blames me for Kurt’s death. That’s on my mind right now.
Kummer: The world seems confused by your “realness.” You’ve been defined as a woman who combines punk psychosis with female fundamentalism. Other times, you’ve been seen as a skank with –
Love: I’d been a stripper on three different continents before I even considered becoming a musician. The hippy and stripper scenes are a part of my genealogy. It was there that I absorbed the power of resistance. It was there that I became a holy bitch. No one can take that from me. I don’t give a fuck what everyone else says.
Kummer: You paid a high price for your martyrdom as a public bitch. In the last three years, you’ve been hospitalized eleven times for mental breakdowns and drug overdoses.
Love: Why should men have all the fun? The American music press has never allowed women to stage their own breakdowns.
Kummer: So your standard answer is meant ironically, as a response to the madness of the pop business and your own personal selling-out?
Love: I’m the singer for the band Hole, and the widow of a pop martyr. Rolling Stone described me two years ago as the most radical female provocateur in the history of rock. I’m a super-groupie, super-bitch, super-junky, and super-widow in one. I’m an icon for all the girls who throw themselves Courtney-like into show business.
Kummer: What do you make of your imitators?
Love: Many of these girls aren’t able to pull it off – you can tell just from their haircuts.
Kummer: But you stole your look from the dead Sex Pistols groupie Nancy Spungen. It was your deceased husband Kurt Cobain who made you famous. It wasn’t your band Hole that made pop history, but his band, Nirvana.
Love: Americans, with their limited knowledge of history, don’t know the difference.
Kummer: Can you tell us something true about yourself?
Love: I can blow at least seven smoke rings. Even Lucky Luke can’t do that. And do you smell this delicious scent? It smells like Brussels sprouts. Worse than ten clogged toilets.
Kummer: I don’t smell anything.
Love: I smelled it the last time in Portland when I jumped from the stage into the crowd’s asshole.
Kummer: Excuse me?
Love: Headfirst into the arms of ten thousand fans. At some point, my head fell into two thousand butts. That was the worst. I’ve never hurt myself
stagediving, and my fans have always brought me back on stage. That’s the kind of respect I get from them.
Kummer: And what does that have to do with the scent you’ve just been smelling?
Love: During this same show in Portland, I first noticed: My audience smells like Brussels sprouts. Boys who listen to Courtney Love smell like Brussels sprouts. And so this scent follows me.
Kummer: What are your songs actually about?
Love: Disillusionment. That’s my main program. Joyless sex and complicated reincarnation. That’s the sideshow. Sometimes I just get naked, and there’s nothing to add.
Kummer: You undress not to make yourself happy, but to violate yourself. Right?
Love: Right. When I play with my breasts, it’s to demonstrate some kind of disgust, not to show off. At that point, I’m the voice of all the tormented souls in the world.
Kummer: What, or who, in the world tormented you?
Love: My past. My life with Kurt. The press. People and – obviously – my dad. That asshole. But please don’t get me wrong. I also have my fun.
Kummer: Three years ago, you said that your scenes of self-destruction were meant as reactions to Madonna and her politics of pleasure, glamorous immorality, vibrators, and million-dollar deals.
Love: I’ve always rejected the soft porn nonsense of “Material Girl” and singing supermodels. That’s true. I’ve always felt that all the disgusting girls and strippers in the world deserved a harder second chance. That’s why I push myself like I do. And that has nothing to do with Kurt’s suicide, which people always blame on me.
Kummer: There were radical women in Pop before you – Patty Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Gordon. But they didn’t turn their lives into soap operas just to demonstrate their own strength.
Love: I’m primarily a musician and a mother. I’m also a widow that America has pronounced death upon thousands of times. Everyone knows that. And, for the public, I symbolize the archetype of the teenage whore who everyone expects to overdose. In these conditions I’ve actually behaved quite civilized, I think. I’ve never carried a weapon, and I’ve never founded a death cult or anything. I’m a rather good mother.
Kummer: How good?
Love: When one considers that my OBGYN claimed I was psychotic and threatened to take me to court for child abuse, I’m really very happy today. Frances Bean is a happy child and incredibly smart.
Kummer: What kind of psychosis?
Love: Three years ago, while breastfeeding, I thought my daughter wanted to suck my blood. I never reacted aggressively with cannibalistic tendencies against my child, which was my doctor’s diagnosis. The bloodsucking episode was more of a struggle to preserve the relationship to my kid. This was around the time that Kurt was threatening suicide daily.
Kummer: You don’t see yourself as a central figure anymore.
Love: No. Now I’m the “Great White Widow of New Yorker chic-dom.” That’s what Vanity Fair said. And I love it.
Kummer: The music press saw you as a new Janis Joplin. Now, they’re writing you off. Each of your TV appearances degenerates into a circus act with a high viewer count.
Love: It’s pretty crazy. Feminists called me a hero, but on the yellow press I’m denounced as a witch.
Kummer: What about your love of valium, alcohol, and heroin?
Love: Today, I’m a Buddhist, if you’d really like to know. My four-year-old daughter Frances Bean, too. We live on a whole different level. Why do I need to toil with earthlings? I’ve never had any interest in feminists who wanted to use me for their purposes. Feminism, in its greed for social power, is blind to the cosmic sexual power of a woman like Courtney Love.
Kummer: Now you have clearly returned to earth as a genuine and highly talented actress, straight to the top tiers of Hollywood. No one has credited you for this.
Love: If you must know, I’m an Oscar favorite.
Kummer: The New York Times acclaimed you as a “natural talent” after your performance in Larry Flynt – The Naked Truth. What’s happened in the last year?
Kummer: So you’re a natural-born actress, but nobody caught onto this before?
Love: You could say that. I’ve never denied – and always repeated – that I deceive so well, I’m beyond deceit.
Kummer: And now you’ve been promoted to Hollywood darling. How is something like that possible?
Love: You gotta have fun sometimes. I can’t just always play the victim. Hollywood is great therapy. There, fun is a way to not have to constantly think about what’s gone wrong in life. Hollywood is really very helpful. They always understood what was good for me: to play in a little movie. And, in a small movie like that, fun is a condition for success. Hollywood people think that if you’re not having fun, then you must have terrible problems. And you don’t want to have anything to do with a person like that.
Kummer: Aside from fun, has Hollywood given you opportunities to improve your fitness, your body?
Love: Of course, I had to lose thirty pounds in two weeks in order to get a job.
Kummer: And how did you do that?
Love: With a trainer, not chemicals.
Kummer: Milos Forman praised your discipline. You don’t want to have anything to do anymore with public displays of rebellion?
Love: I’ve gotten quieter, so to speak. But wait for the new Hole album. Then I’m over being “fit for fun.”
Kummer: Tell us something about your film.
Love: I play the lover and wife of Larry Flynt, the publisher of the soft-porn magazine Hustler – a woman who likes to fuck until she drops, yet still commands respect. But more importantly: She stands by her man, someone who runs a pretty filthy business. Hustler wants to legally ban Americans’ Christian rights. Ironically, Flynt turns into a huge supporter of the freedom of the press. And he wins. That’s America. Even a pig has rights in America. That’s what it’s about.
Kummer: Why did you take the role?
Love: There’s a small story. My agent always said that, as an actress, I was a mix between Madonna and Bette Midler. I answered, “Fuck you! I’m James Dean. I’m Sean Penn.” And I had my chance to prove it with the role of stripper and junkie-bride Althea Flynt. I also see The People vs. Larry Flynt as a film about the new Courtney Love being the old Courtney Love.
Kummer: Did Hollywood people get nervous when they had to work with you?
Love: After the first hour, they calmed down. I know how to handle men who feel threatened by women who have their own opinion. You know, day-to-day life in a punk band is the best way to learn how to kick guys in the ass.
Kummer: Hollywood always looks for young women with unpredictable private lives to stimulate the public’s voyeurism. Would you exchange your brand of punk with Hollywood glamour?
Love: Never. I hate Hollywood’s smooth surface. Smoothness is the worst thing in the world.
Kummer: So your heart belongs to music?
Love: A lot of young actors wanted to be rock stars – Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Christian Slater. But all the musicians I know are really happy to be musicians. Music is simply more direct, and it moves people. Hollywood doesn’t stand a chance against that.
Kummer: You really believe that pop music and youth culture are stronger than Hollywood?
Love: Definitely. The sun is in turmoil, and parachutists fly down and land in our dreams. That’s the power of my music.
Kummer: Excuse me? What lands in our dreams?
Kummer: That’s rather silly, isn’t it?
Love: The parachutists belong to our mainstream media machine. They try to take possession of everything. I’m hard-fought and have to distance myself. Now I limit myself by playing nice in films. Since then, I have had better dreams.
Kummer: Tell us something about these dreams.
Love: Every night, old men with bandages stream to the moon. Dinosaurs and vampires fly next to them. But they’re friendly.
Kummer: And what does that mean?
Love: Society is losing its mildness. But the youth extinguish themselves. And then Simone de Beauvoir slips into my dreams and says, “Your life and identity are reflected in every person you’ve slept with.”
The Party was a Dream
On May 12, 2000 the weekly magazine supplement of the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung – the largest national subscription daily in Germany – published a “jubilee” issue for the magazine’s tenth anniversary. Inside the glossy, a 36-page photo spread claimed to document, tabloid-style, the publication’s anniversary party. As the front matter for that issue explained, “We had planned a small office party, when suddenly celebrities came piling in, one after the other. The party of the year.”
The photo sequence, by society photographers Gisela Schober and Dieter Mayr, is a flip, funny, and surreal page-by-page documentation of a grand night of partying in Munich. A red-carpet line is filled with photographers and teeny-boppers. Suited art directors are caravanned in white limousines to magazine headquarters, where they sip Moët with Britney Spears. Steve Martin and Courtney Love chat up real, and sometimes unglamorous, magazine interns, editors, and writers. On one emblematically fin-de-siècle page, they all join in a conga line with Liz Taylor, Tom Cruise, and Leonardo DiCaprio. On another, a Lewinsky-era Bill Clinton “converses with an intern” (he looks up, in blow job pose). Courtney Love attempts to break into the girls’ bathroom while two editors do their makeup, saying that she needs to vomit.
This implosion of realness into fakery by a major national news magazine is not an aberration. It more broadly adheres to certain journalistic tendencies in 1990s Germany, which saw the emergence of an irreverent “New Journalism” that deployed fictionality and subjectivity while focusing on low-brow themes – drugs, high society, gossip, trash, consumerism. And this photo spread was not the only case where celebrities had appeared, as figments, in that magazine’s pages. Later that year, a scandal broke when it was revealed that a series of bizarre, entertaining celebrity interviews published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine (among other venues) between 1995 and 1999 by Tom Kummer were completely fake.
Conversation goes two-ways: ping, pong. Today, Kummer, a former pro tennis player, now teaches tennis in Los Angeles, sometimes to celebrities. As a journalist, he had his start in the editorial offices of Tempo, a lifestyle magazine in Hamburg and an incubator for New Journalist antics in Germany. Kummer left Germany in October 1993 to conduct interviews with Hollywood celebs in Los Angeles, the simulacra-driven city on a “daily hunt for reality,” as Kummer put it in his book about life there (Good Morning Los Angeles, 1997). As Kummer would write in his post-scandal memoir, Blow Up (2007), “No one in Los Angeles had heard of the Süddeutsche Zeitung,” and hence, presumably, no one would care if texts were made up and published in a newspaper unknown to most Americans. Kummer’s interviews with Courtney Love, Mike Tyson, Sharon Stone, Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger, Christina Ricci, Tom Hanks, Liv Tyler, Bruce Willis, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Snoop Dogg, Whitney Houston, Ivana Trump, Sean Penn, and Pamela Anderson, among others, were published in major, reliable news outlets, and were met with considerable public acclaim.
It’s not hard to see why. Kummer’s interviews, while researched, eschew verisimilitude, instead giving his celebrities an improbable air of intellectual sophistication. Pamela Anderson, when asked about virtual reality and its relationship to the human body – and Tommy Lee’s porn habits – namedrops William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Neuromancer; Sean Penn’s stoical, existentialist-seeming filmic presence is framed by Søren Kierkegaard; whereas Snoop Dogg elucidates Romeo and Juliet as a story of hood life. As literary works, Kummer’s interviews almost compulsively wink at their own status as artifice, as hallucinations of celebrity life done alone in an apartment in downtown Los Angeles. Conversation is almost comically reduced to monologue, to the dictation of solipsism. In one interview, tennis champion and aspiring art dealer John McEnroe recounts: “While still on court, I once screamed ‘You are the shame of humanity.’ I was referring to myself, naturally, not to the referee. But the referees always thought I was addressing them, giving me warnings and deducting points … I encounter difficulties due to these misunderstandings.” And, in turn, so would Kummer.
These interviews were published during an era wherein new technologies had dispensed (American) celebrity culture into global brands. They belong to a specific historical window – a time when globalized media was emergent, but not so complete as to have the now-in-place instantaneous verification provided by outlets such as Twitter. A gap – or Gap – was made visible, but more fallen into than bridged, more exposed than fixed. “Reality loses itself in simulation, and the cult of the body is a reaction to that,” writes Kummer in his interview with Pamela Anderson.
The term “virtual reality,” which is discussed in several of these texts, attains a perfect pitch given the content of these interviews: “I deceive so authentically, I am beyond deception,” says Courtney Love. In his opening question to Quentin Tarantino, Kummer asks whether or not he has a cell phone (“never”), betraying the fear and sway of connectivity in a moment of incipient digitalization. Porn, virtual reality, the computer – such technologies of virtualization all become the focus of a series of conversations about the Hollywood-themes of plastic surgery, luxury lifestyle, and consumerism. Celebrities here become sleek and vapid planes of projection (“I hate Hollywood’s smoothness,” says Courtney Love).
The Kummer case did not happen a vacuum. In an era of Y2K fear – which also saw a Philip K. Dick-inspired cyberpunk sensibility, as well as the failure of 80s Yuppie earnestness – New Journalism in Germany attacked the straight-faced, leftist, and ostensibly humorless Adornoian doctrines of the ’68 generation. They supplanted this attitude with buffoonery, ditzy-ness, and a high-life fixation on the phenomenon of Hollywood stars, who had achieved a new height of empty-headedness in the Baywatch era of the 1990s. It was a zeitgeist for fictionality, in which an emergent connectivity fused with postmodern challenges to established concepts of authenticity and authorship. In an editorial statement from an early Tempo issue in 1988, the ethics undergirding New Journalism were summed up by Tempo editor Markus Peichl: “Is there really anyone out there still who believes that there is one and only one reality? Every magazine produces pseudo-words and pseudo-realities.” Meanwhile, Kummer asks Courtney Love about her certainty that she is “real,” in a moment that ironically conflates post-grunge authenticity with this sense of hyper-reality. “The world seems confused by your ‘realness,’” writes Kummer. “Can you tell us something true about yourself?”
In a real interview printed after the Kummer scandal by the newsweekly Der Spiegel in 2001, Christina Ricci – Kummer’s stumbling block after a colleague exposed their conversation in particular as a fake – was asked, in the interview’s opening lines, if she knew Tom Kummer. “No, who is that?” answers Ricci, after which the interviewer recounts the Kummer case. “That’s a crazy story,” says Ricci, before wondering why anyone would want to make up interviews. “It’s one of the moments in my job when I get to feel like a princess. I get to sit in nice hotels, be completely taken care of, and just sit there and talk about myself. Just like now.” Then, in a twist wherein the fake comes to describe the real, the Spiegel journalist answers, “But one could easily get the impression that your interviews are fake – or did you really say that ‘incest is fantastic’?” “Yes, I did say that,” answers Ricci, “I didn’t yet know that many people just can’t take a joke.”