We're not just talking about the tabloid press here. Even the mainstream news media are crazy for this stuff, endlessly reporting on everything from the divorce of Paul McCartney to the possibly Nazi-themed bondage sex orgy of Max Mosley, the Formula One motor racing head, who, in summer 2008, won a judgment against the tabloid newspaper News of the World; for parlaying a secretly recorded video into a front-page story and worldwide peeping. (According to his lawyer, Mosley's spanking was viewed 3.5 million times on the paper's Web site and on YouTube.)
All this, plus, of course, the seemingly unending travails of Britney Spears. "Now and for the foreseeable future," says an internal memo penned by Frank Baker, the Los Angeles assistant bureau chief of Associated Press, the venerable wire service, "virtually everything involving Britney is a big deal." The leaked memo, written three days after Spears was released from the hospital in the wake of a much-publicized breakdown, prompted one commentator to respond, "Not a good day for journalism as a discipline." More like not a good decade for a discipline that increasingly seems to function as an adjunct to the entertainment industry, which itself is becoming an adjunct to our hunger for a Peep culture that has spread to every conceivable medium and made true Andy Warhol's sardonic pronouncement on the perfect picture—"one that's in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous."
Our daily lives are punctuated with urgent, expedited revelations regarding the problems of celebrities. Is it surprising, then, that our appetite for other people's issues, our need to be entertained by the "truth," spills off the pages of People and into our own lives? We don't need to wait for the next celebrity breakdown or pregnancy to have our fun. Online, in print, and of course on television, folks are openly and happily revealing and discussing their own particular problems, kinks, or lifestyle. This, again, is Peep culture: entertainment derived from peeping into the real lives of others, most of them ordinary, if by "ordinary" we mean not (yet) famous.
The new interactive possibilities of the Web have generated new ways to make our lives public, and more and more of us are trying out Peep. You can dismiss reality and talk TV and celebrity gossip as corporate distractions engineered to keep us happy and buying stuff while the world sizzles like Krispy Kreme batter in the deep fryer, but how do you explain the many millions who are emulating the tell-all culture of television through everything from blogs to online profiles to video uploads? A Pew Internet & American Life Project report estimated in 2006 that one in every ten adult Americans had a blog. And they weren't including the rapidly expanding cohort of people who use chat rooms and/or sites like YouTube, Blogtv.com, and Justin.tv to show and tell all. Not only are there are a lot of blogs, but there are a lot of readers of blogs. The same Pew study concluded that 39 percent of Internet users, or about 57 million American adults, read blogs. Three years later I think it's fair to say that at least 100 million Americans, a solid third of the country, read blogs.