"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 January 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Sign o' the Times


[Magazine cover	]

Once the purely amateur pursuit

of sports-crazed little boys,

teenage groupies, and the

occasional middle-aged showbiz

hasn't-been, autograph

collecting, like everything else

these days, has turned into a

lucrative, highly competitive

business. In a culture where

pathologically indiscriminate

starfucking and grand mal

consumerism are the two great

pastimes, an autograph validates

our most ephemeral connections.

People spend more time with

Friends than they do with their

families, but only tangible

proof of a connection elevates

such ties beyond an indifferent

stream of electrons.


Alas, the sense of communion

delivered by a single signature

is fleeting. One or two special

autographs, or even a couple

dozen, fail to satiate; most

fans amass as many autographs as

they can afford. To understand

the ravenous consumerism that

now pervades this "hobby,"

simply pick up the latest copy

of Autograph Collector. In the

January 1997 issue, 100 of the

magazine's 132 pages are

advertisements for celebrities

autographs and other

memorabilia. Information about

the stars themselves is

unnecessary for the already

motivated buyers who make up the

magazine's readership, but its

absence has an ironic effect: In

the context of Autograph

Collector, which wouldn't exist

if celebrities didn't exist, the

celebrities seem strangely

incidental, little more than the

medium by which

obsessive-compulsive consumers

express their creativity via the

organizing aesthetic of

collecting. In elevating

celebrities to ridiculous

importance - are there really

people who pay $60 for Tony

Danza's autograph? - autograph

collectors actually divest the

semi-talented ciphers of their




The autograph request itself most

plainly exhibits this perversion

of purpose. This transaction, of

course, is one of stardom's most

persistent taxes; in return for

a life of gratuitous affluence

and requisite infidelity,

celebrities must be willing to

suffer - at any time - the

clumsy adoration of tongue-tied

ass-kissers. Prior to the

contemporary collector's

arrival, such exchanges were

almost always uncompelling.

Perhaps the star granted the

fawning devotee rote

pleasantries and an illegible

signature, and thus earned that

ultimate approbation of

self-delusional fan vanity,

"down-to-earth." (What the fan

who says this really means, of

course, is that for a moment, he

was allowed to hover on the

celebrities's own elevated plane.)


[Blue Eyes]

Or maybe the star, catalyzed by

too much alcohol, or the simple

desire for a little recreational

tyranny, Sinatra-like, unleashed

a torrent of invective (and

maybe a telephone, if one was

handy) at the presumptuous

pen-waggler. This outcome

boasted some action, at least,

but who was there to root for

except the bilious big shot? The

bewildered sycophant, beating a

hasty, heartbroken retreat back

to a life of hateful obscurity,

was simply too lacking in

recourse to inspire anything but

merciless contempt.



Unlike the mere fan, the

autograph collectors invests

little in any one request, and

thus humiliation is not a factor

for them. Their insincerity

gives them a great competitive

advantage; operating under the

pretense of devotion, they're

free to push the limits of

fan/star propriety. Cajolery,

hostility, guilt - whatever it

takes to get an autograph,

they'll use. And how can vain,

insecure stars respond to such

transparent adoration, when

their rancor can do no damage?

Without a doubt, the collectors

are the bosses in this new

variant of the autograph

request. The celebrities are

mere functionaries, kept around

to do the paperwork.



At the moment, collectors are

alone in their ability to

effectively turn the tables on

stardom. Games like the

Hollywood Stock Exchange are

simply too abstract to be little

more than campy exercises in

inconsequence. Stalking achieves

the visceral impact one desires,

but it's too risky for all but

the most indiscreet

exhibitionist: Get caught, and

you could end up fodder for the

likes of Hard Copy. Collecting,

however, lets you manipulate

celebrities in a legal,

potentially profitable, and

emotionally satisfying way.

Indeed, Alfie Pettit - whose

smarmy street hustler's panache

makes him the poster boy of the

new breed of autograph hounds -

appears to be the happiest

person on earth. In the dozens

of photo ops he's scored with

Hollywood's biggest names, he

flashes the most gleeful grin

since Jack Nicholson's Joker. It

doesn't matter if he's clamping

a proprietary arm around a

remarkably obedient Danny

DeVito or an eye-rolling Fabio -

either way, he wins.


But how long can such good times




With an increasing number of

idlers and opportunists

realizing that all it takes to

make a few quick bucks is a

tolerance for self-abasement,

limo exhaust, and occasional

celebrities spit, the industry's

getting oversaturated.

Out-and-out cheats are making it

worse by dumping forgeries onto

the market, and greedy

entertainers, taking a cue from

their professional-sports

brethren, are growing less and

less likely to sign for free.


Competition breeds innovation, of

course, and the industry's

standouts are doing what they

can to maintain their winning

edge. Certificates of

authenticity - signed by whom,

one wonders - are becoming a

popular selling point, and the

market for more singular

celebrities flotsam seems to be

heating up as well: $25 for one

of Molly Ringwald's cancelled

checks, $400 for a sweaty robe

Rod Stewart stole from a

Canadian hotel, $2,500 for the

pistol Arnold Schwarzenegger

used during the filming of The

Last Action Hero.



And yet - why stop there? Given

the typical star's penchant for

self-refinement, you'd think

there'd be a bustling market for

the aftereffects of plastic

surgery. If Michael Jackson's

alleged suicide note (it reads

more like the first draft of a

wisely abandoned lyric) is going

for $7,500, imagine how much a

piece of his nose might fetch.

courtesy of St. Huck


St. Huck