Mulholland Books Popcorn Fiction Popcorn Fiction - Celebritocracy by Scott Murphy
Popcorn Fiction
About Popcorn Fiction Previous stories Letters to the editor Subscribe Submissions

A young woman can't believe her friend is getting rich as a pseudo-celebrity in this sharp tale from screenwriter Scott Murphy.


I have to admit, the sex tape had really turned things around for Kaylee.

When those first clips leaked out, nobody even knew who she was.  Which seems so bizarre, now.  'Cause these days you can't go five minutes without seeing her face on one of those electronic billboards along Sunset.  Or on a magazine cover in the check-out line at Vons.

But, back then?  She was just another anonymous naked chick on the internet.  Common as air.  In those early glimpses, you couldn't even see her face all that well.  But I recognized her right off.  

And, yeah, it was weird to see her that way.

But Kaylee and I always had kind of a weird relationship.  

Mrs. Detmer, our fourth grade teacher, said she'd never seen two girls who were so different but still got along so well.  I don't know, I think you always see a lot of odd-couple pairings like us — the smart one and the pretty one.

It's not hard to figure out why.  Everybody could see she was beautiful.  But next to me she looked even better.  And, with her around, I felt like I was in Mensa.  It was symbiosis.

Kaylee never knew this but, for a while there, her parents even paid me to help her with school.  So I convinced her we should be "study buddies."  Then, whenever we got together, I'd try to sneak in some tutoring.

But after about five minutes she'd always get distracted and bail.  I finally caved and just gave her the answers.  In return, she offered me some of her Ritalin.  (Kaylee had always been pharmaceutically advanced for her age.)

We never had a dramatic falling out or anything.  In high school, we just drifted apart.  I was taking a lot of college-prep classes and it's not like we could have extended conversations about how totally awesome advanced calculus was.  

Senior year, she flunked so many classes, I got worried she wouldn't graduate.  But then she asked Mr. Jameson from fifth period health for a few private, after-school counselling sessions.  Right after that, he suddenly got transferred to some admim job in the district office and she got her diploma.

(Years later, she told me Mr. Jameson was actually pretty inept in the sack.  Which was surprising, since his classroom had all those giant anatomical charts of the female reproductive system, but go figure.) 

After graduation, we didn't see each other hardly at all except for the one time I ran into her outside Sephora at the Beverly Center.  

When I asked what she was up to, she looked down and mumbled something about "doing a lot of auditioning."  Which threw me a little because she'd never previously demonstrated any interest in acting.  If anything, I thought she'd be better suited for print modeling.  Standing still and looking good seemed more within her natural skill set.  

I felt bad for her.  Her dad had been a real estate agent and the bubble had just burst.  Since her parents had been sponsoring her "auditioning" career, she'd have to find a real job before long.  

On my way home, I tried to think of other things Kaylee would be qualified to do.  The best thing I could come up with was "unhappy trophy wife."  Either that or working the pole at Bob's Classy Lady.

But, like I said, this was all before the sex tape.

It wasn't until the entire, uncut version went viral that people really took notice.  But, at first, it wasn't about her.  It wasn't even about the impressive variety of sex toys she used.  (She must've gotten some kind of bulk discount from the Pleasure Chest.)

No, at first, it was all about the guy.  The guy, who, for most of the tape, she was on top of.  The guy wearing the dog collar and the studded, peek-a-boo leather bra with slits so his nipples could peak out.  

That is to say, it was all about Justin Timberlake.

It was a big enough shock to see my grade-school friend on the internet, gyrating around in all her natural glory.  But seeing her on top of Justin, whose poster used to be on my dorm-room wall, was beyond belief.  Yet there they were.  On my computer screen.  Bringing sexy back.

The picture quality was pretty dark and blurry, but it was definitely him.  All the blogs went nuts.  

Justin didn't comment on it for the longest time, probably hoping the whole thing would go away.  But that just fanned the flames.  

His publicist finally issued a denial, claiming the video had been faked or that he'd been CGI'd into it somehow.  But everybody just rolled their eyes.  Nice try, dude.

Just when the hoopla from the tape started to die down, a cameraman from TMZ recognized Kaylee coming out of Fred Segal.  She freaked and he chased her all the way to her car.  The next day, Perez Hilton published her name.  She wasn't "the mystery girl," anymore.  The cat was out of the bag. 

The next time she got spotted, she handled it a lot better.  She was coming out of the Hollywood ArcLight and actually stopped and talked to all the paps.  No, she and Justin weren't a couple and, no, she didn't know how the tape had gotten out.  Then she smiled right into the lens, twirled her hair with her finger, and asked them to please respect her privacy.  

Someone invited her to the MTV Movie Awards as kind of a joke.  She wore a low-cut Zac Posen and flirted her way up and down the red carpet.  After that, she got invited to everything.

Kaylee had stumbled upon a career strategy with a proven track record.  It had worked for Paris.  It worked for Kim.  Why wouldn't it work for her?   Once again — a star is porn.

That was around the time I got my B.A. (with honors) in economics from Loyola Marymount.  So the student loans stopped coming and I no longer qualified for work-study.  But I'd saved up three month's rent which seemed like more than enough time to find a job.  Especially considering my GPA and the successful series of internships listed on my resume.  (Wasn't I just adorable?)

Meanwhile, Kaylee got offered a series of endorsements.  Despite having no expertise in skin care or the science of hair volumizing, she was nevertheless deemed qualified to recommend those kinds of products to the masses.

I, on the other hand, despite my solid history of academic excellence, was having trouble convincing employers I was qualified for anything.  Or, in some cases, that I wasn't overqualified.  

When things got really tight, I went in for a waitressing job.  Just to tide me over.  But during the interview, the manager put his hand on my knee, so I walked.

As I drove off, I tried to sort through everything I was feeling.  Sure, I was upset.  But I also realized that, to my horror, I was also a little flattered.  Which just made me more upset.

When I got home, there was a story on Access Hollywood about how Kaylee had just made $30K for simply attending a launch party for Trojan's new designer condoms at Hustler Hollywood.

As I listened, I wondered if I'd been misled by all my teachers, from Mrs. Detmer onward.  Maybe the qualities that they'd all claimed were so important — being smart, responsible and studious — didn't actually matter at all out here in the real world. 

By the end of the summer, I'd sent out 75 resumes, gotten 4 interviews and received 0 job offers.  That same week, Kaylee was number 18 on the list of highest-earning celebrities under the age of 25.

I began to suspect that I had seriously misjudged the marketplace of life.

But then Kaylee's popularity started to dim.  The novelty was wearing off.  Her fifteen minutes were up.

That's when the other kinds of headlines started to appear.  

They started small.  Radar mentioned she had to be carried out of SkyBar after being over-served.  She ended up getting a ride from the guy who came in second place on last season's "The Bachelor."  I remember thinking, "At least she didn't try to drive herself home."

Two weeks later, she sideswiped three parked cars as she tried to drive herself home.  Fortunately, celebrity DUI is a minor offense and she got off with a warning.  

Then she got caught in a sting at Avalon, trying to buy oxy from an undercover cop.  (At the hearing, she claimed she had a prescription but it turned out to be dated four days after the bust.)

Finally, paramedics were called to her condo in WeHo.  There were rumors of an overdose but the official reason for her week-long hospitalization was "dehydration." 

It was sad.  I was tempted to reach out and make sure she was okay, but I didn't even know how to get in touch with her anymore.  

She'd made the transition from "unexpected internet sensation" to "troubled celebrity" in record time.  No one should've been surprised, though.  Shooting stars always burn up on re-entry.

So, of course, her popularity doubled.

Evel Knievel once said that people didn't buy tickets to watch him jump motorcycles over cars.  People paid to see him crash.  Man, was he onto something.

All of her run-ins with the law meant that she was mentioned on the news even more frequently.  Because now she was actually doing something they could report on.  She lost a few endorsements but gained new ones.  

All those scandals and brushes with the law were actually helping her career instead of ending it.  I imagined the ghost of Fatty Arbuckle watching from the afterlife and getting really pissed.

Somewhere around then, I got the email from her parents.

Her folks tracked me down right after Kaylee totaled her second Audi.  (Or it might've been the third.  After a while it got hard to keep track.) 

They didn't want to go into details over the phone, but they invited me to their place up near the bird streets for a chat.  I was pretty sure I knew what it was about.  Honestly, I was flattered to be invited. 

I'd never been to an actual intervention but I grew up watching "Party of Five," so I knew the drill.  On the way there, I tried to think of what I was going to say when it was my turn to speak.  But the worst thing I could come up with was "Kaylee has had made me lose faith in our culture's ability to differentiate between surface and substance."  Eh, I guess I'd wing it. 

But, it turned out, there wasn't an intervention at all.  

Her folks were nice enough and we caught up a little bit.  When I told them I was on the hunt for a job, their eyes sorta lit up.  Their questions segued into things like what my availability was.  And what sort of salary I was looking for.  All of a sudden it felt less like a chat.  And more like a job interview.

They kept saying things like "helping out."  Or "the position."  I don't think they ever used the word "assistant."  But that's clearly what we were talking about.  Holy shit, they actually wanted me to work for her. 

They explained how Kaylee's behavior was obviously concerning them.  They hoped to have someone around who could be a "stabilizing influence" in her life.   

They'd previously hired an Argentinian "life coach" but he ended up sleeping with her.  He almost convinced her to make him her manager before they finally got him deported.  

As far as Kaylee was concerned, I would be her "girl Friday."  But my undercover mission would be to keep her from Anna Nicole-ing herself.  It was the secret-homework-tutor situation all over again.

I suggested that, if they really wanted to put the brakes on the train wreck that Kaylee had become, then a better solution might be to check her into a certified rehabilitation facility or at least a twelve-step program. 

They hemmed and hawed and said that Kaylee was an adult and had to make her own decisions.  Which meant they didn't want to risk angering her by making her do something she didn't want to do.

On some level, I'm sure they were genuinely concerned for their daughter's welfare.  They were simply looking for the most discreet way to handle a difficult situation.

But, looking around at all their new designer furniture from the Brunschwig & Fils collection, I got the impression they mostly wanted to protect their revenue stream.

The whole situation made me queasy.  I wanted to talk them out of it.  But when they got to the part about "compensation" my cheeks suddenly felt warm.  When you've got student loans to pay, any sense of moral superiority drops to the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy pyramid.

I told them I could start Monday.

Part of the deal was that I had to live on the premises.  The allure of free rent was another factor that made me take the job.

Kaylee came and found me as I was moving my stuff into the guest house behind the pool.  She squealed and greeted me with a big hug.  She said she was so happy I was on "Team Kaylee." 

In some ways, it was like a day hadn't passed since middle school.  

But there'd been a subtle shift in the dynamic between us.  She no longer needed my presence to make her feel prettier.  Now, the rest of the world took care of that for her.  So it didn't feel like symbiosis anymore.  It was more like parasite and host.

The official part of the job — the assistant part — turned out to be pretty easy.  Mostly, I took phone messages.

And most of the calls were from publicists trying to book dates on behalf of their clients.  I didn't know that sort of thing fell under a publicist's purview, but I got to be on a first-name basis with the woman who repped David Spade, John Mayer, and David Duchovny.

Kaylee also got a lot of what they call "media requests."  For example, "E! News" called once and wanted a quick sound bite of Kaylee's opinion on Conressman Anthony Weiner's resignation.  Then, another time, "The View" flew her to New York for a panel show about the pros and cons of the HPV vaccine.  She sat between Jenny McCarthy and the Octo-Mom.  

The other main thing I had to do was make sure she arrived at all her appointments on time.  I got really good at apologizing a lot.

Whenever she was late for something, the next day The Superficial would have a story about it.  Their comments section would light up with dozens of posts about how inconsiderate Kaylee was.  

Followed by dozens of posts from people complaining how too many people were talking about her. 

The undercover part of my job, the part where I was supposed to keep her from over-indulging her vices — that was trickier.

Because he could be pretty discreet.  And by "discreet" I mean "sneaky."  A lot of the time, I didn't even see her partaking.  But she'd slip off to the bathroom and then come back, all smiling and refreshed.

She also carried around a little flask in her purse.  I don't know what was in it, but it tasted like Robitussin mixed with Five-Hour Energy Drink.  Because I took a sip once, just out of curiosity, and got so wired I watched a 72-hour "Real Housewives" marathon in one sitting.  

But I really wasn't in any position to insist that she slow down.  I wasn't her "study buddy" anymore.  I was only the assistant. 

So I had to be sneaky, too.  Like, whenever we had to drive anywhere, I'd always make sure to get behind the wheel before she could.  And when I'd find little bottles of pills hidden around her house, I'd flush a few of them, figuring she didn't pay enough attention to maintain an accurate inventory count.

Another problem was that she was really good at maintaining.  Over the years she must have gotten a lot of practice.  Most of the time, it was hard to tell whether she was even buzzed.  For all I knew, she might have been making a genuine effort to cut back.  

That made me start to think that maybe she didn't have too big a problem after all.  Sure, she'd had a few embarrassing slip-ups, but most of us have.  It's just that most of us didn't have to go through our twenties on the cover of "In Touch Weekly."

Or maybe I was bending over backwards to spin her situation in a positive light because I was on her payroll, now.

Like her parents, maybe I'd talked myself into becoming an enabler because I didn't want to kill the golden, cross-addicted goose.

It was stunning all the ways she managed to generate income.

In addition to all the endorsements, she got paid for appearances.  There's that saying about how 90% of life is just showing up.  For Kaylee the percentage had to be a lot higher.  The Morongo Indian Casino, Brent Bolthouse's new nightclub and even a Best Buy in West Covina all paid handsomely for the honor of her presence.

She licensed her "sex moan" as a ringtone and made me put it on my phone.  If we both got calls at the same time, it sounded like an orgy in a cheap, over-acted '70's porno.

The mug-shot from her first arrest became a best-selling t-shirt.  She got a designer fragrance which smelled nothing like her.  It went on and on... 

And lately she'd started to branch out into television.

She was a guest judge on some Idol rip-off called "Karaoke Pep Rally."  The singers were all pretty average but they were surrounded by an extravagant light show designed to convince people that what they weren't so bad.  It was the entertainment equivalent of empty calories.  Kaylee said it was her favorite show, ever.

Ryan Seacrest saw her on it and was impressed enough to attach her to a new reality show he was developing.  It was called "Beverly Hills Detox!" which he pitched as "Celebrity Rehab" meets "Survivor." 

The idea was to put a bunch of "sobriety challenged" people together in a mansion.  A celebrity would be teamed up with an NFP (non-famous person) and they'd compete with other teams to see how long they could go without using drugs or alcohol.  

At the end of every week, they'd all take urine tests and whoever stayed clean for the whole season would win a cash prize.  

I pointed out that giving a lot of cash to people who were struggling with substance abuse maybe wasn't the best idea.

But Kaylee just stared at me with the same expression her dog got when he tried to watch television.

There were so many different versions of Kaylee.  She reminded me of Barbie.  Once you got tired of the regular "Barbie," along came "Malibu Barbie," or "Stewardess Barbie."  Each version was just different enough to add some variety, while still delivering the classic Barbie experience. 

First there had been "Amateur Porn Kaylee."  Then "Candyflipping Kaylee."  But now we had "In Recovery Kaylee."  America was collecting the whole set.  All the different varieties made sure that, whoever you were, you could always find a Kaylee that was right for you.

And each version was impervious to criticism.  If women questioned her popularity, they were being catty or jealous.  If a man made a demeaning joke about her, he was somehow misogynistic.  And if her substance abuse was brought into question?  Well, that person was being insensitive to her struggles with addiction.  

As a piece of marketing, it was ingenious.  It also made me want to break things.  But I managed to keep all those negative feelings under control.  

That is, until the week before Christmas.

I was waiting for Kaylee to come back from Raya Spa so she could finalize the guest list for her Christmas party.  I got bored so I started reading through one of those piles of fan mail that were always lying around.  Looking back, that was a mistake.

Some of the letters were about what I expected — marriage proposals from convicts, love poems scrawled in crayon, and the occasional unibomber-esque manifesto written by someone who desperately needed Kaylee's help getting his or her message out to the world.

But, by far, the largest percentage of Kaylee's fan mail was from teen girls.  Teen girls from all over the world telling her how much they admired Kaylee.  How much Kaylee meant to them.  And how much they wanted to grow up to be just like Kaylee. 

I probably shouldn't have taken them all that seriously but after reading about twenty like that, a tightness bloomed in the pit of my stomach.

I began imagining a whole generation of young women who would grow up trying to shape themselves in Kaylee's vacuous image.  I didn't know if western civilization could survive that.

Before Kaylee's ascendancy, I always thought I'd live to see the first female president.  But now I felt like it'd only be a few years before we were all speaking Chinese.

I decided to tell her I was quitting.

For her Christmas party, Kaylee had rented a whole floor of suites at The Standard.  I got there early to make sure everything was ready.  While I waited for her to arrive, I decided to count celebrities.  I saw Chelsea Handler, Miley Cyrus, Piers Morgan and two-thirds of the Jonas brothers before I got bored.

Kaylee showed up.  Late, of course.  She spent the whole night floating around the room, constantly surrounded by a protective cushion of admiring satellites.

I hung at the edge of the room, waiting for my opening.  I also started in on the Mojitos, trying to fortify myself for my big announcement.  

But, before I knew it, I'd had a few too many.  By the time Kaylee made her way over to me, I was pretty blasted.  She gave me air kisses and wished me a merry Christmas.  Before I could say anything, Dane Cook pulled her away, saying he wanted to try out some new material on her.  He winked at me as he said that.

I had a few more drinks while I waited for a second chance to tender my resignation from Kaylee-land.  But, as the evening went on, I started doing some mental math and kept arriving at the same answer — I couldn't afford to quit.  

My student loan repayments had kicked in.  And, lately, the job market had gotten even worse.  

Maybe I over-reacted before.  For every girl who wrote a fan letter, maybe there were ten others out there who hated Kaylee and were trying to be as different from her as they could possibly be.  Maybe Kaylee was being a force for good by serving as a bad example.

At least that's what I told myself. 

By the end of the night, I ended up next to some guy who looked a little familiar.  Turned out he was one of Kaylee's cousins.  He was cute — thin with curly hair.  I sorta threw myself at him.  He was drunk too, so he went with it.  Or maybe he just felt sorry for me.

Kaylee didn't believe in Christmas bonuses and I was experiencing kind of a drought in the sex department.  So, on some level, I felt like I deserved this.  Or maybe, just for one night, I didn't want to be the smart one anymore.  I wanted to feel like the pretty one. 

Anyway, I dragged him into one of the bedroom suites.  After we'd been going at it for a few minutes, my phone rang and the sound of Kaylee's orgasmic ring-tone moan filled the room.

I guess that set him off because all of a sudden I was listening to Kaylee and him climax simultaneously.

I was obviously too buzzed to drive home, so I cabbed it back to the guest house.

I fell straight into bed but my brain still wouldn't shut off.  While I waited for the Ambien to kick in, I stared at the ceiling and wondered if I was wrong to resent Kaylee for being so successful.

After all, it wasn't like she asked for any of this.  Everything just kind of fell into her lap.  She was the Forest Gump of celebrities.  She happened to hook up with Justin Timberlake and, after that, one thing led to another. 

She was just lucky.

Lucky to be a shiny thing born into a world that gets easily distracted by shiny things.  And she kept surviving all the car accidents and overdoses.  That was lucky, too.  

I started to think about how lucky she was that every relapse and arrest seemed to coincide with dips in her popularity.  How she always fell off the wagon or got busted right when her profile needed a boost.  Lucky timing, that.

Then my brain started to weave all these events into a strange conspiracy theory.  If I were more cynical, I'd almost say it wasn't luck at all.  The timing for all those headline-generating incidents seemed almost... calculated.

I remembered how rarely I actually saw her take any of the drugs she was allegedly hooked on. 

What if all those missteps and personal problems were part of a long-con on the rest of the world — designed to keep everyone interested in Kaylee, when there really wasn't anything that anyone should've cared about?

But Ambien always gives me crazy thoughts like that.  

I got tired of thinking about Kaylee and my brain drifted back to the guy I'd hooked up with at the party.  What was his name again?  Danny?  Duane?  Something like that.

I wondered if I'd see him again.  He said he was an actor and spent a lot of time out on location, so probably not.  I asked if I'd seen him in anything but he said he hadn't gotten any speaking roles yet.  

He'd done a lot of stand-in work, though.  I asked him who he stood in for but he didn't wanna say.  He'd worked on some big movies — "Bad Teacher," "Friends With Benefits," "The Social Network."  And something called "Alpha Dog."  

The Ambien was really kicking in, so it was getting hard to think clearly.  But I was pretty sure there was something else that all those movies had in common.  Some actor he could've doubled for.  Someone who was also thin and curly haired and OH MY GOD.

Right before I passed out, everything became super clear to me. 

Maybe I'd been wrong about Kaylee.  

Maybe she wasn't lucky.

Maybe she was the smart one.

About the Author

Scott Murphy writes in a variety of genres for film, television, and comic books. He lives in Los Angeles where he enjoys a love/hate relationship with this business called show. His hobbies include: second-guessing himself, pretending someone important is on the other line, and meeting for drinks to talk about how we really should develop something together. This is his first short story and he promises to do better next time.