Perez Hilton, who runs and writes the celebrity gossip blog PerezHilton.com, announced today during his first appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's talk show a major change to his website: it will no longer be mean.
Hilton spoke about the reason for this shift while taking with DeGeneres about his work to bring awareness about teen suicide and cyber bullying. "In doing so, a lot of people have called me a hypocrite and a bully myself, and a big one," Hilton said. "That's not how I want to be perceived and that's not what I want to put out there into the world."
The suicide last month of gay teen Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after an incident of cyber bullying at Rutgers University, rallied numerous celebrities to speak out against the dangers of such bullying—Hilton himself being one of them. In an interview with MTV shortly after the suicide, Hilton said "I'm just beyond sad—I'm crushed. And also compelled to act (after seeing) gay bullying and (kids) being harassed in school because people might think that they're gay."
Hilton's blog, however, built a reputation on its mean-spiritedness, coining unflattering nicknames for the celebrities it covers and taking a certain unbridled glee in their misfortunes and scandals. In several high profile cases, Hilton—who is openly gay—outed celebrities by constantly posting about their sexuality, essentially forcing them to come out of the closet.
Hilton is admirably using his notoriety to condemn cruelness and bullying about a person's sexuality. Yet, as several media sites are quick to point out, Hilton makes his living doing that exact thing.
After receiving flack for outing pop star Lance Bass on his website, Hilton told Access Hollywood, ""It upsets me that people think what I'm doing is a bad thing. I don't think it's a bad thing. If you know something to be a fact, why not report it?...If I have to drag some people screaming out of the closet, then I will." WWTDD blog points out several other similar examples, including his frequent teasing of actor Matt Dallas's sexuality, even though he is only rumored to be gay.
"So maybe it's only cool to "cyber bully" people about their sexuality if you do it in front of millions," WWTDD writes. "Here's a screencap from the twitter of Clementis roommate where he announces the streaming video. As you can see, he only has 148 followers, and what he actually wrote is nowhere near as inflammatory as what Hilton wrote, all the time."
Hilton's school yard bullying hasn't been limited to sexuality. With his constant reveling in celebrity scandal, Salon argued this summer that Hilton has become the unlikely beacon of moral conservatism and propriety:
Hilton's famous viciousness, his seeming delight in inspiring the loathing of his favorite targets, would suggest something deeper than the garden variety Hollywood attention-seeking he so fondly chronicles. It looks instead for all the world like ... a crusade -- a crusade awash in seminal fluid, revulsion and judgment.
In his conversation with DeGeneres Hilton pledged to curb not just the bullying aspect of his site, but its tone in general—the cruel nicknames, the outing, the overall meanness. "I still want to be sassy and critical, but I can do it without having to be mean or nasty," he said.
It should be interesting to see how Hilton will set himself apart from TMZ, E! Online, and other breaking entertainment news sites now that he is essentially doing away with the branding that essentially made him famous. Will his site generate the same audience with posts about Kirsten Dunst and Zac Efron instead of Kiki Drunkst and Zacquisha, or without the degenerate doodles over the stars' photos and the biting editorializing about their news? Hilton's pledge to change his tone is admirable, but let's hope the blog doesn't exclusively churn out posts like this.