Last month, the internet lost one of the great gossip sites, an obsessively specific glimpse into the microcosm of the mid-to-late 2000s, where the intersections of celebrity, journalism, pop culture and feminism changed forever. One of the great time capsules into the very recent past managed to document the shift of our media’s focus and intent better than anyone who came before or after, and its disappearance from the internet signals a major loss to those of us who understand the importance of media studies and gossip.
Trying to explain the thrill and power of Pop Culture Died In 2009 is a tough task, particularly if you’re doing so to people who find the entire world of celebrity gossip worthless. Run by a young man called Matt who grew up in the era, PCD2009 was a fanatical documentation of tabloid culture, TMZ headlines, MySpace pages and E! News clips that painted a detailed canvas of the most influential and under-discussed era in celebrity. There, you could find collections of the many parties of Paris Hilton, the endless feuds of Lindsay Lohan, the rise of Kim Kardashian, and the public breakdown of Britney Spears. Some people remember where they were when JFK was shot; Matt offered the most precise timeline for the reporting of Paris Hilton’s jailtime. Names you knew all too well a decade ago were suddenly fresh in your memory: Alli Simms, Cisco Adler, Brandon Davis, and basically anyone associated with The Hills.
It seems so long ago now, but the 2000s era of pop culture was an impossible to avoid chasm of magnetism and agony that could only have happened at that moment in time. This was before Twitter and Facebook changed the game, but right as TMZ were gaining power. Tabloids still ruled the gossip roost, but now stars could take to Myspace to air their grievances. Reality TV became a newly endless source of star-making, and audiences were hungry for a train wreck. The child-stars were transitioning into adult roles, Britney and Christina had become megastars worldwide, Paris and Nicole were living The Simple Life and Anna Nicole Smith had broken records with her reality series. I didn’t care much for celeb culture at that point in my adolescence, but I still knew basically everything about these people because their stardom had spilled from the celeb world to the real world, becoming headlines on the evening news and front page material in every newspaper. Remember, Paris Hilton going to jail was a breaking news story on CNN.
PCD2009 understood better than anyone that this era was a tipping point in our culture. It’s the era the internet is coming to dominate media but it’s still competing with the old-school ways; the point in time where you could see the cycle of fame happen in a week; a process of celebrity where you had to go through the traditional channels to achieve it, but you could have the upper hand if you knew how to work a Myspace page. This was before the recession, when audiences still craved obscene displays of wealth like Paris Hilton’s heiress hothouse, and where the internet’s strength had not yet been fully harnessed by the PR machine. Before everyone had social media interns or publicists controlling the narrative, there was Tila Tequila with her one million Myspace friends and the fervent focus that elicited from a media that had no idea what that really meant. This was that fraction in time where the internet was at its most powerful and least controlled by the world of celebrity.
Where PCD2009’s strengths lay were in his ability to balance expansive reporting with perceptive editorialising. Showing the unbelievable scale of coverage Paris Hilton’s jail-time received with no opinions from Matt is one thing, but when he let you know how he felt about it all, you got one of the sharpest insights into the socio-cultural context of this barmy era. How were we as a culture influenced by this period in time that you couldn’t escape from yet was dismissed as a mere frivolity? By Matt’s estimation, it’s clear that the influence spreads further than anticipated, given the prevalence of the Kardashians, the rise of the social media influencer, and that dude in the White House (who Matt reported on frequently).
This era of frenzy and an inescapable gaze was also, as documented frequently by Matt, a new low for female celebrities. Misogyny reached a new peak of legitimacy in the media, from Paris Hilton’s ex leaking their sex tape to the giddy delight tabloids took in pitting Lindsay Lohan and Hillary Duff against one another. Not only was the media at its least controlled, it was at its least empathetic, with Britney’s horrendously public breakdown treated like a public spectacle and reported on as if she was playing a game. PCD2009’s site detailed every moment of this but contextualised it to show how brutal the process was for Spears. He also offered a rare respite of support during Amanda Bynes’s public troubles as the rest of the media repeated the process of humiliation it had fine-tuned to an art. PCD2009 was the best kind of gossip site - history plus hindsight and a whole lot of empathy.
So why is the site now offline? What caused it to disappear? Fans are speculating that Matt’s last post on the page had something to do with it. Once again returning to his niche of obsessively detailed empathy, Matt wrote up the treatment of Megan Fox by director Michael Bay, including forcing her to audition for him by washing his car and the ways he frequently derided her. It’s the kind of well-researched work PDC2009 was famed for, but you can only see it now in screencaps. Spencer Pratt of The Hills fame, and a friend of the blog, suggested on Snapchat that Matt may have been threatened with legal action by a ticked off celebrity he reported on. If that is the case, that’s a depressing move, and one that shouldn’t be levelled against one of the gossip world’s true forces for good. His Instagram page is still up but the blog and Twitter page are long gone.
We are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past if we don’t learn our history, and PCD2009 was the gossip historian we needed during these tempestuous times, as he documented better than anyone else the ways in which the past 15 years of celebrity defined our world beyond the limits of entertainment. I hope the site comes back, as we could surely use it. Truly great gossip reveals the world to us, and Pop Culture Died In 2009 was the oracle of our celebrity times. When the President of the United States is a reality TV show judge, you can understand why we’d need a site like this in our lives.