Dads Against the Divorce Industry

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On Parade

Madonna's kiss and sell

September 8, 2003

There hasn't been a smooch to cause such shock and - in some cases - revulsion since Michael Jackson publicly planted one on the lips of his then-wife Lisa Marie Presley in front of millions of TV viewers in 1994.

We're talking, of course, about the snog which echoed around the world, the MTV Music Awards pash-a-thon starring a fading pop diva (Madonna), a young diva in transition (Britney Spears) and a genuinely talented singer desperately trying to be taken seriously as a skanky ho (Christina Aguilera).

In the weird and wacky realm of the show biz stunt, it's going to take some beating this year. Pictures of the girl-on-girl kiss-fest showed up in newspapers all over the world the following day, giving the just-turned-45 Madonna, especially, a much-needed publicity boost. It didn't do Spears - emerging from a "break" and undergoing an image change - any harm either. We're not sure what was in it for Aguilera, who was a late replacement for Jennifer Lopez. Confirmation, perhaps?

You can tell the quality of a good show biz stunt by its aftershocks. Last Monday, Hank Klibanoff, managing editor of the conservative The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, was forced to publish an apology for running a picture of the Madonna/Spears smooch on the paper's front page. In doing so, he compared the shot with Iraqi war images.

"We ran images we otherwise might not have run," he wrote. "But that was war, and war was news. The photo we ran [on] Friday was neither, and I wish I had limited its display to the inside of the Living section." Strike one for the girls.

There's nothing new about the show biz stunt. In a business which thrives on attention-seeking, anything that gets you more column inches than the next celeb is viewed as a public-relations triumph, especially if you can limit the humiliation.

Show biz stunts tend to fall into four major areas: Carefully orchestrated misbehaviour, gratuitous nudity, fashion (non)sense and relationships.

In the first section you're most likely to find rock bands. Sydney band the Vines had a fair crack at this last December when they were booted off the top-rating American TV program The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, for vandalism before they even had a chance to perform their song Outthaway.

"What happened?" Leno told his audience. "They got in a fight. He hit the drummer on the head or something. They are not here." That's worth a fair bit of "new rock" cred.

In the field of gratuitous nudity, there are many contenders.

Drew Barrymore's flashing at American talk-show host David Letterman in 1995 was a masterful stroke of self-promotion, especially as the only person to see the goods was the bemused host. Her Playboy appearance, though, reached a far wider audience, as have similar fleshy publicity grabs from the likes of Dannii Minogue, Elle Macpherson and Pamela Anderson.

Sydney audiences flocking to the local production of The Blue Room are seeing a far more nude version than was originally anticipated. Star Marcus Graham even performs one stunt that could serve as an audition piece for that fine Australian cultural contribution, Puppetry Of The Penis.

It's hard to beat Oscar-winning actor Halle Berry, though. She bared her breasts in the 2001 action/thriller Swordfish for no apparent reason other than to collect an alleged $US500,000 ($780,000) boob bonus from the producers.

There are similarly many contenders in the fashion stunt stakes, but two stand out.

In 1994, London model, good-time-girl and wannabe actor Liz Hurley appeared at the premiere of her boyfriend Hugh Grant's movie Four Weddings And A Funeral in a barely-there Versace dress which completely upstaged not only poor old Grant but also the entire premiere.

As far as the other great stunt frock goes, we need only mention four words: Bjork, Academy Awards and chicken.

When it comes to getting maximum publicity, though, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned stunt romance.

We're not suggesting that it's anything but true love, but the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher affair has sure been a mutually beneficial career move. Moore is back on the covers of magazines and, more importantly, getting Hollywood roles again, while Kutcher's MTV show Punk'd has just been picked up for showing in prime time in Australia by Channel Ten.

Meanwhile, Bennifer - the name given to the Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck partnership - is virtually an industry unto itself.

Once again, we're sure it's everlasting love, but it seems there's some more milking to be done by these two before the wedding invariably lessens interest.

Call it Unresolved Publicity Tension.

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