We know every move Britney Spears makes, so why don't we know the same for her male contemporaries? Had Heath Ledger and Brad Renfro been followed to the same degree as young Hollywood starlets, would warning signs have been more visible? If anything, those tragedies have taught us that perhaps our attention might have been better served elsewhere.
So why were we looking at the hot, young girls instead of the sad, scruffy boys?
"Most of my clients are women," said Justin Smith, sales manager of Fame Pictures whose clients include magazines such as Us Weekly, People and Star. "There has to be a correlation."
Not only are the photo-driven celebrity weeklies and gossip Web sites often run by women, they're mostly read by women too — and that audience likes to see itself reflected, albeit in a more glamorous light, say the publications' writers and editors.
"We're not asking Steve Carell who designed his suit, but we're jumping over barricades to ask Charlize Theron about her dress," said PageSix.com reporter/producer Jarrett Wieselman.
"If Lindsay [Lohan] wears a dress, someone will buy it," said OK! magazine senior reporter Laura Schreffler. "If Heath wore a blazer, there wasn't the same chance [he would influence fashion trends]. I really think it's more about the audience who's watching the gossip unfold."
Smith estimates that the celebrity photo market has a 70-30 split of female to male subjects, with certain celebs taking a bigger chunk than others (depending on the photo agency). Britney is the most sizeable chunk, accounting for anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the business for agencies like Splash News and X17. But even the biggest male stars, like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, barely make it to the 10 percent mark. Smith estimates that Pitt is "5 to 7 percent" of the market, Cruise, "another 5 to 10 percent," with added value if they're with their significant others and children.
"Any time a celebrity gets pregnant, it gives them a big career boost," Wieselman said. "And once they have the baby? People are more interested in Kingston Rossdale than his parents [Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale] at times. 'Oh, there's Kingston being cute again.' You don't even need a story to go with that."
"Heath wasn't a great shot unless he was with Naomi Watts or Heather Graham or Michelle Williams, or if there was a baby in the picture," Smith said. "It's not about Orlando Bloom walking to get coffee, but that he was last seen with Kirsten Dunst, or whoever the flavor of the week is for him. Joel Madden — people wouldn't know who that guy was if he wasn't tied to Nicole Richie. It all comes back to the ladies."
The celebrity weeklies' stock-in-trade stories are about romances, pregnancies, children, weddings and breakups. In those narratives, women are the focus, and men become background — and not just where photos are concerned. Us Weekly senior editor Albert Lee points to the Angelina Jolie/ Brad Pitt coverage, where Pitt "escaped unscathed," while Jolie was painted as a homewrecker and Jennifer Aniston as cold and withholding.
If male celebs are peripheral to the story, then there's less reason to invest in resources to follow them — especially if they're not making it easy to catch them doing anything photo-worthy.
"The women put themselves out there a lot more than their male counterparts," Wieselman said. "I live in New York, and I never saw Heath out. I saw Paris, Lindsay and Britney out at the clubs. ... But a Heath Ledger-type, more avant-garde actor is not going to go to the paparazzi-attracting clubs. He'd favor places where he wouldn't be recognized, not where he's courting attention."
"If he were walking around with Matilda on his shoulders, or up to some sort of mischief, that's gold, there's no denying that," Smith said. "But it would have to be something out of the ordinary. If it had been a choice between Heath going to Starbucks, or Britney going to Starbucks, we'd rather have the Britney shots."
Chances are, a photo of a female celeb, whether she's glamorous on the red carpet or a hot mess in public, is worth more than a male celeb who might have committed a more serious transgression.
"Kiefer Sutherland, when he was released from [jail]? That didn't get very much paparazzi attention," Smith said. "The magazines didn't want that. For a Britney photo of her just walking around, there could be 20 other sources, whereas for Kiefer, you could have a potential exclusive of him walking out of jail. So I might go the Kiefer way, but it would be much more lucrative to have a Britney shot to run. They want Britney and her shenanigans."
The result is that the male celebs could be involved in just as many shenanigans, but we're not as likely to know, or to care, about them. "Certainly the warning signs were there for Brad [Renfro], but no one was there covering him," Lee said.
"A guy can leave the house schlubby and unwashed, and that's fine," Wieselman said. "But it's an unfortunate double standard that if a woman does, we ask, 'What's wrong with her?' "
"To a certain degree, for better or for worse, we give guys more latitude," Lee said, "especially if they're sustaining a bad-boy image. It goes all the way back to River Phoenix and James Dean, the classic rough Hollywood image. With women, they're held to a higher standard, especially the young women, especially young women known for playing squeaky clean roles. Heath played a drug addict in 'Candy,' but it's more shocking when Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant at 16. It's all along the same lines of how we judge men and women in terms of sex — men can sleep around and it's fine, and women in some places have to be somewhat virginal.
"When the Heath story broke, there was this whole aura to it," Lee continued. "The tone of the coverage was very somber, very serious, very sad, and you just wonder, if this were a 28-year-old female actress found naked with pill bottles around her, wouldn't it feel more sordid? With Heath, it's, 'What a tragedy.' If Heath were a Heather, it'd be, 'What kind of secret dirty underworld was she living in?' That's the narrative that happens. And once society at large decides that's the storyline, everything gets seen through that prism. Even his [reported] sleeping around was his way of getting over Michelle, his way of dealing with the loneliness. But women aren't supposed to deal with their problems that way. Britney can't get over Justin? She needs to see a psychotherapist!"
Since there's still more of a story if a woman acts up than a man, the celebrity weeklies aren't likely to tip toward more coverage of male celebs in light of Renfro's and Ledger's deaths, but there may be some other changes.
"Celebrities are going to start watching themselves more," Schreffler predicted. "They know we're going to watch them more closely, that the cameras are going to follow them until they go somewhere and hide. We'll see it right when it happens."
Wieselman suggested a potentially positive side to the attention: "If you're Lindsay Lohan, and you're at a club and someone offers you a drink, you know everyone will know. It's a built-in support system that you didn't ask for but obviously need."
Still, don't expect miracles — because despite Britney's constant paparazzi entourage, "nothing seems to be changing" for her, Schreffler said.
"It takes real serious work and a support network to be involved with an intervention to get help for either a mental illness or a substance-abuse problem," Lee said. "And her problem isn't going to go away just because we do or do not write articles about her.
"Everyone's following Lindsay, Paris, Britney, and waiting for something terrible to happen," Lee added. "We're watching them decline in real time, but who knows? Britney could live to be 100 years old."