"Why does it feel so good to be so bad?"
So moans the evil Queen Doris of the Sixth Dimension in 1982's cult musical Forbidden Zone, quite possibly the omphalos of stylish cynicism and postmodern trash.
Does it still feel this way?
Is being "so young, so bad, so what?"– the reform school girls' anthem in the movie of the same name – still an aesthetically desirable position?
This last week, the notorious and widely loathed pornographic submission website Is Anyone Up? – which featured naked pictures sent in by angry exes in a kind of Senecan e-drama – was shut down by the site's creator Hunter Moore.
Moore has reportedly sold the domain to bullying-support site Bullyville.com, saying he'd become friends with BullyVille founder James McGibney, who helped him realize his talents in programming and social networking "could be channelled in a positive way." And the young pornographer does seem sheepish, particularly about his appearance last fall on Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show, where he was sliced and diced by the nimble host. He's even formed a new, principled site called We Party for a Profit, which is linked to several charitable organizations.
But Moore's apology is so obviously insincere (remember, he told Cooper flatly he wanted to be a "jerk" and profiteer): Reading it, it's clear his regrets involve legal hassles, and nothing more. "The site was a blessing for me," he states in his letter on Bullyville.com, "and still is, but I am burned out and I honestly can't take another underage kid getting submitted and having to go through the process of reporting it and dealing with all the legal drama of that situation."
What is really happening here? Is the world becoming a nicer place, or has bullying, on every level, become such a distasteful concept that even the likes of Moore are ceasing to do it?
Moore is so reminiscent of the now dead-but-for-the-burying Tucker Max (author of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell), of Girls Gone Wild-maker Joe Francis and of deadbeat billionaire Brandon Davis: young-ish profligates and congenial predators (or, in Davis's case, salacious party monsters) and part of a social trend that has simply passed.
In its place, and a year after Perez Hilton re-branded himself as not "hated" but "sassy," apologized for "bullying" stars and told The View's Joy Behar and his fans that he has become "more positive," is the New Nice, an adult stance against not only the issue of teen bullying that films such as Lee Hirsch's documentary Bully have pushed front and centre, but bullying, period.
Hilton's revelation occurred after Jennifer Aniston, whom he has referred to as "Maniston" for years, in white-scrawled letters, ran into him in a parking garage and asked, plainly, "Why are you so mean?"
Hilton was poleaxed. You aren't real, he told her, you're a "character."
Herein lies the terrible disconnect, however. While Aniston can cry all the way to the bank, others – civilians – are not as easily consoled after online attacks.
Bullyville, in spite of its laudable name and purpose – exposing bullied celebrities and "alleged" celebrity bullies – is owned by the creators of Cheaterville, where posters are encouraged to "Fight Infidelity. Post a Known Cheater Now" – ultimately a scurrilous trend-surfing site of no moral value.
But it is fascinating to watch the idea of kindness, of decency, spread and spike.
As a corollary to the Green movement, the New Nice asks that we become obsessed with the sweet antics of video cats; that we sympathize with judge Jennifer (Cruella de) Lopez when she gets "goosies" on American Idol. We are to dismiss Lady Gaga for the homelier and lovelorn Adele, and love all films about human cruelty.
We are also, if uneasily, to applaud the specious actions of a Hunter Moore, who was clearly bullied himself (but in a nice way) to abandon his provocative business.
But bullies often don't change when they grow up. They simply morph into more complex and sometimes far more powerful versions of their youthful selves. If we force them to change their ways, won't they simply morph in such a way as to elude us further?
Instead of trying to legislate Nice (via the tricky antagonist of free speech, the hate-crimes laws), let us lead by example, and simply so.
"Don't call people names!" Behar barked at Perez. There's a nice, honest start.