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The craze over Octomom Nadya Suleman

She can't seem to get enough kids, and media audiences can't seem to get enough of her topsy-turvy life. It's all just so octo-licious.

February 28, 2009|Kimi Yoshino, Jessica Garrison and Andrew Blankstein

The octo-spectacle just won't go away.

And instead of running from the limelight, Octomom Nadya Suleman and her zany cast of characters have thrust themselves head-on into the circling, hungry maw of the 24/7 cable-radio-Internet-Twitter news cycle.

Suleman's media juggernaut reached new highs this week, starting Monday with her ex-boyfriend, who tearfully went on national TV to demand a paternity test. It continued Tuesday with her father on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," accusing his daughter of being "irresponsible." At one point, questioning his daughter's mental state, asked the talk show queen, "Will you help?" Winfrey told him she would arrange for a mental evaluation if his daughter wanted it.

But it didn't stop there.

Radar unleashed videos online over four days, including tours of the family's cramped house and a "video showdown" between Suleman and her mother. At one point, Angela Suleman called her daughter "obsessive compulsive." Sister programs "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider" touted their own "exclusive," also stretching their shared interview out over five days.

Dr. Phil devoted Wednesday and Thursday to octomania -- he now totals five episodes in two weeks -- and managed to curry enough favor with Suleman to become her confidant: When Kaiser Permanente hospital officials questioned her ability to take care of the octuplets, he was the doctor she called in distress.

Never one to shun the media glare, celebrity attorney Gloria Allred entered the fray, offering Suleman a house and 24-hour nursing care for the octuplets. And two porn studios made dueling overtures: Vivid Entertainment offered Suleman up to $1 million to star in a movie, while Pink Visual said it would give her a year's worth of diapers to turn down Vivid.

"You can't point to a TV show right now that has a better plot than Octomom," said Janice Min, editor in chief of Us Weekly, which features Suleman on its current cover with an eight-page spread inside. "We have someone who is living her own national reality show for the cameras. . . . The story has every element that scripted TV would die for. Dysfunctional family. Public feuding with the mother. . . . The plastic surgery. The Angelina Jolie comparisons. . . . Now there's a baby-daddy mystery."

TMZ Managing Editor Harvey Levin is more blunt. "Octomom is crazy. People like crazy. Crazy is more interesting than boring. It's that simple."

Suleman's celebrity status is the product of the round-the-clock news cycle. The messy details of Suleman's family life have propelled her to even greater fame and at least some measure of fortune, rather than making people turn away.

"Lindsay and Britney are not on the front burner, so now we have Nadya," said Howard Bragman, the Hollywood publicist and author of "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?" "It's a pure escapist story. . . . It's a freaky story. And by the way, it happened in Southern California, where every entertainment outlet in the world has a crew."

Suleman's plight has continued to capture the public's imagination, in part because each day has revealed another increasingly wacky twist. Interest in a genuinely rare event, only the second octuplet birth in U.S. history, quickly turned from a legitimate debate over medical ethics into a full-blown tabloid drama.

First, it was revealed that she already had six other children. Then, it turned out she is a single mom on public assistance living in a home being foreclosed on. She used in vitro fertilization to get pregnant with all 14 kids. Her sperm donor remains a mystery, and her elusive Beverly Hills doctor may be the only one still keeping his mouth shut. The uncanny resemblance to Angelina Jolie (the full lips, the growing brood) added another puzzling element. Many have claimed she had plastic surgery to make herself look more like Jolie, a charge she denies.

Even the neighbors are making news. One frustrated, shotgun-wielding resident of Suleman's Whittier block burst out of his home this week shouting at the media congregated outside.

"Just when you think you've had enough of her, another tidbit comes out to keep you hooked," Min said.

Suleman has repeatedly said she doesn't want all the publicity. But it's her -- and her parents -- who have kept the story unfolding.

Instead of shuttering themselves away, the family has agreed to so-called exclusive after exclusive.

"People are always complaining about the paparazzi, but if you really want to keep your life private, you can keep your life private," said Elayne Rapping, a professor of American studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo who specializes in pop culture.

In a world of gossip blogs and YouTube, the public is also helping to keep the story alive.

More than 50 Facebook groups have been formed, pro and con. Bloggers of all types are sounding off. And anyone with an opinion can leave a message in response to one of the many newspaper articles or television segments focusing on Suleman and the octuplets.

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