Friday, October 17, 2008

The Crown of Celebrity: To Worship or Dethrone?

Though I have been known to pick up a glossy magazine or watch a bit of the E! Channel now and then, America’s collective and nearly universal obsession with celebrity has always perplexed me. As my mother always says, “They’re just people.” What does it say about our culture and our psyches that we consider the sexploits of barely-legal, barely-there celebutantes more important than, say, voting in the presidential election? In 2004, celebrity magazines like People had revenue of $786 billion, while news magazines such as Time made a paltry $1.3 billion. What is it about the rich, famous, and undeniably fake Hollywood actors and actresses make them the most sought-after, the most listened-to, and the most emulated? How do American royalty ascend to their throne, and what does it say about their subjects?
I’ve heard various arguments as to why famous people are famous, usually some variation of the statement, “Acting is hard.” While this may be true, is it truly more difficult than the jobs of the everyday Americans who are doing real, necessary jobs? Without the audience of humble roofers and real-estate agents, there would be no audience: no one to deliver box office gold, no one to buy a Target knock-off of the latest princess’ Oscar dress. The fact that actors, who are merely sophisticated pretenders, are praised and paid in gluttonous fashion, while the less beautiful, more long-lasting regular people who make this country run are rarely praised or paid very much at all, displays that Americans value abstract, shiny inventions of people more than real, true, and therefore less sparkly people. Indeed, we are often more interested in the ‘real life’ of the actors we pay several hours’ wages too see on the silver screen than the struggles of the people sitting beside us in the movie theatre. The obsession with celebrity goings-on – from their hedonistic spending, to their invented and contrived dramas, to their blatant disregard and condescension to the masses that make their fame possible – is an extreme form of escapism. Are our lives really so stifling, so painful, so impossible that we must project our own shameful wishes onto whatever lucky starlet has us star-struck at that moment? It is true, at least to some degree, that we all want to be beautiful, rich, lucky, and feel like we matter. But celebrities don’t matter – the people we project them to be don’t even exist. Actors don’t have any more insight on life, or feeling, or truth than anyone else; in fact, they live in such a bubble that it is likely they have less. The celebsession is pathetic and sad – beauty and light do exist, but the contrived lighting of the Beautiful is absolutely the wrong place to look.
We love the famous because we ourselves want to be famous – but why? I’ve heard friends say that they want to become a celebrity because they want to matter. They want people to know their name; they want to be remembered. But what kind of lasting, real, positive affect do actors have on anyone? Perhaps a movie moves you – it was created by a writer; can you name any screenwriter who’s been on the cover of People (that wasn’t an actor first)? And as for their dramatic involvement with whatever the hip world tragedy du jour might be, they are paid more, they have more money, they can afford to donate more, and be photographed looking beautiful doing so. Though I’m obviously not interested in meeting any, I’m fairy certain that the Hollywood Hot-and-Popular are just like the rest of us – just luckier, more beautiful, and (thanks to all of us who pay our hard earned cash to see ‘candid’ photos of them doing whatever mundane task they couldn’t shame their minions into doing for free) probably raging narcissists. It is unhealthy for our youth to want to be famous: does the world really need any more Lauren Conrads? And the even more sad, more sorry fact of it is that because of the desperate yearning of millions of aspiring aristobrats, now Lauren Conrad thinks that she matters. She probably thinks she’ll be remembered. Is that really what we want to represent us, America? Is her contrived drama really any better (or worse) than our own real ones?
There is a certain shadenfreudic element to the industry of celebrity, that we find pleasure in their pain. Apparently, America delights when the latest rising star is shot down by a crack addiction, and buys all the magazines it can get its hands on when the latest leading man goes crying back to his baby mama. Does this say good things about us, either? Is it better to escape our less outlandish, less publicized humiliations by delighting in the failures of the famous? Or maybe it’s the hope of a come-back that makes us keep our home-pages on Perez Hilton: if the Hot Young Thang of the moment can be caught making out with an endangered leopard species, then pose wearing a thong made of its pelt, then win a Nobel Peace Prize for animal conservation all in one night, well, then, we can too. The comeback I hope for most is one that will take us away from the dramatic, fake lives of the Famously Fabulous and back to the caring about the person sitting next to us in the movie theatre.

Facts on magazine revenue from: o
Special thanks to:;the posts from July 10-15, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008


It has only been in the last five or so years that text messaging, or “texting” has been really popular, nearly replacing phone call s for the fifteen-to-twenty-five age range. But other than those of the older generations that just don’t understand how to use the auto-complete setting, there has been little discussion and analysis regarding how this swift-thumbed social phenomenon is affecting us – our relationships, our social skills, etc.
Let me preface this by saying that I do text, of course. If I didn’t I would be a social pariah, a position not even I am willing to take in the name of peaceful protest. But while I understand and participate in the unspoken act, I am always thinking of the not-so-positive ways it is affecting me, and my peers.
Telephones used to be about talking: not quite the same as face-to-face communication, but almost. Text-messaging reduces the human contact to a modern-day Morse code, with little feeling or emotion. Not to be melodramatic, but countless psychological experiments have shown the detrimental effects of reduced human contact, notably increased anxiety and difficulty relating to and sympathizing with others. Our world is already so digitized; the elimination of immediate voice contact is only another vestige of this mildly disturbing human trend. Emoticons are no replacement for the emotion and sincerity conveyed in a voice – sincerity that just can’t be abbreviated, digitized, and sent through a text.
Similarly, the use of text-messages in place of phone calls makes it easier for both the sender and the receiver to hide: from responsibility, from difficult subjects, from the all-dreaded “awkwardness.” If you are afraid or reluctant to discuss a topic, you can send a text, and tell yourself that you have addressed the issue. In reality, a text is no way to deal with anything: the receiver of your digitized missive should be given enough respect to warrant a phone call. Instead, we are able to hide behind our cell-phone screens, displaying classic avoidance of responsibility and puerile cowardice in a way that is socially accepted. In an example of how this phenomenon has already eroded respectable, respectful discourse, it is now legal in some Asian countries to divorce via text as long as “the intent is clear.” If you are married to someone, you deserve him or her at least a phone call. Texting gives cowards an easy and socially accepted way to say difficult things – while sacrificing accountability, honestly, and sincerity.
On the receiving end of a text, this new method of communication also allows us to dodge responsibility and having the decency to respond to difficult topics (which should not be addressed through this medium anyway). In the most dramatic terms, texting makes us and our messages less important: we send texts so that the person can choose to read our discard our messages at their leisure, leaves us anxious for their potential reply, it creates social tyrants out of the receivers of the message. The receiver can not reply, wait for prolonged periods before responding, or use the ever-prevalent and always-dubious excuse that they didn’t get the text, that it somehow got lost in the digital vortex and never vibrated into their message inbox (in my experience, this is actually the case about .001% of the time). In a phone call, immediate reaction is necessary; in text messaging, it is virtually optional.
There are many other sociological detriments to texting, including the deterioration of grammar standards, questions of academic integrity, and increased cases of carpal tunnel. And I am not trying to stop texting, merely express the difference between “Come on over” and “Marriage = Over”. Even more disturbing than diseases of the thumb is society’s collective act of thumbing its nose at respectful methods of discussion, necessity of human contact, and responsibility in relationships.