Monday, September 17, 2007

Full Circle in the Slavish Worship of Celebrity

So here we are, 12 years after the "trial of the century" - an event scarcely worthy of the title, given more significant plaintiffs like Sacco and Vanzetti or Julius and Ethel Rosenburg - and O.J. Simpson is back in the news, with video cameras and "reporters" glued to his every move. Why this fascination with a has-been athlete and so-called celebrity being led away in handcuffs? He's no more worthy of our attention today than he was in 1994-95.

Unfortunately, however, coverage of O.J. a dozen years ago represented a paradigm shift in the way our media outlets covered "news." And while more thoughtful Americans realize that we shouldn't pay attention to the likes of O.J., Paris, Lindsey, Britney, and a host of other non-newsworthy characters, the reality is that we do pay attention, and for advertisers in both broadcast and print tabloids, that's where the money is.

So why has our news coverage - and the subjects deemed important - changed so significantly since the mid-90s? First I think it points to an advancing shallowness among average Americans. They don't want to be burdened with daily reality, particularly when it applies to more traditional newsworthy subjects. Americans just don't care about GNP, Somalia, the Sudan, the current credit crisis, or the mounting death toll in Iraq. (If they are finally paying attention to the disaster in Iraq, it's because they're finally witnessing the ripple effect of having the nation at war for so long. With the problem only exacerbated by the awful reality of 9/11, Americans simply don't want to be challenged, preferring instead the "tastes great, less filling" pulp of celebrity and celebrity-wannabe stories.

This crisis of vacuity in American popular culture is nothing new, mind you. Since the birth of the Republic, American culture has invited the disdain of those entities deemed "highbrow" or "intellectual" . . . and, in fact, there is a potent strain of anti-intellectualism in our cultural DNA that persists. Of course, by preaching against the limitations of current popular culture, especially the slavish devotion to the cult of celebrity, I am branded as "elitist" and "effete," charges which I accept with honor. If we wonder why our society has "lost its way" - a criticism levelled by some social critics in the idiotic twilight of the Bush "moment" - perhaps we need look no farther than our role models. If a majority of our populace idolizes wealth, celebrity, excess, and inappropriate behavior, what does that say about the country as a whole? In that context, Bush really is the "people's president" because he reflects accurately their intellectual limitations and ideological narrow-mindedness. In the cult of celebrity, mediocrity can be celebrated - and even elevated to the presidency.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

You'll forgive me if my eyes blurred over as I skimmed the first part of this post... my reality is that I do not pay attention to the likes of OJ.
And unfortunately I tend to avoid the heavy, real stuff too, mainly because I'm averse to having things shoved down my throat.
I whole-heartedly agree with your observations. You're a smart man.