For the life of me, I can’t understand our overwhelming public fascination with marginally functional and marginally talented celebrities. No doubt back in the old, old days, before any sort of electronic media, everyone ran down to the railroad tracks to gawk when there was a train wreck. It’s true too, that newspapers had a field day when the Titanic sank, so we’re evidently hard-wired to feel empathy, and even sympathy, for total strangers. Don’t you find yourself slowing down to catch a glimpse of a car accident, even if it’s on the other side of the Interstate? One reason you find yourself doing this is that everyone else slows down to look, so you have to too, or you’ll plow into the back of someone. So we all slow down, glance over, wonder if anyone was hurt, wonder how it happened, and then we’re on our way, maybe feeling just a little thankful that we’re not involved.
All that being said, it’s easy to comprehend compassion for other human beings who are, or were, in unfortunate circumstances. Probably about 90% of all the news coverage in the world is of the “ain’t it awful?” variety. Bad things happen to people every day, and the more people we have on the planet, the more bad things happen. It’ all proportional to the population.
So, why then do we let the media sort of manipulate us into caring at all about brain-addled actors and other erstwhile celebrities when they goof up and get in trouble? Remember when Paris Hilton was all the rage? Non-stop coverage. Lindsey Lohan. Poor girl. What a mess. Endless blather ensued. Now we have the spectacle of Charlie Sheen. Constant comment. Endless speculation. A walking, talking train wreck. Why does anyone, other than his cast-mates, who depended on him to do his job, care? Do you care about anything he says or does? Honestly?
I can understand that news and entertainment-news programs have a lot of airtime to fill, so they’re probably delighted by any truly awful antics. Anna Nicole Smith! We can blab about her for months! Britney Spears! Stop the presses! And on and on and on. Maybe we enjoy the diversion. It’s hard to think about wars and terrorism all day long.
After giving our penchant for celebrity awareness, I’ve decided that they take on the function of some sort of shared experience for us. We all know at least something about these people, even if we’ve never seen them in any performance venue whatsoever. I’ve never seen Britney Spears perform, and I can’t tell you the name of any song she has ever sung, but I know who she is. Same with Charlie Sheen. I wouldn’t walk across the street to see him if he was standing out in the driveway, but I know who he is. And you do too.
What makes this information useful in some sort of weird way is that it’s totally transportable. If I were to pick up and move to Montana tomorrow, and someone made a reference to any of the aforementioned people, we could relate. So, for whatever it’s worth, the wacky, malfunctioning celebrities make for some sort of social glue. People may not keep up with the latest House Spending Bill, or the budget figures for their local school districts, but, by golly, for whatever reason, and that reason may be just because the bloomin’ media is going to cram this news down our throats at every opportunity, but for some reason, we’re all going to know more than we ever wanted to about Lindsey, Britney, Charlie, et al. Try as we might, we can’t escape them. They’re in the news and on the Internet. Their faces peer out at us as we stand in line to check out our groceries.
Okay, this just happened, no joke. I got up from the desk to walk out into the den to let a dog out the back door. The “Today Show” is on, and as I walked past the TV to the door, what do you think the newscasters were discussing? None other than our boy, Charlie Sheen! — with a new look at the reality of his world, or something along that line. Okay, that did it for me. That TV is off for the rest of the day. Enough already. Next thing you know, they’ll be talking about Charlie Sheen on the weather channel. Stay tuned!