Pop culture deities

It’s impossible to ignore celebrity gossip today. Even if you don’t listen to Britney Spears, you know she screwed up her “comeback” appearance two weeks ago.

It’s impossible to ignore celebrity gossip today. Even if you don’t listen to Britney Spears, you know she screwed up her “comeback” appearance two weeks ago. It’s not totally clear what Paris Hilton does, but we all know she makes home videos and recently went to jail. 50 Cent has a lot of fans, but does it really matter that he’s been shot?

It’s not hard to imagine that more has been written about celebrities’ marriages, weight loss, addictions and vacation homes than their careers as actors or latest performance. Not to mention, celebrity magazines and websites are littered with pictures of celebrities doing particularly mundane things, like buying gas, frolicking in the waves, window shopping in sweats and sunglasses, ad nauseum. So who’s to blame for the overabundance of completely worthless news coverage of America’s most famous?

In the article “Why Am I Obsessed with Celebrity Gossip?” posted last January on Salon.com, a reader complained of filling too many hours everyday with searching for celebrity gossip. The response by writer Cary Tennis was simply, “I see celebrities as gods and goddesses…The reason we are so obsessed by celebrities today, I figure, is that there is nowhere else in our culture with such rich and readily accessible tales of such magical and entrancing variety.”

Is that really true? Is going to jail or getting wasted all night and then screwing up work the next day magical? Can someone honestly still claim that gossip columns are just one of an infinite number of escape routes pop culture offers out of our day-to-day lives?

One thing for sure is that coverage of our modern day ‘gods and goddesses’ is inescapable. The other, more important point is that, as a culture, we are responsible for what is represented in the media. It isn’t record companies, television stations and weeklies that promote violence and shameless paparazzi that allows us to, more or less, stalk our favorite celebrities with a click of the mouse or a turn of the page in the check-out line at the grocery store. The first picture of the new baby, the “exclusive” interview of “what went wrong,” and the most revealing up-skirt shot from last weekend wins out again and again, which can only mean that we’ve asked for it.

Media is going to give us what we want, and apparently, what we want these days is the most private, offensive information possible. Maybe it is the age-old claim that we love to watch our heroes fall (is Lindsay Lohan an American hero?) or that we want to level our own lives with those who we regard as privileged, but exactly what makes some of these celebrities famous is what we’re losing sight of through our obsession with gossip.

We’ve apparently lost interest in the talents of the performers we glamorize, and replaced it with an interest in how they spend their time when they aren’t entertaining us. At the expense of our own interest and cultural development, it appears that we like to fill the hours when we aren’t running errands, shopping or going out on the weekends, with reading about pop culture deities running errands, shopping and going out on the weekends. But as we continue to complain that popular culture is dumbing-down America, we should keep in mind that it’s only a reflection of what we strive for every day of our lives.