Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Why DO we care?
I have a friend, a former academic, who likes to quote a line about professorial infighting: The battles are so vicious, it goes, because the stakes are so low.

The same can be said about many entertainment stories. Few people would insist that Tom 'n' Katie's wedding or Madonna's latest escapade or Britney Spears' divorce mean anything in the larger scheme of things. And yet these are exactly the sorts of stories that attract the most emotional commentary -- and the greatest interest.

Which has me wondering, once again: So, why do we care?

(And no doubt there's someone out there saying, "Well, I don't care" -- though the people who say that belie their level of caring by writing the most vitriolic comments.)

Part of it, I think, gets back to what my colleague Dave Levine said about the Cruise-Holmes wedding. These are stories that tap into some universal archetypes: rags to riches, love's ups and downs, sin, forgiveness and redemption. (Michael Richards, as did many before him, is undergoing the latter series now. Depending on his future, either the event will be a single sentence in his obituary -- no more or less important than his performance in "Unstrung Heroes" or his role in "Fridays" -- or part of the lead.)

But there's also the matter of what writer Maureen Orth calls the "celebrity-industrial complex," the endless machine made up of the news media, entertainment companies, performers, handlers, advisers and consultants (and, yes, consumers) that's dependent upon such stories for its daily fuel -- and, like any capitalistic enterprise, only exists as long as interest continues. Which means there's a great deal at stake to keep the machine running.

People like Paris Hilton use the machine very shrewdly; and yes, we can all say we don't care about Paris Hilton, but her photograph sells magazines, her smell sells perfumes, and a headline about her on CNN.com invariably draws traffic. And her adventures (even the ones that seem, well, choreographed) remind us that no matter how well known we are or how rich our friends or family, we are all similarly vulnerable to being human.

Which keeps the machine in motion until the day that, for whatever reason, these things don't happen. And then the machine will move on to something else.

There's also a third element: art.

Sometimes art is produced by the machine: witness the Hollywood studio system or the Brill Building songwriting combine. Other times art gets lost beneath the machine, overwhelmed by the noise. Either way, it gives an added dimension to entertainment beyond momentary joy or distraction. (What is art? Well, that's a source of argument among those academics for whom the stakes are so low.)

With all that in mind, a knowledgeable consumer should be aware of how the machine works and what it means to society. So if you do care, try these three books:
  • "The Image" by Daniel Boorstin. Though Boorstin's book came out in the early '60s, it still has a lot to say about how news became "news" and how people in the news became "celebrities" -- in Boorstin's oft-quoted coinage, a person who is known for his well-knownness.
  • "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. How did television, a great communications tool, become an even greater source of distraction? If you want to understand how complex issues got turned into black-and-white emotional hot buttons, Postman's 1985 book offers food for thought.
  • "Life: The Movie" by Neal Gabler. From the back cover of the paperback edition: "The story of how our bottomless appetite for novelty, gossip, glamour and melodrama has turned everything of importance ... into one vast public entertainment."
And if you're wondering where I stand, well, of course I care. I care about some topics because our readers are genuinely interested, and others because I am genuinely moved, as well. And it's my job to make sure that CNN.com's Entertainment page reflects the full picture.
Quit fooling yourself. People really DON'T care. They just want to gloat over someone else's misery to escape their own pathetic existence.
The national new shows like The NBC Today show must stop with the covering the mindless entertainment.Yes please do continue to cover real topics of art and issues of talented artsits,but they must stop covering the Paris,The Britney,The Tom Cats.Who do they think their audience is?So often Paris and Britny are covered before the real news of the day.Its sad.The joke is on us.This is why these idiot enetertainers dont think the rules apply to them.Keep them down with The ET and Extra shows where they belong.Linsey,Paris and Britney are not whatching they are nursing their daily hang overs.Its embarresing to all hard working Americans. Iroinicly reality shows are about people who dont live in reality.We watch to feel better about ourselfs.No body cares that Madanna adopted.People want to see that she doesnt screw up an otherwise perfectly good person.Its too ltae for Lindsey and Paris.They are a joke and they know it.Both talentless and mindless we like to watch them screw themselfs up.They get paid well but they will never get what we get through their tinted windows they nay have the market on quantity but we do on quality of life,something In sure Lindsry never thinks of when she is table danceing in her Gucci shoes.
What makes me care about the celebrity machine is my personal satisfaction I get from knowing that I, a 42 year old married mother of two, am completely and comfortably NOT part of the media circus. I'd rather be non-famous than infamous.
I personally don't really care about these celebrites, however I do find some sick satisfaction out of reading about them, and truely, who cares? We all do things to take our minds off of our ordinary lives. Just as some people don't understand why people "care" about celebrity news, I don't get why some have pet fish, or only read self help books, insist on decorating with pink flamingos, dress their pets...the list goes on and on. If there wasn't a market, they wouldn't sell it.
the reason I read and follow stories about Brit, Tomkat, etc. is really quite simple. I like romance novels, too... I know they aren't real, change is just around the corner and I find it interesting who is waiting in the wings to become the next "true love". It's all PR....pity the children. They'll be the next generation of overindulged humans seeking comfort in the world of drugs.
I think that the "machine" is so far out of touch with reality that the stars are starting to look like unselfish idiots. What happened to the days of glamour, mystery and class that the actors and actresses had??? The "machine" is so self centered that it only thinks about itself and the money it can generate. You are right that no body cares anymore. When you see a Hollywood couple get married these days, the bets are on as to how long it will last, not if it will last because we all know it won't. Celebrities are making idiots of themselves by publising every detail of their life. What happened to discretion?? It seems that money is the driving force in Hollywood and it will stop at nothing !!
I love this blog entry. How many times have you uttered to your friends, "who cares about pathetic Paris Hilton", at the tail end of your twenty minute conversation about her. We are interested because they are earning $10 million plus a year, sleeping in until 10, shopping all day & partying all night- all the while we are sitting at our desks slaving for "the man" and talking about them! I realize they are shallow- but how can you not envy the easy lives they live?! Although I do agree I feel for the poor children they are sure to neglect.
I don't care about any of this and found myself glued to HGTV during the Cruise wedding week because I had ENOUGH about that wedding
To the comment posted By Kristen Wolf, Bozeman, Montana : 11/29/2006 3:46 PM ET:

AMEN!!!!
I don't even care enough to read this blog entry...
It's not that we "care." It comes down to one very basic, very human factor: voyeurism. We are ALL voyeurs. Admit it or not, like it or not...it's true. Why do you think reality TV shows are so popular? Because we voyeurs watch them. What do we all do when we see a cop car, lights flashing, on the side of the road? We instantly become looky-loos...because we are voyeurs.
Celebrities give us the opportunity to satisfy the voyeur in each of us. We'd watch our neighbors just as closely if they'd leave their blinds open.
Re TomKat, I love both of them and am extremely interested in reading about them. If people are not interested, why bother to even write, read or watch anything about thos couple. tom and Kate DID try to keep their wedding private, but got criticised for doing so.

I see a lot of envious people out there!!!
I don't care at all - in fact I didn't get past the first few lines of this boring article.

The reason I don't care? Because I have a life of my own.
People read about disfunctional celebrities because it makes them laugh! I don't think I would want to be famous for a day!
i have a comment on britney spears and her children. if it was anyone else and this also is directed to the justice system the average american woman would be put in jail and the children would be taken away. the system does not recognize a child especially when the average citizen is less fortuate. the system will give custody to britney spears because of her financial situation. the justice system has always worked that way when it comes to money. i have no faith in the system because it is bias when it comes to the rich and the poor. granted i do not know all the details on this case, it is just an inside comment that has made public by the news media. and with that in mind, if britney is at fault and the system neglects to protect those children, then money will always conquer. remember you cant take it with when you go and i believe god has a plan for those who have abused the system.
What no one has adequately pointed out, and my own short missive shall no doubt fail in this regard as well, is that THE PEOPLE have changed to Homo-Sapien-in-search-of-constant distraction. We are AFRAID to be still, be quiet inside. To give one's attention to outer forces is a relief. In addition, we are afraid of outside (world) conditions, so after reading the news of the Mideast, US and world politics, why not "run-away" to the imaginings that you're right there loving/hating Britney, Lindsay and Paris? You immediately psychologically project all your expectations of what life would be like to "be" that person (sports hero, media idol, etc.) and following these "stars" serves the same purpose as taking a drug.
Can sone one please tell me what BFF is , Ihave seen the term but don't know what it means. As for the other terms I agree, what happened to the english language.
I don't think people care as much as the media thinks they do. Personally, I "care" more about our men and women serving in Iraq than I do over a group of spoiled celebrities. So what do I "care" about when I come across another annoying story of Britney and Paris partying all night and flashing their nether regions? My heart just breaks for Britney's two sons, because when they are school age, those pictures of Britney exposing her vagina will still be readily downloadable and those boys will be humiliated. As a mother, how do you explain that to your young boys?
who cares about "the poor stars"??? and troubles?? They LOVE the attention the media gives them...their " woes" ha ha.they should live in the real world!!! They thrive on publicity.......not matter what...they THRIVE on the attention...good or bad.......and they use their kids as pawns. I turn the channels on tv when I hear "poor" so snd so.........and these young, drinking, panty-less actresses make me sick!!!!! I refuse to pay anything to see them attempt to act!!! And...who is Paris Hilton??? She has no talent, none!!!!!! She lives off her daddy's name!!!! Pathetic.........What ever happened to the actors who WERE the best..............what we have is "" get pregnant" and you will be a star!!!!!!
It's not that I care about celebrity "news." I do enjoy reading some of the celebrity gossip blogs out there because they take a funny, snarky approach to these people. It gives people the chance to comment on how UNIMPORTANT these celebs are. Sure, many people talk about them etc., but more often than not, people are laughing at them or making fun of the choices they make.

Also, my understanding of BFF=best Friend Forever (like in middle school!)
We care because, deep down, our favorite celebrity is somehow a reflection of ourselves. Doesn't have to be Britney. Could be Martha Stewart. At some level, we can imagine / fantasize about being in that person's place and what we'd do if we had those options. They get paid millions to act out our fantasies.
In the big picture, they are the extras...i feel sorry for james and his miserable existence. We can say that we don't care, but we're interested anyway...like rubberneckers at an accident scene...usually it is outside of our "ordinary" existence, notice I didn't say pitiful. Just "out of the norm".

I love my ordinary life, i even like my kids and heaven forbid the ex-husband, too. The fact that we can all spend good time together creating no scandals or breaking any laws and no one sneaks up to take our pictures really amazes us!

Oh, but wait...son #1 does a book late for the library! I hope he can bike there fast enough to avoid all the fuss!
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