About a year ago, I watched a national morning news program that devoted over half of its broadcast time toward promoting a ridiculous looking band that was already exceptionally popular. To aide in your imagination, visualize three scruffy thirty-five year old men with perms dressed up as teenage girls. They kept “checking in” with them between segments and at one point a member of the band assisted with the weather report. I would have said he “helped” but it doesn’t really feel like the right term. He just spent most of the time mugging for the camera. I suppose it doesn’t really matter because nobody has ever benefited from one of those national weather reports anyway. I’m rarely in Phoenix and New York at the same time so it has never occurred to me that I need to know what the temperature might be in both places. After a few minutes of commercials they returned to the studio where they proceeded to have a gorgeous young woman show the hosts several new products. She would go around and explain what they were and who might appreciate them as gifts. There were even a few items that she insisted everyone must own. One was a remote control for an air-freshener and the other was a tiny bathtub solely for your feet. This was followed by a short interview with a major Hollywood actor, whose God is an alien, and a brief clip from their new film.
At this point I realized that I had previously heard several people in my life refer to this show as “the news” and was starting to get really upset. I had been fooled into watching an hour of commercials. I went to make myself a cup of coffee and once I had returned there was a celebrity chef making healthy desserts and then the band finally went on to do their performance. The show ended and, despite having never been given any actual information, I still learned a valuable lesson. People are spending billions upon billions of dollars to ensure that you like what they want you to like. A few of these celebrities are pretty detestable human beings. That’s all well and good for the short lived fame of reality television but some have amassed legitimate wealth and true star power partly because of their clownish behavior.
It’s gotten to a point where we almost cannot see them as real people anymore. It’s easy to forget that they continue to exist off screen, have families, fears and thoughts. You can’t expect every celebrity to be as immaculately classy as Tom Hanks but even people famous for being human garbage have feelings. Consider our relationship to these people for a moment. They are paid so we can collectively hate them. The television converts our attention, disgust and morbid curiosity into money and they get a portion of that. That’s a pretty incredible way to make a living but it should probably bother more of us that this can even exist as a career.
Then we go and validate these people and some of us even begin to look up to and idolize them. We’re a culture that has no trouble giving away time that could be spent on self improvement, deep reflection and socializing for a few extra hours of low brow entertainment. As it turns out, all that attention is profitable to advertisers and television networks so even more money is put into make sure your attention remains held. Oddly, we seem pretty eager to participate in the parade of ridiculousness that the media puts on every second of every day. If someone took a crap on a plate and then published a photo of it in People Magazine, you had better believe it would only be a matter of weeks before it was starring in the next romantic comedy with Jessica Biel.
I should be clear and say that I do think it’s alright to have favorite celebrities and television shows. But I’m not entirely convinced that we can be trusted to moderate ourselves. We are like a society of alcoholics but, instead of alcohol, it’s famous people. Ryan Gosling is a wonderful actor and every bit as handsome as the tabloids say but we’re getting status updates each time he gets new glasses. That feels a little bit excessive. We don’t need to be stressing over each little thing and creating an industry where people can make money stalking celebrities. If we’re going to be spending every spare second we have obsessing over Hollywood, we should at least be asking important questions. For example, why do they keep making Judy Greer the “ugly” friend in every movie? I would much rather be going out with her than Helen Hunt, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Garner or pretty much any other female lead. Every time the two lovers finally kiss I’m always left thinking “I wonder what Judy Greer’s character is doing right now.” It doesn’t make sense and, in my opinion, is an utter travesty. But, until we all band together and tell the studios that we won’t go and see another boring and soulless romantic comedy until she’s the star, nothing is going to change. Absolutely nothing.
Despite advancing technology to a place that has given us more leisure time and access to leisure activities than ever before; we’ve developed a pretty weak attention span combined with a terrible need to be obsessed and continuously shocked. When we don’t get enough of it, we create new celebrities (seemingly from nothing) and enter into this strange relationship with them. Love, hate, envy and disgust all sort of meld together while we give them money and encourage them to try and shoot for the stars. The worse they act the more we hate them but the second they become upstanding or normal, our attention usually dries up. We are absolutely obsessed with being obsessed, yet we rarely take a time out for an examination. It’s as inexplicable as it is bizarre. We’re a part of this culture that rewards freaks while also condemning them. It sexualizes children but doesn’t give the right to touch their butts. There are mothers and daughters lusting after the same child stars and families sitting down to watch a marathon of teenagers who didn’t know that they were nine months pregnant. Sure, it’s entertaining and makes us feel better about ourselves but why? Time is the most precious and fleeting commodity we have and I’m not sure any of this has really earned ours.