Up to a Point
05.04.14 10:45 AM ET
Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law
I just counted 544 boldface names in the May 5, 2014, issue of People…
This is, as far as I’m concerned, more people than there are. I don’t think I know 544 people well enough that I‘d recognize them on the street. I doubt I could list, without consulting reference works, 544 people I’ve ever heard of. (People, I suppose, is a reference work, although most of the people in People were new to me.)
The cult of celebrity has turned extremist, a fandom fanaticism with media mullahs preaching jihads of hype, issuing fatwas of fame—a Q Score al Qaeda, a reality-TV Taliban. IEDs of exhibitionism are going off in every pop-culture marketplace. Show biz Sharia law has been imposed—you’re persecuted if you do cover your face. You get stoned, as far as I can tell, all the time. (Until rehab.)
But before we pass legislation creating a Department of Homeland Celebrity and invade TMZ…
Let me argue that star-power bombs and notability trending attacks are not Tinseltown terrorism.
The radicalization of renown is good for America.
In these times of seemingly limited job and business opportunities, celebrity has become a goal attainable by all.
Gaining public attention by performing for the masses once required skills—deft strokes with ochre on the walls of Paleolithic caves, facility with trident and net in the Roman coliseum, recitation of iambic pentameter by the swath from the stage at the Globe.
Talent and practice were needed for popularity from the dawn of time until the debut of America’s Funniest Home Videos in 1990. And even then a contestant had to have steady hands and steely resolve to keep the video rolling while his son pedaled off an improvised plywood ramp trying to leap a row of Tonka toys on his Big Wheel and got whacked in the testicles.
But what does 18-year-old Bethany Mota who still lives at home with her parents (two-page spread, People, pp. 196-7) do? She does “reviews of new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.” Her YouTube channel has 5.9 million subscribers. She “reportedly makes $40,000 a month.”
There are 10,900,000 teenage girls in America, an estimated 10,899,999 of whom have the same skill set as Bethany. This includes the teenage girl at my house who is presently locked in her bedroom sharing “reviews of new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds” with her 5.9 million Facebook friends. She is about to get pages 196 and 197, torn from People and heavily marked with a highlighter pen, shoved under her door. Bethany Mota, you are a beacon of hope.
Stardom has been democratized.
Popularity is taking its rightful place in the great American tradition of populism. Entertaining used to require intelligence or a measure of wit or, at least, peasant cunning. But America is a democracy—rule by the people. And 50 percent of people are below-average in intelligence. Mathematical fact.
In the old days of fame, matinee-idol actors and pin-up picture actresses may have been dim bulbs. But big brains were exercised in how the stars were produced, directed, scripted, and managed. What kind of brain is managing Justin Bieber? The kind of brain that a full half of Americans have. Is this or is this not an inclusive country? Shouldn’t there be a place for all of us in America? (Or, with deportation, in Canada, also an inclusive country.)
Making anyone and everyone prominent puts an end to envy.
Fame in its highly diluted modern form provides a sort of homeopathic cure for the ancient evil of jealousy. “Stars—They’re Just Like Us!” as the somewhat more down-market US Weekly puts it. And we’re a mess. We like our stars to be a worse mess or, anyway, looking dumpy, behaving irritably, and doing and saying the boring, stupid things we do and say, even—or maybe especially—while living large in exotic places.
The formula for celebrity journalism is to mix schadenfreude with celebration at about the ratio of gin to vermouth in a dry martini.
The May 5 issue of People may not be the best example. Its theme is “50 Most Beautiful” and those selected do look enviably better than you and me. But, going back to the April 28th issue, the lead story is “Tori & Dean in Therapy on TV—Sex-Addiction Nightmare.” There’s a headline that provides us all with contentment and joy in our ordinary, un-illustrious lives. This is a great social good.
And in the matter of “making anyone and everyone prominent,” who the heck are Tori and Dean? They are Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. “Tori Spelling” rang a bell. She was on Beverly Hills 90210 20 years ago, appeared in such films as Scary Movie 2, wrote an autobiography that would have been more interesting if she’d waited for Dean to start mainlining booty, did some reality-TV stuff, and had a falling out with her mother over a bunch of money her dad didn’t leave her in his will. If you fertilized your lawn today, you have led a more productive life than Tori Spelling.
Dean McDermott has appeared in a lot of movies and television shows that you haven’t seen if you’re in your right mind, e.g., Santa Baby 2. He won a Rachael Ray Celebrity Cook-Off.
As to “doing and saying the boring, stupid things we do and say,” turn to the back of the same issue, page 101, “40 Facts About Me!” by Victoria Beckham (née Posh Spice).
#5 If I had more time I’d read more
#10 My favorite thing to bake is brownies
#26 I collect crystals and place them around my home and office to create positive energy
# 39 My secret snack is popcorn
The green-eyed monster holds no more terrors for our nation. In fact, he’s nodded off.
Celebrity gossip is psychologically healthy.
It provides an outlet, a useful sublimation, of our self-destructive subconscious compulsion to lean over the back fence and cluck (or tweet) about the godawful things our relatives, friends, and neighbors do.
Celebrities are not our family. Although there are so many celebrities that we are probably related to some. But they’re not the niece looking daggers at us across the Thanksgiving turkey because of what we said to Uncle Bill about her hookup with that McDermott idiot. They’re not the daughter locked in her bedroom running up our Visa card bill with online shopping for new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.
Celebrities are not our friends. They don’t borrow our money or power tools. They don’t forget it’s their turn to carpool the kids to junior high. They don’t come over when we’re busy watching The View and litter the kitchen table with used Kleenex, pouring their hearts out about their (remarkably frequent) divorces. They don’t get caught—unless Dean McDermott is late to the set for his televised therapy session on True Tori—necking with our spouses in the coat closet at our cocktail parties.
Having celebrities is like having imaginary friends, which, come to think of it, most of our friends are.
And celebrities are not our neighbors. They are—mercifully, given their penchant for noisy late-night performances and bothersome double-parking entourages—off living large in exotic places.
Celebrities are neighbors only in the sense of Seth Rogen and Zac Efron in the movie Neighbors, which we can go to the Cineplex and not see. Don’t we wish our own neighbors were as easy to escape? Just go to the Cineplex and choose not to have the old crank next door fuming about our crabgrass going to seed alongside his pristine front lawn.
My only concern about the infinitely expanding Cosmos of the Acclaimed…
It may mean celebrities are so numerous they constitute a voting bloc that could sway state and federal elections.
But this might be good, too. Judging by the success of Duck Dynasty, the decades-long entertainment industry liberalism headlock might be broken. I assume Phil Robertson could body-slam George Clooney.
What would politicians need to do to attract the celebrity vote? Eight pages of People’s “50 Most Beautiful” issue were devoted to the private anti-aging secrets of the stars. So Social Security privatization would be an acceptable platform plank.
Most of the anti-aging secrets were along the lines of “drink a lot of water and get your sleep” (Jennifer Aniston), “I wash my face two or three times every single day” (Drew Barrymore), and “if you have a good sweat every day, it’s so detoxifying” (Gwyneth Paltrow). These should help stem the rise in health-care costs and bolster politicians proposing cuts in Medicare and Medicaid benefits and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
What action would celebrities want government to take? An expansion of high-speed Internet access, to improve social-media infrastructure and provide thousands of new (celebrity) jobs. Making paparazzi tax-deductible—a small price to pay for giving Americans attainable goals, democratization, inclusiveness, an end to class antagonisms, and psychological well-being. And, of course, rehab.
Looking around at America—drug addiction, food addiction, sex addiction, addiction to celebrity gossip—rehab seems to be a needful form of entitlement spending. And it would get certain celebrities out of the limelight for 30 days, making room for even more celebrities.
Celebrities improve our lives in countless (well, 544 and counting) ways.