Saturday, August 25, 2007

Fame

Born Again Redneck has problems keeping his blonde drunken starlets straight:

Maybe I'm getting old. I just can't keep up with all these drunk-driving bleached-blonde Hollywood celebriclone drug addicts who seem to pop in and out of rehab like cuckoo clocks.

I'm deeply disappointed that Patrick does not follow the sufferings of Lindsey/Britney/Paris/next month's flavor with avid interest.

But seriously, his post implies an interesting question: why are people fascinated by the legal and personal problems of drunken celebrity sluts? These young women have beauty and fame, which does distinguish them to a degree, but not much else. Their talent is, in my opinion, minimal -- but I can see how a Britney Spears is of value to young girls. Kids prefer cartoons to Tolstoy, and Spears is like a cartoon version of a singer/dancer. (My sister, a high school librarian, blames the influence of Britney Spears on the contemporary trend of girls talking in a baby voice.)

Intellectually, these starlets are, to put it charitably, undistinguished. If they have said anything intelligent, I've missed it. One young celebrity, I forget which, when asked if she and her date wanted buffalo wings, replied, "We don't eat buffalo." One wonders if she thought buffalo have wings.

Paris Hilton recently said she wants to stop acting dumb. I must say, her act so far has been most convincing. Either she is a method actress or it's not entirely an act. Wasn't it Paris Hilton who asked if Wal-Mart only sells stuff for walls?

These starlets are the opposite of Greta Garbo. Garbo was a remarkable beauty and a talented actress, a real star. She was also an intensely private woman. Like her character in Grand Hotel, she just wanted to be alone. At the height of her fame in the 1930's she was plagued by a pack of reporters who would camp outside her home, hoping to get pictures. Unlike Garbo, if today's starlets were left alone they would be devastated; fame is their raison d'etre.

It's frustrating that celebrity fame is disconnected from actual achievement. A scientist who researches a cure for cancer toils in obscurity, but a vapid actress with dyed hair and a boob job gets fame. Such is the way of the world. People don't scrutinize celebrity to see if the idols deserve the attention. If a Paris Hilton is famous, they accept it.

Dr. Hurd has lamented America's obsession with fame. Young people develop twisted values so that achievement and self-fulfillment are not prized as highly as being talked about by other people. This fame obsession is a form of social metaphysics: the reality of one's life is not as important as what other people think about you -- or the fact that many other people do think about you.

The disconnect between fame and achievement is, I believe, part of the reason so many of these young celebrities use drugs and alcohol. Deep down they suspect that they really don't deserve the adoration of the masses. At the risk of psychologizing, I think this had something to do with Kurt Cobain's suicide. Despite his fame, inside he still felt like a screwed up adolescent, nihilist junkie; the more people worshipped him, the more agonizing was the disconnect. Cobain saw the cult of fame from the inside and he saw that it is hollow.

Celebrities face another psychological problem, one Mises writes about in The Anti-Capitalist Mentality: entertainers are disposable. Unlike toothpaste or sausage, to which consumers develop loyalty, people get bored with entertainers and want something new. The show biz bible is called Variety for a reason. An entertainer can become forgotten as quickly as he shot to fame. So these stars of minimal talent achieve the Holy Grail of modern culture, fame, and they know they could lose it fast. The instability of the business must be difficult to live with.

So what is the answer to my original question, why are people fascinated by the legal and personal problems of drunken celebrity sluts? I guess if people are willing to be fascinated in celebrities such as Paris Hilton who are famous for little more than being famous, then it follows that they would be interested in their drunken mistakes, their jail time and their mental breakdowns. These problems are the stuff of gossip.

It's depressing. The fascination with celebrity sleaze gives us a view of humanity that is uninspiring and banal. Instead of man as pioneer, genius, producer, scientist or artist, we have man as backyard gossip. Some people shrug it off, but for hero-worshippers who cherish high ideals, it can be hard to take. But one can always ignore idiocy and ignorance and focus on better things. Just because many people choose to talk about nonsense doesn't mean you have to.

4 comments:

Tom Rowland said...

This is one of the most important blog posts I've read in recent weeks, since it strikes at the heart of our increasingly collectivist culture. One could make the same comments about the fasination with constant communicating via text messages, bloging, youtube and myspace. As useful as they are, they are often merely a reflection of the pseudo-selfesteem movement.

Mike N said...

Great post. I think that our society has become more emotionally oriented and less cerebrally so and that is partly why other peoples' emotional problems seem attractive to them.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

My theory about the celebrity worship cult is that it's not really about celebrity but about familiarity. We all know these people. They're almost like family and, by gossiping about them, it makes us feel like we are all part of one big dysfunctional family. There's also a bit of schadenfreude mixed in there. Some people love to see the rich and famous brought down.

softwareNerd said...

The fascination with celebrity isn't new; but, many of today's celebrities do seem to have dubious qualifications.

Your comment about the psychological problem is spot on. At some level, I think the pop celebrities are in a bit of shock that they became what they are. It feels unreal, and it really is. Since a lot of what they are is hype, and since much of the hype is outside their control, they must feel powerless, in some sense.