Frieda Hughes, daughter of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, said it best in her poem “Readers” concerning our present attitude toward celebrity: They fingered through her mental underwear / With every piece she wrote. / Wanting her naked. / Wanting to know what made her.
Granted we’re not dealing with literary elite, but the sentiment is still the same: “Hi, my name is America and I’m a celebrity addict.”
We obviously care about serious news, since we persistently attack the government and media for the truth and information; yet why do we clamor toward facile tabloid fodder?
I believe that in a world where once America was the undisputed leader, the nation has lost credibility with the world and its citizens as it mires itself in an administrative bog of terrorist threats and unending political quagmires.
These are terrible times where it seems like Armageddon could happen at any moment.
Out of those fears developed a need for escape and that escapism is our celebrity addiction.
However, America has always been celebrity obsessed. Even before the term was coined, scintillating gossip about affluent men and women provided entertainment for Americans since the nation’s inception. Then with the mystique and glamour of Hollywood our obsession with celebrity became uniquely American.
We dreamed of Hollywood riches, but we didn’t invest as much of our lives in Hollywood as we do now. Hollywood was like Mount Olympus and the celebrities within were gods; with this deified status came a veil of mystery and distance that modern Hollywood lacks. This closeness fuels our insatiable desire for gossip and news.
Technology has been the major factor in yanking Hollywood from the clouds, transforming how one achieves celebrity status. The public’s proximity simultaneously negates the power of Hollywood studios and endows power to the people. Now, more than ever, the American public influences what Hollywood industries produce.
We as a society can make or break celebrities as effectively, if not better than, the largest Hollywood studio. And, where once talent, beauty, and skill were perquisites to Hollywood fame, all you need is a gimmick that will keep the public talking. Many of our celebrities have the talent and longevity of a Magic 8 Ball or a Rubik’s Cube: entertaining for a while, but ultimately a disposable fad.
We as Americans are suffering from a cultural and social ADD.
Our panic over national unrest and global strife has created an atmosphere of anxiety, and in order to sedate those fears we occupy our minds with something light, simple, and entertaining.
That is why essentially every other television program or news broadcast is a reality show or entertaining/entertainment news.
This inundation of images makes us feel like kin to Hollywood; from that perception we think we own stars, and they are obligated to allow us complete and unadulterated access into their lives: the good, the bad, and especially the ugly.
We love the ugly, particularly the quick rises and falls of stars, because it reminds of their mortality and fallibility.
We love watching people collapse from high pedestals because it reaffirms the fact that the worst of life can affect anyone.
In a time were it seems the Average Joe is always the stepping stone for the powerful, it helps to know that even the wealthy, famous, and powerful have bad days.
It helps unify our unsure nation under the belief that we are not alone in our fears. We crave celebrity because it entertains us and both validates and eases our fears.