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Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I recently got into a discussion with someone about whether or not it makes me incredibly shallow to be so absorbed with celebrity gossip. Every day, the list of websites I visit compulsively is made up almost exclusively of sites that document any of: the fashion industry, celebrities and their goings-on, and the supreme court. And to be honest, though the latter category might seem more respectable, I am just as interested in whether or not Justice Stevens chose the hot clerk from Michigan Law over the frumpy one from Yale based on her pencil skirts and heels more than her grade in Torts. I check The Superficial at about the same rate as I check my e-mail. This strikes many people as an unhealthy obsession, but the more I think about it, the more it seems as though the characterization of celebrity gossip as "frivilous" is incredibly hypocritical.

Let's say, for example, that instead of following Jessica Simpson's deteriorating relationship with Nick Lachay, I read a lot of classical literature. If I were infatuated with Victorian dramas like Pride and Prejudice, nobody would consider me to be uneducated and, ultimately, a gigantic airhead. Maybe I would be thought of as eccentric, but I could always pretend I was writing an English thesis on the class themes and their relevance to the WWII breakdown of feminine roles. In any event, it is respectable. Yet at the same time, the only meaningful difference with reference to my life is that one happened, and one did not. That Jane Austen just, out of nowhere, happens to manufacture Elizabeth Bennet doesn't change that, in a de facto sense, she is the Courtney Peldon of a universe that doesn't exist. The best authors are lauded for their ability to use words as brushstrokes to create "realistic" and interesting characters, yet at the same time, even the best work of Shakespere can only approximate reality - and even if it is less mundane than the minutae of existance that I have to experience on a daily basis, Tara Reid is, also. And unlike the collected works of Shelley, there's no contrivance or Deus ex machina to take away from the more entertaining fact that it really happened.

The breakout of reality TV shouldn't be a suprise to anyone, nor should the fact that movie stars and television actors ply their trade on the screen as seemingly an afterthought to their public life. Would we see nearly so many movies if we never knew anything about the individuals in them? Do you really believe half the actors in Hollywood are there because of their immense talent? In an industry where you can have fifty takes, you don't need talent. You just need to be able to follow directions at the level of a nine year old. Our fascination with movies and books in the past has been that they allow us into another world, where we can have experiences outside of our own lives. But technology has advanced to the point where we don't need a stage or ampitheater to voyeristically experience the romances of Romeo and Juliet. We don't need them. We have Brad and Angelina. Mrs. Robinson is looking an awful lot like Demi Moore these days, and if you prefer the reverse, you can always check in on Woody Allen.

This is why, in a very real way, Paris Hilton is the Marilyn Monroe of our time - it's just that what it takes to shock us has evolved from a skirt blown up by a vent to a graphic sex video released over the internet. She is famous for being famous, in the most ostentatious way. And rather than rejecting the role, as so many others have done, she embraces it. She didn't try to subtly change her look to be a little prettier, she blatently dyed her hair blonde (from brown), wears colored contact lenses (blue from dark brown), and got a nose job. She changed herself into the paragon of what is considered stereotype pretty. And as much as people talk about how little they like her and how she's destroying feminism and all that, US Weekly doesn't seem to be experiencing a drought.

So go ahead and love the Illiad. I have my browser pointed to Gawker and I have no regrets or illusions that it makes me dumber than you.

cranked out at 2:31 PM | |

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