Sunday, February 1, 2015

Celebrity: Why We Can’t Look Away

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under engage, in the news

gossip doodlesI tried my best to ignore the Tiger Woods saga.  In my mind, I would not waste my time listening to the various and growing number of mistresses.  But then mainstream media decided to take the low road.  I couldn’t watch my usual morning show with the peculiar interview of mistress No. ??. 

Then Eugene Robinson had to bring to the fore what most African American women already recognized about a consistency is Tiger’s conquests

I wanted to cover my ears and scream away the awful truth. 

But I still couldn’t ignore it. 

Why?

Newsweek Magazine has its theory on why we, as Americans, are (at least some of us) begrudgingly drawn into the train wreck of celebrity downfalls and failings.  According to Newsweek, salivating on celebrity is equal parts unifying and bonding experience for the American people:

Long before celebrity reached its apotheosis, the great gossip columnist and radio broadcaster Walter Winchell, who purveyed the malfeasance and transgressions of the rich, the famous, and the powerful to tens of millions of Americans, understood that celebrity was a basis for an ongoing, daily national conversation that also served as therapy to a wounded country, albeit with a savage subtext of revenge. Reaching his own peak in the Depression ’30s at a time of anxiety and fractiousness, Winchell managed to unify his readers and listeners around his narratives, not only distracting them from calamity but also giving them a rallying point of common reference that was every bit as powerful as the national symbolism that FDR promoted. Winchell turned us into a nation of yentas.

This function is especially potent today in another time of uncertainty and division, when Americans are not only disunited over politics and values, but also share fewer and fewer common experiences. In the past, television, movies, music, even books were sources of national cohesion. Dramatically lower ratings for broadcast television, reduced film attendance, and plummeting CD sales have all loosened the national bonds. We have become a nation of niches. Celebrity is one of the few things that still crosses all lines. As disparate and stratified as Americans are, practically all of them seem to share an intense engagement, or at the very least an acquaintance, with the sagas of Jon and Kate or Brad and Angelina or Jennifer and whomever, which is oddly comforting. These are America’s modern denominators, and in some ways Jon and Kate are our Fred and Ginger—not, obviously, talentwise, but in the way they provide escape and give us something we can all talk about.

Celebrities of today certainly don’t compare to Fred and Ginger, or more appropriately, James and Flo Evans and Cliff and Claire Huxtable.

But is it what unifies us across generations, political parties, office politics, and other pregnant silences?

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