Celebrity — The Triumph of Face Over Substance

Do any of you know that, some thirty years ago, I carved a set of miniature wooden animals for my children? Or that those animals were perhaps among the most amateuristic efforts ever to disgrace the non-artistic world? More important, does anyone besides the children really care? Should anyone care?

What is it about our world that so many people in the so-called civilized western world need to know the trivia about everyone who is anyone? Yet we often know so little about those around us. Recent news stories revealed that illegal commercial pot growers have now invaded the suburbs of large cities, turning dwellings in those suburbs into high-tech marijuana “grow houses.” Why? Because in many middle class or even affluent suburbs no one knows more than a few neighbors, and everyone’s schedule is so regimented and isolated from their neighbors’ schedules that no one even notices who’s reclusive and who’s not.

I confess I’m not immune. I have some neighbors I haven’t seen in years, and some whose names I don’t even know. I console myself that I don’t know anything about Paris Hilton except her name, or about Anna Nicole Smith… except what was in the headlines that were hard to avoid.

Still… I find it somehow sad that millions know the intimate details of the lives of people who will be forgotten in a few years and not the names of the neighbors only three houses away, near whom they may have lived for years, or for that matter, the name of the current president or any past president.

By the same token, I find it disconcerting that the best popular songs of my parents’ and grandparents’ times are still around, and many are quite distinctive, and they’re often sung, seldom as well as by the original artist. Yet very few of today’s listeners will be able to remember a single one of last year’s “current” hits by next year, let alone hum a melody [assuming the song even had one] or sing the lyrics, assuming they were intelligible in the first place… except for those “songs” that repeat the same phrase time after time.

Now… there are more and more magazines and publications about “entertainment,” but what I find amazing is that very little of the “content” — the few columns squeezed in between the ads — deals with the entertainment itself. Rather than deal with the creations, feeble as they may be, of such media-manufactured artists, the magazines and newspapers and other mass media devote endless pages, video, and the like to occurrences involving celebrities and pseudo-celebrities and the minutiae of their lives. In William Gibson’s book Idoru, published over ten years ago, a character goes so far as to suggest marrying Rei Toei, an “idoru” (idol) who exists only in virtual reality. What’s intriguing about this is not that it’s far-reaching, but that such a future is almost at our fingertips — and an ever-growing number of people prefer it to the lives they live. And what does that say about the lives we do live?