Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Cult Of Personality

If you've been reading between the lines of this blog for a while, you'll know that I'm a subscriber to Time Magazine, an altogether worthwhile weekly summary of world and national events and cultural trends. The writing rarely gets dense, and the editors have a knack for making stories make sense.

Every once in a while, items in Time make me go "hmmmmmmmm." This week, two items made me go ARGH!.

First up, Wonket-- I mean, Ana Marie Cox, has a column about an MTV show, "My Super Sweet Sixteen," (I refuse to link to it...I have scruples) where parents get to totally spoil their, like, debutante-aged girls with six- and seven-figure soirées, dontchalikeknow? Pink, like poodles, stretch Hummers (which in my day meant you tried not to cum too fast), like, gowns and tiaras...ohmigod!

To say I was a little pissed about this is a bit of an understatement. Yes, I get the point of the show, or at least the stated intent: to mock and poke fun at teenaged girls allowed to party to excess. "Girls Gone Wild," only their tits stay in their dresses, mostly to stay out of trouble with the FCC and Christian Coalition. I get that. But there's a larger subtext, an invasive subplot, which I'll get back to in a moment.

Now, as this was the last page in the magazine, I was wondering what had my blood up about this piece, when I happened to glance backward in the issue: the article on viral videos.

Are you seeing where I'm going with this? Celebrity has become an ends to a means, and here's the kicker: it's no longer about being famous. It's merely about being a celebrity.

Or as Cox notes:
The irony, of course, is that the easier it is to become famous--whether in a really famous fashion or simply as a queen for a day--the more irrelevant the meaning of celebrity becomes. As a diminutive diva on My Super Sweet 16 guilelessly observes, "We're like celebrities but not famous." Exactly. Autographs, please.
Fame used to be the byproduct of something else: fortune, achievement, or in the case of Madonna, crass self-salesmanship and the willingness to do ANYTHING to become rich and famous.

Remember that phrase, "rich and famous." That's where I'm going with this.

Someone once asked me, in my burgeoning attempts to become an actor, which would I prefer: riches or fame. My answer surprised him: riches.

See, with riches, I can buy privacy. Fame buys me nothing but contempt.

And envy. Which is the subversion I was talking about earlier. What is this fascination our country has (and has passed onto the culture of the world) with "fame"? With celebrity?

Let's take American Idol, a thoroughly ridiculous exercise in mass marketing where the product being pushed isn't the winner, it's the show itself. At least with Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, the forerunner to Idol, you had some real talent come off that show: Robert Klein, Alan King, Gladys Knight, José Feliciano are all artists who got their break on that show. Hell...even Star Search has a history of producing bona fide commercial artists.

Name one Idol winner. Now name another after that Clarkson chick. If you can, you're too hooked on that show, and I urge you to go to an AA meeting. In point of fact, no musician of any note has come off that show, despite millions, perhaps even billions of viewers.

So much for the premise that talent attracts, huh? Billions of people have seen you, and you can barely muster an opening gig on some quasi-military demonstration on the Capitol lawn on the Fourth of July (listening there, Clay?).

And yet, like french fries, we reach for yet another celebrity, a fresh face, before we've even swallowed the last one after chewing him or her up. What does that say about this country?

It tells me that we're more interested in paying to see who will be our next victim instead of paying to fix our highways, our schools, our housing problems. People will on the one hand rail about how much in taxes they pay, and on the other be texting in their latest "AI" (what does that abbreviation also stand for? Artificial Intelligence) vote, over and over, at only $1 a pop!

It was bad enough when we were eating adults, albeit it young adults, but now we're reaching further and further into our youth: 16 year old girls who can't possibly know better are being cable-raped by a show that purports to document their party, but in truth is turning them into porn stars of a very ugly nature. Not for sex, for money. They get to display their parents' checkbooks like 40DD boobs flopping as they ride the erect penis of celebrity.

And for what? Our contempt? Our envy? Why the fuck would anyone want me to be jealous of them?

You know who I'm jealous of. I'm jealous of people who have a good self-image, who are at peace with themselves and can content themselves with simple things. I yearn for that kind of life (and you can keep Nicole Ritchie and Paris Hilton the fuck off MY farm, thank you very much). Who can view the world and laugh, even at the most miserable fuck ups of this administration because ultimately it makes not one whit of difference in history.

Yes, this administration: the ultimate expression of empty celebrity. You can trace a direct line of Republican presidents, from Ronald Reagan to George Bush, père et fils, where it didn't matter to voters whether the man had a brain and a plan, but that he was some American Idol (Idle?).

And THAT'S, ultimately, what this rant was about. Riches and fame, with nothing else, becomes Idolic, becomes President, becomes a country in deep trouble.

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