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Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Rich and Famous

I was at the gym today for the a.m. sweat-fest. The aerobics machines face two TV's, right and left. TV left was blaring some show concerning tonight's Grammy Awards gala and had the attention of quite a few people. I went over to TV right, turned it to the Spanish network, and turned up the volume. To my joy, and I'm not making this up—I couldn't make this up, you can look it up—there was a talk show in progress about Mexican midget wrestlers.

I had a magazine to read, so I wasn't going to watch the tube, but I like to fight fire with fire—and then some. "Somebody comes at you with a knife, you come at them with a gun. Somebody comes at you with N'SYNC, you come at them with a guy in a mask and cape who's three and a half feet tall." I defy anyone in the aerobics room to low-ball me on this bit of pop culture. This show makes today's Jerry Springer episode—which I passed on the way up the dial—So You Want to Be A Porn Star, look like public television.

I have never understood the idea of award celebrations, the most obnoxious being the Academy and the Grammy awards. These people are already more famous and have more money than the average wage-slave could even dream about, yet we insist on paying attention while they give each other prizes. Someone also needs to explain to me the whole concept of best this or best that. What are we talking about here, a 4-H livestock show? I understand sales figures. If you want to give Titanic an award for making the most money, that's cool with me, but why does anyone have to say it's the best movie?

Don't get me wrong, I understand why they give out these awards: it's about sales. These awards help sell more CDs and movie tickets. The thing is, we don't need to pay attention to their self-satisfying glorification. Celebrities have taken the place of the gods in the classical Greek era. They are exempt from decay (at least as much as modern plastic surgery affords), they have more power, and they are just plain better than those of us near the bottom. We are practically overwhelmed with gratitude for what they have done for us.

The place that celebrities hold in our culture would have turned the pre-revolutionary monarchs green with envy. They have wealth that would have made Louis XIV blush, they are above any sort of criticism, and they have been excused from any sort of responsibility—monarchs at least had to run their countries.

People worship celebrities for the same reason they eat at McDonald's. They don't go to McDonalds because the food is good, they go because it’s easy. Everything about it is easy. People can sleepwalk through fast food. They don't have to leave their cars, if they so choose. They can order entire meals that have been reduced to a number. You don't even need a knife or fork. What could be simpler? Why is the simple fact of being easy such an appealing concept to the masses? Because they are lazy. Once in a while fast food is not such a bad thing; I think most people would agree that a steady diet is a bad thing.

People worship celebrities because it is easy. Like a happy meal, corporate America has packaged their product of celebrities in very convenient and unconfusing packages. These packages are remarkably free of ideas and completely devoid of real controversy. They may dress up the rock-star-du-jour in a tawdry get-up but that's about it. I challenge anyone to name anything in our pop culture for the masses that in any way questions the status quo.

It is right at about this time in the discussion when someone says to me, "I just want to be entertained." I have always thought that was an odd statement when put in this context. As if everyone spends their entire waking lives in deep thought from which they need respite. As if anything that would prompt them to think couldn't possibly be entertaining, and anything entertaining is, by definition, mindless. 'I just want to be entertained' should replace E Pluribus Unum as our national motto.

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