The age of contrivance
Ah, celebrities. Vanity Fair recently released photos from the upcoming cover and spread of their "Hollywood Issue." I was so excited because what’s better than celebrities? Naked Celebrities!
I find it personally disgusting how much I care about these people. How much I know about their lives and love interests. How much money I spend on trashy magazines that exist because of stupid people like me who support the paparazzi and gossipers that jumble together juicy stories for public consumption.
I don’t buy that they deserve it because “they wanted to be famous” or they deserve it because “they get paid millions of dollars.” That’s not fair. I certainly don’t feel sorry for famous people, but I do find it interesting how very obsessed our culture is with our own Hollywood Royalty.
One explanation for this comes from an article by David McNair, where he points to the insights of historian and social critic Daniel Boorstin who said that our nation was threatened by a “menace of unreality.”
“We need not be theologians,” Boorstin wrote “…to see that we have shifted responsibility for making the world interesting from God to the newspaperman….It is we who keep them in business and demand that they fill our consciousness with novelties, that they play God for us.” The article points out that: “Boorstin argued that America was living in an ‘age of contrivance’ in which manufactured illusions were becoming a powerful force in society. He believed that public life consisted more and more of ‘pseudo-events’—staged and scripted happenings designed to “create” news and influence our perceptions of reality.”
He quickly notes American’s obsession with “reality TV” and how we were able to quickly accept an action hero turned Governor (of a state that has a larger GDP then most countries, mind you). There are entire fields dedicated to “cowing the masses” including polling, PR, advertising and in some cases, politics. What is real? Is there anything genuine caught on Cnn, Fox or local TV? We can spin wars and presidential campaigns so what is our standard of reality and genuine truth? Is there anything genuine…was there ever anything genuine? Certainly reality is just a first step in one’s perception so what’s so wrong with other people shaping it before you get a chance to?
I encourage you to read the full article as it is very interesting, including when America truly began its celeb worship and many scary results. But the point I find the most compelling, is why, “On a more subtle level, it’s not unusual for intelligent people to hold strong opinions about public figures or to indulge in nasty or careless gossip about them?” He notes, “Our celebrity culture allows us to shamelessly praise, berate, gossip about, and lust after other human beings without consequences.”
That passage really hit home for me. I have fucking theories about why Brad and Jen broke up, why Mariah had a breakdown, Kanye’s inadequacy complex, Tom Cruises' sexuality and blackmail plot by scientologist and many, many others that are even more out there. I consider myself a fairly rational and reasonable person, and yet there I go paying for Star magazine every effing Friday. It’s absurd, but it’s not unusual.
And, it won’t go away. Think about the financial implications for magazines, TV, movies, fashion, writing and any charity event if the media toned it down on celeb obsessing? Just as politicians can no longer expect to have their extramarital activities or debilitating handicaps go ignored by today’s modern media, American celebrities give up a lot more than just some of their privacy. They become part of the escapist obsessions in millions of people's daily lives. Today’s consumer has been born and bread on the daily smuckgasbord and I am not sure there is anyway to change it back.
“This new relation is based on an illusion of intimacy...which is, in turn, the creation of an ever tightening, ever more finely spun media mesh … that cancels the traditional etiquette that formally governed not merely relationships between the powerful and the powerless, the known and the unknown, but, at the simplest level, the politesse that formally pertained between strangers.”