Sunday, May 15, 2005

Celebrity Obsession

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are getting a divorce. Now Brad Pitt is dating Angelina Jolie. Britney Spears is pregnant. Jennifer Garner is also pregnant, by Ben Affleck no less. These are stories I have seen over the past few months reading the entertainment news. Never mind that I read the entertainment news for news on movies, TV shows, and music, not the stars' private lives. Never mind that I am not interested if Brad and Jennifer are divorcing or if Brad is now dating Angelina. I still see these sort of stories everytime I read the entertainment news. It simply confirms my theory that our society is becoming more increasingly obsesessed with celebrities.

Not that celebrity obsession is anything new. The first gossip column appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette way back in 1880. Other newspapers followed suit, so that people could read all about the private lives of Lily Langtry and the British royal family. The fan magazines of the Twenties often covered the silent movie stars' private lives more than they did the movies they starred in. In the Fifties magazines like Confidential and Uncensored took invasion of the stars' privacy to new levels. Not that it mattered, what they could not find out they would outright make up. In the late Sixties the National Enquirer switched from such shocking stories as mothers eating their own children to covering the stars. Other tabloids, such as The Star followed suit. Since then there has been People and such "entertainment news" shows as Entertainment Tonight and The Insider. While I think society has always been obsessed with celebrity to one degree or another, it seems to me that it is more so now than ever before.

Indeed, the past year it seems to me the major entertainment stories have not dealt with movies or TV shows, but with the private lives of the stars themselves. Everyone remember how the media covered every aspect of the relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez? It seemed one could not go a day without hearing about "Ben and Jen." Never mind that most people I knew were not interested in the couple's relationship. Never mind that many people thought that the relationship was doomed from the start. The media still insisted on covering it. Since then they have insisted on giving us the scoop on everything from Ben's relationship with Jennifer Garner to Britney Spears' marriage. In fact, it seems to me that the only thing that is being covered heavily at the moment in the entertainment news that is not related to some celebrity's prviate life is the release of Revenge of the Sith. I suppose even celebrity obsession cannot outperform Star Wars....

Indeed, it seems to me that society may be so celebrity obsessed that we have to invent celebrities out of whole cloth. For evidence of this just look at the phenomenon of people who are famous just for being famous. I suppose this is nothing new either, as Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous long after her movie career had ended, not that she had ever really made the sort of films one becomes famous for anyhow. Perhaps the perfect example of someone who is famous just for being famous is Paris Hilton. Her career so far seems to have consisted of some modelling, a reality series, House of Wax, some TV guest appearances, and that notorious sex tape. I suppose being a beautiful, blonde heiress is now enough to warrant news coverage that formerly only royalty and big time movie stars would get! Another person who seems to me to be famous for just being famous is Jennifer Lopez. It seems to me that while her movies have done respectably well at the box office, none of them have been smash hits. The same is true of her recording career. Her singles and albums do respectably well, but they are nothing to write home about. Despite this it seems to me that she has received the sort of coverage one would only expect of someone like Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, or Julia Roberts. Never mind that her career has never been nearly as successful as any of those stars. Between Paris Hilton and Jennifer Lopez, I think it can be argued that we have indeed become so celebrity obsessed that we have had to start inventing celebrities based on little if nothing at all!

Given that I am not terribly interested in whether Brad is dating Angelina or Jennifer is carrying Ben's baby, I must admit that I don't quite understand society's obession with celebrities. I have to wonder if part of it isn't born out of escapism. That is, by reading about the private lives of the stars, people can forget about their own concerns and worries. Indeed, this may be why negative stories about celebrities often receive more coverage than postive ones. There may actually be people out there who enjoy seeing big stars fail. Perhaps it gives them a feeling of superiority. I also have to wonder if there aren't people who don't live vicarously through the private lives of the stars. That is, there could be individuals who have drab lives who want to date a beautiful actress or handsome actor. Since they cannot do so in real life, they must live out their fantasies through their favourite stars.

I suppose that there are those that would argue there is little harm in being obsessed with celebrities. I suppose there are some that would argue that with fame and fortune one should expect to lose a bit of his or her privacy. I really don't buy that myself. Many corporate executives make as much, if not more, than many actors and musicians, and yet no one wants to know about their private lives. Many sports figures make more than many movie stars and rock singers, and yet one only rarely sees their private lives hit the news. It seems to me that celebrities have the right for their privacy to be respected just as anyone else does, regardless of how famous or how much money they make. Indeed, it seems only fair to me. I mean, just think, how many of us would like to see our private lives sprawled all over the tabloids?

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