23 May, 2006

I canceled my subscription to 'People'

Today I happened to discover (while wasting time following a chain-of-links from BoingBoing) that the dude Mike Doughty has a blog. I suppose I should be well past the point where I'm surprised by the fact that famous people have blogs, but for some reason I'm still not. At any rate, it prompted a lazy half-thought on celebrity, which I piss out here for you to nonchalantly ignore.

That (celebrity) is one of the more disgusting commodities that's produced and marketed these days. It's a pretty addictive and powerful substance, and as an industry its influence on our culture is probably unmatched. It elevates, and even celebrates, the lives of frivolous and almost entirely unimportant people, to the point where they attain almost demi-godlike status. The occasional glimpses we, mere mortals, are given into their Valhalla are wonderfully soporific in their effect. Ah, gods DO exist, and we may even worship them in our own rudely-constructed shrines, assembled out of clippings from Cosmo and GQ. And humans, of course, draw inspiration, form aspirations, on the basis of what they worship. We all wish to become our own gods, whether they are terrible or beautiful, just or jealous, etc. In this case our demigods lead us not towards noble virtues celebrated by our cultural antecedents (say, the love of wisdom shown by Socrates, or the humility of St. Francis), but towards things so utterly mundane that they barely even extend deep enough to touch skin. "I've got to look good in these hot pants," says the pre-pubescent girl, examining her butt in the mirror. "After the perfect pecs, next, the washboard abs," is the determination of the high-school junior.

This is thoroughly disgusting. It's also the product of a carefully maintained separation. The screen on which the spectacle plays is not always visible, but it's still there, once we walk out of the theater. It's still there on the bus, in our kitchen, in the air between us and our friends. And figures are drawn on that screen quite deliberately by calculating minds. This might represent a kind of artistry, if only the artifice weren't so carefully hidden away, if only it didn't dodge around our ability to separate the fantasy from the reality. Who, after all, is Tom Cruise? What we know about him is given to us by those interested only in piquing our apetite for more: they feed us what's most salacious, those salty bits that make us crave to be fed more. It need not even be true.

The celebrity blog seems like a rare hole in the screen. One can look through and catch a candid glimpse of the individual on the other side, without the addition of any artifice. No one has carefully applied any makeup to make Angelina's cheekbones higher or her lips look more lush. This is exciting, because we should have the ability to perceive the world (and the people in it) as they really are. Maybe there really ARE demigods out there, and if so, they'll shine through in any case. But false gods will crumble and fade once their masks are removed. Here's to that.
[Raises imaginary stein.]


Is that guy really a celebrity or just famous for what he does? To me that's an important distinction. Tom Cruise is a celebrity well above being famous for acting. Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and most of all Paris Hilton are true celebrities. As far as I can tell their main purpose in life is to be famous and sell magazines, and everything I know about them I've learned b/c I have a pathological need to read at the grocery check-out line. I'd pay good money to read a true, informational, arts-oriented interview with Tom Cruise, just b/c I don't believe it can be done. What really drives me crazy, however, is how huges swathes of the magazine industry lose the opportunity to do just that with actors and actresses (and every other manner of performer) who I'm sure would be perfectly happy to do it. I'm so sure b/c I hear them being so informatively interviewed by Terry Gross every blue moon, and I love it. The arts are a wonderful thing, and good artists talking intelligently about their craft and inspiration is nourishing entertainment. Maybe not the most important content in the world, but tasty nonetheless. The bits of personality that come attached to such content are much more real and endearing than PR crafted factbites or magazine-world-gushing, precisely b/c their not the point. They're like capers--great garnish, hideous on their own.

If I was having a leisurely Saturday lunch with no plans and you told me that if I got up and took Bart for an hour I could definitely meet and talk to Tom Cruise, but the longer I took to leave, the less likely I'd get my chance, I'd almost certainly shrug and keep munching lettuce. His work these days is not very interesting to me so I have nothing to talk to him about. (Note that Taps, Risky Business, and Top Gun were childhood favorites. Especially Top Gun. Man, it makes me such a bad dove, but I love that movie.) If you told me it was John Cusack or Elijah Wood or Julianne Moore, I might actually finish my lunch b/c I'd have something to say to them, and lots to ask (okay, so I don't watch that many movies.) If you told me it was some of my favorite new bands, like Arcade Fire, I'd probably hurry a little more. But if you told me it was you or Jonathan Schwarz or LizardBreath from Unfogged, I'd get up and go immediately. (Happy coincidence, those are slightly more likely to actually happen.) What's the point of meeting someone just to stare?

Unless it's Takeshi Kaneshiro, in which case I'd run and be happy to gawk.  

Posted by Saheli

Mike Doughty isn't necessarily a celebrity, you're right; he was just the prompt for that thought. 

Posted by saurabh

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