What the Cult of Celebrity Has to Offer

By Jason Menard

When “a friend” comes out of the woodwork to make a startling revelation about a now-deceased celebrity it always takes me back to my early journalism days when I learned that you can’t libel a dead person.

So, in the spirit of the article appearing in England’s Sun newspaper, where “a friend” and alternative psychotherapist (the former qualifier definitely needs the quotes, the second is just begging for them – but I’ll resist) alleged that the late Princess Diana and the late John F. Kennedy Jr. had an affair, I’d like to make the following confessions.

I spent one memorable night in a New York hotel with Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield. Mr. Rogers and I did lines off the Trolley. And one night, on a Las Vegas bender, Elvis and I engaged in the love that dares not speak its name.

Finally, Britney Spears’ and I had an affair and it is I who is actually the father of her unborn child. No wait – she’s not dead, just her career is –I’ll retract that statement right away!

I offer these statements up because, as a society, we have more than just a passing fancy for this type of fare. Like a kid at a dessert buffet, we’re willing to gorge ourselves on this buffet of lies, rumours, and innuendo – temporarily sating our sweet tooth. But, as anyone on a diet knows, sugary fare only satisfies these cravings temporarily, and soon we’re ravenous for more!

And a fix is never more than a few minutes away. Scanning the racks of the grocery stores and pharmacies, we’re inundated with dozens of magazines blasting out the latest gossip about Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Simpson, and Michael Jackson! Tabloids ranging from the sycophantic (People) to the outrageous (Weekly World News) dominate the magazine aisle, while weightier fare is doomed to collecting dust in the back of the racks.

Of course, if reading celebrity gossip is not enough to sate your hunger, there is always the option of flicking through the channels. Shows like Entertainment TonightAccess Hollywood, and their copycat brethren proudly boast of exclusive reports, breaking news, and inside information on the latest celebrity foibles. But investigative journalism at its finest this is not! These tabloids ensure that they never cross the line and bite the hand that feeds them – the Hollywood publicity machine.

Forget the Food Network – the best chefs in the world are celebrities and their spin doctors. They know that we have this insatiable sweet tooth for gossip, and they’re working diligently to serve up the fare that we’re happy to greedily gobble up. They may feign consternation about the attention they receive, but the truth of the matter is that they’re fanning the flames, because in today’s market you have to burn brightly.

They’ve learned the game – which is appropriate, because they made up the rules.

Whereas once the media worked with Hollywood to keep private and professional lives separate, now the paradigm has shifted to the point where the product is secondary to the person.

Jessica Simpson, Lindsey Lohan, and the aforementioned Ms. Spears are known more for their personal lives (both real and fabricated) than they are for their supposed talents. The tabloids – and the tabloid-hungry public – are less interested in the next album or movie, and more interested in the next scandal. It is now enough to be famous just for being famous (Ms. Hilton, your 15 minutes are rapidly running out).

And we’re buying it up. We talk about these people like we’re intimates, “Did you hear about Brad and Angelina, poor Jen…” We profess to have insight on people’s motives, “Oh, that Tom – it’s all promotional. He’s got a new movie, you know – and that Scientology…”

Yet, in the end, we’re starving ourselves as a society even as we gorge ourselves at this trough of fame. And why? The answer may be because the heartier fare is too hard for us to digest.

We live in a big, scary world, the problems of which are hard for us to comprehend – much less feel like we can do anything about. We live in times where we feel like the world around us is beyond our control, so we turn to the things which we feel we can own.

The fact is we know nothing of these celebrities, other than what they choose to show us. For the most part, these people are blank canvases, willing to take on whatever role is called for. And, as a blank canvas, they enable us to create our own image of them. And we can take comfort in the fact that we know the truth of these people – that we have inside knowledge and insight into a world in which we don’t inhabit.

And once our canvases have too much paint on them, we toss them aside and look for the next up-and-coming empty vessel in which we can pour our opinions, thoughts, and ideas. The Cult of Celebrity promises comfort. It offers us a world which we can shape and mould to our own ideals. It allows us to stand in judgment over others and to feel a part of a world in which we are the primary audience.

The real world doesn’t offer us that luxury. We’re, generally, small cogs in a wheel that continues spinning, indifferent to our existence. The depth and scope of the world is such that we feel removed from its machinations.

The celebrity machine, however, needs us just as much as we need it – and that’s where we draw comfort. A world that we can control and comprehend is only a page away.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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