Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fame Junkies?

I am currently reading a book called Fame Junkies by Jake Halpern. It looks closely at the obsession (yes, that is the word he uses) that Americans have with celebrity. It's a depressing book, but an excellent look into what he calls the three subcultures of fame: the wanna-be-famous, the celebrity assistants (and hangers on) and the die-hard fans.

I was telling a friend about it, and we digressed into a discussion of "news". The book points out that more people watch "American Idol" than the nightly news. Why is that? Even worse was this: on January 7, 2005, there were five important stories. A breakthrough in AIDS research, a Bush pension insurance rescue plan, an opposition plan to thwart a social security proposal, an investigation report into the UN's oil-for-food scandal, and a mistress of an FBI agent arrested for stealing national secrets. On the tv headlines were "Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt have split up." A later word-count analysis of CNN's transcripts revealed that they gave this last story more coverage than ALL FIVE of the other news stories put together. Or how about the fact that the three major news networks devoted 26 minutes of airtime to the Darfur tragedy and 130 minutes to the Martha Stewart scandal? (p. 193-194) Ouch. What in the world does this say about our priorities?

So what is "news" supposed to be these days? Is it any information on recent events - the more lurid the better? Is it whatever fad is whizzing around the internet? Or does it have a more vaporous, yet deeper, meaning? Something like, "unbiased facts that deal with serious topics and events"? I favor the latter, but that's just me. Here's my beef, though: Why is it that I can only watch the first three minutes of CNN Headline News - after that it becomes a mishmash of ambulance chasing, scare tactics and stupid celebrity tricks? But I can then go on BBC News online and discover that India has launched a moon mission! A MOON mission! (On the CNN homepage? "Chimp takes Segway for a ride." India's moon mission is buried as a third level entry under "tech".) Now, I understand the need for "feel-good" stories. But I don't understand replacing stories of actual consequence with the lady who built a shed to live in because she's allergic to everything. (BTW, How many Americans knew that Venezuela persona non grata'd our Ambassador in early September?)

I could also go on a rant about the media bias today, but because Orson Scott Card does it so much better I will let him speak for himself. Go here to read his article Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On The Lights? If you're a sci-fi/fantasy fan, he's the author of Ender's Game and the Alvin Maker series. (He also wrote a fabulous novelization of the movie Abyss!) Regardless of what his faith is (He's LDS) and regardless of his political leanings (he's a Democrat) he is not afraid to point out that the emperor has no clothes. And that is amazingly refreshing these days.


Blondie said...

Great post and great article! I have passed the link along to several friends. Thanks for sharing...

the Joneses said...

People have always been more interested in gossip than in actual news. It's just that now gossip is a glitzy billion-dollar industry!

-- SJ

Frufrock said...

Throw out your t.v. while you still have time! We did. (And I'm always interested in what kind of sophisticated marketing is still able to reach me anyway!) Otherwise, I get to select what news I read or see or bring into my home... imagine that?!