Commentary: Celebrity Influence | KERA News

Commentary: Celebrity Influence

Dallas, TX –

Whenever you start a good rant about our celebrity-drenched culture, someone is bound to note that we've always had celebrities, so what's new? And, they say, if you don't like these vain, irritating creatures, just ignore them.

Well, it's true that celebs have always been with us. In the Fifties it was Liz and Dick and Debbie and the Gabors; long before that, Walter Winchell basically created the culture of celebrity, bringing gossip into mainstream media.

But clearly, our obsession with celebrities has never been stronger than it is today. And in this celeb-crazed society, you can't ignore them! Through a hundred media avenues they come, unstoppable as zombies in a bad horror flick, spamming your mind with their nonsense.

Years ago it was just the tabloids; now we have tabloid TV, tabloid internet, tabloid cell phone clips. Paris, Justin, Jessica, Courtney, Tomkat, Lindsay, Anna Nicole somebody's in rehab, somebody's out of rehab, somebody's pregnant, somebody's had a breast job, somebody smacked their maid it just goes on and on. To avoid them, you'd have to move in with the Amish or have yourself buried in a lead box at the bottom of the North Sea.

Here's an example: I realized the other day that I know all about the Rosie O'Donnell-Barbara Walters-Donald Trump catfight, even though I've never watched Trump's TV show, never watched O' Donnell's talk show, have never seen The View; and care less than nothing about the whole bunch of them.

If you want to see the harmful effects of celebrity worship up close, check out the early auditions on American Idol. Sure, a few of these contestants may be putting us on, but some of these sad, deluded hopefuls seem to believe that being famous, even famous for being awful, justifies any amount of pain and humiliation. Only the life-giving force of celebrity can lift them out of the anonymous mass.

There's a real irony here, expressed in what I call Tucker's Law of Celebrity Overload: With most famous people, there is an inverse relationship between how much we know of their private lives and how much we admire their work.

Now this law doesn't apply to the classic celebrity, those well-known-for-being-well-known types with no discernible talent. But for those who do have ability, revelations about their boorish behavior only blur their identities and make it harder for us to appreciate their rare gifts. To justify investing time and money in them, we need to keep them on that almost mythical level, and we can't do that if they constantly remind us just how flawed they can be.

Take Tom Cruise, for example. In my opinion, he's done some fine work as an actor, but given his antics the last couple of years, I'm not sure I can ever watch him again without laughing or wincing.

Is there any hope that we might free ourselves from celebri-mania? Well, here's one positive sign. The other day, America Online had a story about the basketball star Jason Kidd, one of the great players of our time, and his, shall we say, marital troubles. Alongside the story, AOL ran a poll asking readers this question: "How much do you want to know about the personal lives of stars?" Almost 100,000 people voted, and to my delight, 78% said they wanted to know "none of it." If we can just work on that other 22%, maybe we'll find there's life after Simon and Rosie and all the rest.

Chris Tucker is a writer from Dallas.

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