The depths of shallowness

By Charles Campbell

Sometimes I start to feel sorry for myself, but then I think of Britney Spears. The former American pop princess was once at the peak of her career as the defining sex symbol of a generation. She represented all that was wonderful and horrible about our country at the same time. We loved and obeyed her. As she danced for Pepsi, we put down the Diet Coke. When she wore a pink thong over her jeans in “Slave4u,” we went out and bought one, too. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t sing; what mattered was that she carried a boa constrictor while pretending to do so.

But five years can change a lot and the paparazzi were there to document every moment. And with every candid photo of her—bare feet, acne, Jamba Juice and all—the illusion quickly faded. Add her chosen husband, Kevin Federline, to the picture and it was undeniable: Britney Spears was painfully human. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, the messages of these photos resonated, costing her the chance of reclaiming a career built upon an image of fake-tan perfection. Britney Spears was finished years ago. We had already gotten matching fairy tattoos on our lower back, so we pulled down our t-shirts and laughed at the tabloids as she fell from grace.

For celebrities, there is no such thing as privacy anymore. In the past couple weeks, the Manhattan-based celebrity blogsite Gawker.com has come under siege for the launch of its “Stalker” page that invites people to play paparazzi and report their celebrity sightings which are then plotted on a map. Gawker receives 170,000 hits a day and has launched a family of other blogs, making it one of the most trafficked celebrity gossip sites on the internet.

Despite the growing number of tabloid readers, it is inevitable that whenever a person mentions Brangelina there will always be a naysayer who rolls their eyes and asks “Who cares?” Usually the appropriate response to this question is to peer up at these people on their pedestals and make a hand-job gesture, but for the sake of this article, I would like to pause and ruminate upon this question.

Whether or not you are a guilty participant, the rise of celebrity gossip has soared so significantly in the past years as to have spawned a lucrative media industry of magazines, websites and TV shows. Now more than ever celebrity lives have become as familiar to us as the lives of our friends. The break-up of a campus couple inseparable since freshmen year may have raised some eyebrows, but the demise of Nick and Jessica seemed unheard of. As magazines like US Weekly and sites like Gawker.com have proven, the boundaries between an entertainer’s public and private life have disintegrated beyond their control. Now, the love lives of celebrities (or simply their everyday clothes) provide fodder for entire magazines. We call upon them to entertain us even when they’re off the time-clock.

Stars and actors, especially female ones, carry the burden of having to look a certain kind of “beautiful.” Thus, looking upon them when they’re not ready to be looked at comes with the pleasure and safety of voyeurism. We become armchair critics, pointing out the flaws of “ideal” bodies or scorning the way some have taken it too far. Shaking our heads at the drama of a celebrity break-up is so much easier than looking at our own stagnant love lives. The small problems of others become big news, supplanting the more relevant social and political issues surrounding us. Witnessing the “Fabulous” spending patterns of the rich and famous is more pleasant than thinking about a struggling economy and rising unemployment. Instead of Iraq and America, we think “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie.”

But perhaps this reaction is understandable, especially from a generation whose voice appears to matter little in the political sphere. With problems surmounting, escapism offers forth a nice alternative to examining our own lives. Rather, we can retreat into the glamorized lives of others, carried out in the never-ending summer of L.A. where the only worry seems to be what pair of over-sized sunglasses to wear.

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