Monday, January 05, 2009

why celebrity sucks

The "internets" can be a glorious thing, connecting new folks, reacquainting old friends, globally linking art, music, science, providing tons of useful and useless information, opening avenues of expression, etc., etc. But the wealth of information can be too much, too. All of this 24-7 access is erasing any notions we have of privacy. If you're perpetually plugged in, when can you turn it off? Can you ever?

The fact that Steve Jobs had to issue a statement about his health today pisses me off immeasurably. And this sort of online dredging and continuation of the speculation makes me sick. I know that Jobs is the godlike figurehead of Apple, and so much of its recent resurgence can be traced to him, so of course the industry attaches importance to the possibility of a change of power at the helm. But he's a person, too, with a family, who shouldn't have to talk about his health until (and if) he's ready to.

What is a "celebrity's" responsibility to the public? Should the Travoltas have to release a succession of statements after the tragic death of their son? Should the public try to tear apart the wording of all of these statements, and if unsatisfied, speculate as to their accuracy? At such a confusing and unhappy time how accountable should they be? Why shouldn't they put out their version for the masses? What do they owe us? And why is the "internets" more interested in the parents' private romantic lives than the story at hand?

Of course both of these stories are dramatic and interesting. But the vulture-like death watch and seamy interpretation of a minor's death leave a bad taste in the mouth. I have been interested in the lives of the rich and famous, like anyone else, I suppose. When I lived in NYC I saw more famous people than I can count. Some I actually was lucky enough to speak to, or have small interactions with, like David Bowie, Steve Martin. Some were pleasant and charming surprises, like Richard Gere, Sharon Stone. Some I just happily caught a glimpse of: Michael Caine, Andy Warhol, Mick Jones, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Michael Palin.

Sometimes it's best not to meet an idol, you might be disappointed when you encounter them in real life, as they might be too real. But it was always fun, that moment of recognition. Of course the internet wasn't really happening then. If there were rumors floating, they were by word-of-mouth, and folks treated them with the proper seriousness or disdain, depending on the current blood-alcohol level of the moment in question. But today, with the internet, and anyone being able to write and post anything about anyone, this sort of gossiping has just gotten out of hand. No matter how full of b.s. a statement is, somehow, when it is in "print," it carries more weight.

This all reminds me of a story my dad once told me, about when he was a political reporter for the Newark Daily News. He was on the beat in Trenton, N.J., and was hanging out with the other reporters, probably pals from the Asbury Park Press, Star Ledger, etc., when someone burst into the room and announced that so-and-so politician, who had earlier delivered a speech, was currently upstairs in the hotel with a girl, not his wife. My dad said the reporters all looked at each other and then told the guy to get lost. That wasn't news, and it just wasn't done.

I guess many people would think that we need more transparency, and my dad and his colleagues were "covering it up," or something. I'm not sure. Politicians are after power, always have been, always will. Sex and sexual liaisons come with the power, for some. I'm not naive, so the situation doesn't shock me. I'm not sure how relevant that politician's affair or fling was, however, to anyone but he and his wife and the woman upstairs with him.

I'm not advocating for us to all stick our heads in the sand. But human nature, and its frailties, are a given. What we have a choice about is whether we want to help stir the mud.


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