Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Cult of Banality

Considering the number of things that I find troubling, I really should meditate more…

I saw an entertainment headline a few days ago, something about drugs being found on Justin Bieber’s tour bus in Amsterdam. Okay, great. Who cares? Everyone it seems; the people who aren’t his fans regard this incident as another in a long line of incidents that point towards the young lady’s self-destruction while Bieber’s fans would defend her even if the tween idol chopped up a baby and served it with a glass of wine. And that’s what I find troubling – why are Justin Bieber’s off-stage antics more important than her art?

I remember many years ago when I, as a die-hard Judas Priest fan, learned lead singer Rob Halford was gay. The news did not phase me; I didn’t care because I care more about the man’s art than who he has sex with. Gay or not, Rob Halford can scream like a sonofabitch and that’s a part of what makes him a good music artist. Really, it’s the art that is important. Or maybe that’s a misperception on my part as the art of a musician or actor is now a distant second to what news the artist’s life generates.

Case in point, Taylor Swift: She really has very little musical skill either as a writer or performer, yet she is terribly famous. Why? Mostly because she’s a perfectly pretty lily white girl, so pretty that people apparently have no choice but to root for her as she dates a platoon of men who dump her as soon as they figure out she has no talent. Justin Bieber floats in the same boat, more famous for his homosexual attributes than for his music. Is anyone going to remember any of his songs decades from now? No, but people will remember that he started acting out as soon as his balls started to drop and realized he doesn’t have to date someone equally untalented. Worse, you have celebrities not famous for anything besides being rich and having hired a publicist, e.g. Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton. Yet the general public snaps up news of these people’s lives. Is it because seeing how the other half lives is inspiring? No.

The reality is perhaps more depressing. My hypothesis is that people who lap up entertainment news have low self-esteem and no desire to be much of anything in life (not that one needs to make something of themselves). I arrived at this conclusion by thinking about what people get out of reading entertainment news, which oddly has very little to do with entertainment itself: A glimpse into a purportedly glamorous life that for the 99% is unattainable. Entertainment news, that is celebrity news, actually reinforces the notion among lower class people that they belong in the lower class. [I use ‘lower class’ here to mean the people who place celebrities in a status above themselves.] While someone may pick up People Magazine and say, “That’s going to be me some day,” the people who actually become celebrities don’t stop to say such things because they are busy becoming celebrities. That said, I have very little respect for anyone who reads celebrity news as it indicates just how little they contribute to the world.

Of course, I’m not saying all celebrities contribute something positive to the world. Many of the afore mentioned celebrities are in the game for celebrity’s sake; it’s better to be on top than on the bottom so I don’t blame anyone for walking down that road. But, in order to make some kind of contribution to the world, a person must begin with some sense of their own value and a person cannot do that if they are consumed by details of the lives of celebrities. Celebrity news is disempowering, not inspiring. It also reinforces one of the worse tendencies of human beings, the desire the see others fail or become miserable.

The people who keep track of celebrity news to satisfy their lust for schadenfreude are no doubt worse than passive purveyors of celebrity news since they take their disdain for their low class status in a direction opposite from where it should go. Instead of ignoring celebrity news to spend their time more wisely or turn their view of the well-to-do into a force of positive change, they wallow in the muck of celebrity divorces and self-abuse as if doing so could possibly make themselves feel better about their meaningless lives. Either way, news about the lives of celebrities is destructive for those who consume it.

To be fair, talking about the well-to-do has been going on for ages, obviously because the lives of celebrities are more interesting than that of the Average Joe. Only, wouldn’t everyone’s life be like the life of any given celebrity given the fame and fortune? Why then do people consider lives of celebrities more interesting? I suppose people who track celebrity news lack imagination. (Ask them what they’d do if they won the lottery if you want to confirm my suspicion.)

I don’t know what we’re supposed to take away from this other than a good many people do not mind their status among the blissfully ignorant. Personally, I find such an attitude repugnant. I find the desire to put details about a celebrity’s life ahead of their art or professional business even more objectionable, for if the lives of celebrities are more important than their professional lives, why not dispense with what they do for a living altogether and go straight to Free Parking? For a nation that likes nothing more than to pretend accomplishments and talent matter, America sure values its Lindsay Lohans.

Art is dead. Long live the “artist.”

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