I wrote a piece about the dangers of celebrity culture for this very publication – so I do know the downsides. But I also recognize the positives. “Celebrity” need not refer to vapid Kardashian or Bieber types; the term also applies to celebrated authors (J.K. Rowling, Stephen King), scientists (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking) or even educated film and TV personalities; Matt Damon, Emma Watson, Stephen Colbert and Mark Ruffalo have advocated intelligently for women’s rights, raised awareness about global warming, or spoken out about our troubled political system. They use their power for good.
Speaking of the Kardashians – they aren’t so bad, either. Maybe they don’t have “talent,” but their reality TV program promotes solid family values; the entire clan is very close, intimate and loyal to one another. They’ve brought both interracial dating (almost all their partners are African-American men) and unapologetically curvaceous body types into the mainstream culture. There’s been nary a modern American sex symbol with a butt as big as Kim’s. Plus, I admire the family’s willingness to expose humiliating, personal shit; despite their fame, they have no shame. Lots of stars shackle themselves in ivory towers and refuse to reveal details about their lives (perfectly understandable). But it makes normal people feel good to see Kardashians gaining weight, getting cheated on and transitioning between genders on TV. Celebrities – they’re just like us!
There are always going to be celebs. People need someone to idolize and criticize. In olden days, there were kings or pharaohs or war generals. Now it’s the Kardashians.
For the record, I don’t care that you like celebrities, that you follow their lives closer than those of your closest friends’. This isn’t a judgment about the things you do, your values or how you spend your time. Because I don’t care much about those things, mainly because it has no bearing on my life or my values or how I spend my time. In short, your celebrity obsession does not affect me.
Which is basically the same reason I have zero interest in celebrity culture: because it doesn’t matter. It’s junk food and empty calories. Wipe away nearly any celebrity – especially those famous-for-being-famous celebrities – and the world would continue spinning unaffected (Hey, remember Paris Hilton?). You might say the same thing about sports, but that’s another topic.
OK, there is one sinister side of celebrity culture that actually has serious consequences having to do with our culture’s propensity to equate wealth and fame with more virtuous qualities. That’s how you get musicians and actors opining like imbeciles on topics far outside their area of expertise (Jenny McCarthy and vaccines, anyone?). And that’s how you get a megalomaniac demagogue uncomfortably close to becoming president of the effing United States, whose many supporters confuse charisma and wealth with intelligence and leadership, and who stays afloat because the news media can’t look away from such a trainwreck ratings bonanza.
And in between, we obsess over a stranger’s pregnancy or breakup. It’s opium for the masses and manufactured consent. All that.