Monday, June 4, 2007

Walruses, Sealing Wax And Rutabagas

"The time has come," the walrus said, "to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships - and sealing wax - of rutabagas and ......"

You know who they are... and I refuse to type their names here: The cadre of rich, fashionable, girlie celebrity skeletons-with-hair who are the current darlings of America's pop culture... the band of no-talent bimbos who enthrall the media with their reprehensible antics fueled by alcohol and who-knows-what substances, far too much money, and the most insidious drug of all - celebrity.

The media's obsession with celebrities' bad behavior embodies what I call the rutabaga phenomenon: If the only vegetable available in the produce aisle is a rutabaga, hungry consumers are forced to buy rutabagas -- which then skews sales and marketing statistics to reflect an inflated - and false - demand for the vile veggie.... which in turn alerts produce buyers and growers to bring more damn rutabagas to market for their clamoring customers.

When confronted about the disproportionate coverage of skanky celebrities, the media has always invoked the rutabaga clause -- trash sells, therefore people obviously want trash, therefore it's the sacred duty of the Fourth Estate to bring endless trash to our readers/listeners. How many hundreds of times were we told that the blanket coverage of the O.J. trial or Princess Diana's tragedy was just a response to popular demand. I don't remember demanding it - did you?

Yeah, yeah, I know... some people really do like rutabagas, and they ALL haven't been on Springer's show. But, closet idealist that I am, I have to believe that, for the most part, we news consumers are only coincidentally buying the rutabagas. I have to believe that intelligent, discerning America is as much the victim of this slimy game as are the participants themselves.

We do, after all, have the freedom to turn off the TV, not read the articles and cushion ourselves against the impact of the garbage culture. We're grownups and we know how to make reasoned, sane choices.

The downside to the nonstop coverage is obvious, however, when you look at the demographics of the groupies of the size zero cuties. Who buys their CD's and videos? Who mirrors their images, seeking makeup, perfume, handbags, shoesies, hairstyles, clothing (excepting undies of course, since those are often absent), jewelry, etc.? Who diets themselves into willowy silhouettes in the hope of casting the same anorectic shadow? Teen girls, pre-teen girls, pre-pre-teen girls, that's who.

Who also gets an overdose of incredibly warped values as the media saturates their brains with the minutia of the twinkies' twisted lives? The same young girls, of course.

"Yeah, mom, I may not have any real talent, but (fill in the name) is just so cool and beautiful and I really, really want to BE A STAR just like her. I want the money, the mansion, the 5 husbands, 50 lovers, the photographers who follow me everywhere, the private jets, fabulous parties, the gorgeous clothes, and my perfect face and hot body all over TV, movies and magazines."

Adults know what they're really saying is:
"I really don't want to have any kind of personal, private life at all. I want to do as many drugs as I can, to get drunk and drive the LA freeways, to be a lousy, absent mom, but when I am around to endanger my kids frequently, to think that hot sex in a club rest room is the same as love and marriage, to eat a lettuce leaf and one egg white and call it dinner, to be rich, rich, rich and live in ignorance and deception my whole life, and beneath it all to be empty, shallow and miserable."

Almost a year ago, Matt Lauer interviewed one of these bimbettes for NBC's Dateline. Feeling hungry for a rutabaga, I watched the interview, and I think it should be mandatory viewing for every parent of every child aged 8-18 in America.

Shared experience is a great teacher, and Mrs. Bimbo's window into her pathetic life from her own viewpoint, in her own words, was one of the most poignant I've seen. It encapsulated everything that is skewed about celebrity and highlighted how completely twisted her vision has become. Oh, and p.s. -- everything she said about her marriage that night was a lie. (Really? She lied?) In the year since that interview she has repeated "mistakes," made new ones, gotten herself into deeper doodoo -- all across the front pages and lead stories of the media.

It doesn't take strenuous Googling or extensive reading to figure out that a bare handful of celebrities EVER have stable marriages; and, when they do, it's not until their fourth or fifth marriage that they achieve some stability. Personal choices, I know -- but what about their damaged children left in the wake of the Good Ship Personal Choice?

Try and recall how many celebrities have owned up to various addictions, gone through recovery and been lauded in print and on news and talk shows for their "bravery." I think it's great they're clean and sober (this week) -- but what about the human wreckage left in the path of the Addiction Tornado? Childhood victims of alcohol and drug abuse don't recover easily or with national support, and frequently these children of celebrities are the next crop of spawn gone wild.

How about realistic monetary values? Spending five hundred million dollars on a vacation home, two million dollars on a wedding (destined for breakup in two years), $5000 for one trendy handbag or $300,000 for this month's plastic surgery may be great for the economy -- but what does it say about life's real priorities, about realistic expectations, about pure greed? Celebrities live in a glittery, phantasmic world... but their lives leak into ours through the constant media coverage.

The value of being "a certain age" is the perspective that comes from years of experience and observation. I know how seductive the prospect of fame and riches can be. I know all the incentives, all the temptations, all the perceived "rewards." What I don't understand are the parents who encourage (many times push) their children to pursue this life. How could a "good parent" ever want his/her child's life to encompass these warped features that are intrinsic to the entertainment world? Are these parents blind, naive, stupid or just plain greedy?

Sure a lot of kids have amazing talent and the desire to share their artistic gifts with the world. Where is the guidance of their parents in deciding WHEN to do that? Do they think that their kid is special enough, grounded enough, mature enough to not fall into the vortex of fame? Since nearly every young entertainer breaches that black hole, it seems unlikely many will escape.

I rarely think in terms of what others "should" or "shouldn't" do -- I leave those arguments to people who view life in a much more black-and-white pattern than I do. I see celebrity, however, as a serious risk to kids, enough to call it child abuse when a parent pushes or even permits it. The rewards may be phenomenal, but the cost is the child's life.

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