The American obsession with celebrities often gets characterized as a guilty pleasure. It’s not a perverse, voyeuristic stalking of the people we see on TV, it’s an innocent guilty pleasure—like eating too many chocolate chip cookies or spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. With the advent of the Internet, the obsession with celebrities has risen to a whole new level. Now instead of just getting a peek behind the celebrity curtain, the curtain has been flung open, rendering the madness behind it exposed to anyone who wants to look. We aren’t just aware that Paris Hilton is feuding with the drummer from Blink-182’s ex-wife, we get to see drunken interviews and grainy cell phone pictures of maybe Paris Hilton’s black eye as proof. We don’t just have this vague suspicion that Britney Spears has gone off the deep end, we get to see her circling the drain in a montage of shaved heads, crotch shots, rehab entrances and exits, and other drunken portraits of her downfall.
This may seem like a bashing of the celebrity obsession a little bit. I guess it is, but the fact is, I’m torn on the subject. On one hand, I see it as a creepy fetish that lets people point to the atrocities of the rich and famous as a justification for their own shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think the obsession with celebrities is totally fitting. Our world is a completely ridiculous place. In a world where 20 year olds dress up like wizards to go buy books at midnight, where politicians try to solicit gay sex, where there’s a TV show in which people have to survive in an already inhabited place, where a million people stand in the middle of an intersection for hours in order to watch a small glass ball slowly descend down a 20 foot pole on New Year’s Eve, is it all that weird that there’s a popular website that is solely designed to show us a video of Lindsay Lohan’s scruffy ex-boyfriend calling Lindsay “fire bush”? When set against the backdrop of our senselessness, the obsession with celebrities makes perfect sense.
The manifestation of our celebrity fetish is tmz.com. TMZ, a fusion of celebrity news blog and embarrassing video archive, has become the poster child for the celebrity pseudo-news industry. The Internet gives it distinct advantages over its competitors. It can put the stories in the gossip magazines into motion instantly, and it can show all the borderline pornographic clips that Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood can’t.
TMZ is fair and balanced… okay, well maybe they are just balanced. And by balanced I mean they strike a perfect equilibrium between three distinct categories of trashy video clip. I’ll group these videos into the following categories: the “Action Caused Either Entirely or More Than Partly By Alcohol,” the “Celebrity Car Chase,” and the “You’re Not Famous but You’re Near a Camera So Okay.”
My favorite category, without question, is the “Action Caused Either Entirely or More Than Partly By Alcohol,.” This is where we get the really solid celebrity news. We get drunken fights, drunken rants, and drunken arrests. All good stuff. One video posted this week titled “Hoochie 101: Etiquette for Ladies at Hollywood Clubs” goes as follows: two drunk chicks in short dresses are crouched down in a parking lot when the cameraman comes over. One girl shouts something then lifts up her dress and slaps her crotch with a rose. The other girl shows the camera her ass. The first girl shows the camera her thong tan line. They run away. End of video. If only they were actually famous.
The next category, the “Celebrity Car Chase” clip, is probably the most abundant on the site. This type of video shows a celebrity going about their normal business. It’s probably the creepiest type of video because literally nothing happens. It’s just
I’ll be honest; I have no idea why msnbc.com has a story about a woman who strangled a raccoon with her bare heads. Or why they have a story about a woman who lost then found her planner. Or why they have a story titled “Doggie ice cream delights Austrian canines.” Or why they have a story about a Chihuahua who saved a baby from a rattlesnake. But they do. In a subsection of World Newson the MSNBC website, we find Wonderful World —an archive of dozens of articles about heroic animals (see above), lotto winners (an Oklahoma couple, a millionaire lawmaker, an Indiana family), age-defying old people (a 83 year old skydiver, a 112 living human being), and other similarly quirky mindless stories.
Some time between September 2006 and September 2007, Facebook became an evil, corrupting medium of social destruction driven to blackmail America’s future with concrete proof of its drunken stupidity. Or at least that’s the impression you’ll get by reading any article about Facebook on any college campus over the past year. For some reason, columnists at college newspapers across the country have found it necessary to lecture their readers on the dangers of the wildly popular website—taking every opportunity to patronize Facebook, to condescendingly bash every idiosyncrasy presumably in order to gain some sort of intellectual high ground over the band of aloof savages previously known as Facebook users. I am not one of these writers.