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The Command Center of the World Unified Government of Earth. The Year 2449…


“Sir, we have received the data feed from the Cultural Temporal Analyzer.”


“Excellent! Be seated. What have we found?”


“Well, sir, as you know, we had some difficulty navigating the time-space anomalies of the early 21st century…”


“So you managed to punch through? This is data from before the Cataclysm?”


“That’s correct, sir. This data comes from the year 2007, principally concerning the society and culture of a nation-state called ‘America.’”


“America! Fantastic! I thought it was just a myth!”


“No, sir. I’m afraid it was very, very real.”


“That sounds ominous.”


“Well, we’re still collating much of the data, but it appears that prior to the Cataclysm, America was considered the dominant nation-state on the planet, in terms of raw cultural influence.”


“Considered dominant by whom?”


“Principally by Americans themselves, sir.”


“Interesting. But there were other nation-states, correct?”


“Yes, sir. Approximately 200, we think.”


“Did we collect any information on them?”


“Very little, sir. The existent datasphere is overwhelmingly composed of—or perhaps littered with—artifacts from America. As you know, we programmed the temporal ‘bots to narrow their analysis so as not to overheat their quantum foam engine banks. But even this narrow slice of analysis suggests a remarkable cultural hegemony.”


“Any initial conclusions?”


“It seems Americans had a severe, perhaps terminal, preoccupation with something called ‘celebrity’.”


“What in the world is that?”


“Well, it’s a phenomenon driven by their primitive electronic and print media, in which certain citizens enjoyed the status of being widely honored and acclaimed.”


“Their leaders, then? Their physicians and educators, artists and poets?”


“No, sir. Evidently the assignation of celebrity was almost entirely random, though there appears to be a strong correlation with certain preferred bone structures and body-mass indices.”


“I don’t understand.”


“I’m not quite sure that I do, either. But that’s what the report indicates. Some celebrities were indeed artists, of a sort. Musicians or performers, actors—”


“Did you say actors?”


“Yes, sir.”


“You’re telling me that actors were honored and privileged in the 21st century?”


“Above all others, sir. But only some of them.”


\

“It’s as if we’ve shook hands with a man from the past!” [Image from UFO Watchdog.com]


“Well, perhaps that is understandable. The sublime dramatic actor who can convey stories and truths—”


“Um, no, sir. Again, prime criteria appear to be bone structure and body-mass index.”


“This is hard to believe.”


“It gets stranger, sir. Evidently, around the turn of the 21st century, the celebrity system went completely haywire. There are several instances of persons who were famous for simply voicing dubious opinions loudly, committing crimes, or sharing ‘videos’ of themselves on the ‘Internet’—essentially a wideband distribution of 2-D holographic documents over a primitive networking system.”


“Fascinating. It’s a miracle they ever developed past Aggro-Ego Cultural Evolution Phase IV.”


“They didn’t, sir.”


“Oh.”


“Also, as celebrity status faded, many subprime—or ‘B-List’—celebrities would be housed together and obsessively documented for further media wideband distribution. In other cases, non-celebrity citizens would compete to engage socially with the subprime celebrity, themselves becoming proto-celebrities in the process.”


“This can’t be correct. Are you sure this ‘America’ was the foremost nation-state on Earth?”


“Yes, sir. It’s incredibly confusing. I’ve saved the best for last. In the final days before the Cataclysm, there developed a certain stratum of celebrity which was composed, by all indications, of individuals famous … for being famous.”


“But that makes no sense!”


“I concur. There is, plainly, a fundamental cause-and-effect paradox in place. Many of our researchers believe that this causal dilemma may well be the ultimate source of the Cataclysm. That, by generating celebrities out of literally nothing, America violated certain conservation-of-matter laws underpinning the cultural superconsciousness. The accumulated culture of the entire planet was wiped out in the resultant detonation.”


“Unbelievable. I’m getting a headache. I haven’t had a headache in 240 years!”


“Sorry, sir.”


“Aren’t there any bright spots?”


“As a matter of fact, yes there are, sir. We uncovered a digital cache of OMNI magazines from the early 1990s, which are quite sophisticated and engaging.”


“OK, then. I’m going to make an executive decision: We keep the magazines, and delete the rest from the records. This ‘celebrity’ business seems simply too dangerous to disseminate.”


“Too late, sir. I already released our preliminary findings to Galactic Information Services. Apparently, there’s already quite a bit of talk in the public forums, and many are praising your initiative for going forward with the project. I’ve scheduled a full press conference in 10 minutes in the holo room.


“Wow. Really? Well, let’s go! Um, how’s my hair look?”


(sigh) “You look fabulous, sir.”

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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