Anthropologist Grant McCracken points to this New York Times article by David Carr about former Us Weekly editor Bonnie Fuller and makes an interesting point about the ideological effects of the celebrity-gossip tabloid Fuller pioneered.
The [article’s] most illuminated observation comes from Janice Min…. Here’s how Min explains Fuller’s success. “She is able to almost distill the id of the reader. She channels them in a way few others do, and what she heard is: ‘I don’t care about your acting method in your last movie. I just want to know what workout you used to get that fabulous body.’ “
This suggests that there has been a shift in the celebrity culture, a movement from admiration to imitation. Fans now treat the star less as a god and more as a set of transformational pointers. Celebrities by this reckoning are better than us but not different from us.
This is a very big change. Among other things, it marks the democratization of celebrity and the rise of a culture in which everyone imagines themselves a star, or at least transform themselves with a star’s effort and care.
This seems right. We don’t particularly admire the celebrities in these gossip magazines at all; they are more like mirrors for our self-admiration.
The essence of Us always seemed to me to be the “Stars—they’re just like us!” page, which sets up the rest of the magazine, which is advice couched as gossip. And it helps explain why the people famous for doing nothing—Paris Hilton, for example—are the magazines’ prime attractions. These are the people who invite the strongest identification in readers, the most vicarious appeal, because their lack of talent seems to confirm our own fantasies of becoming famous merely for existing. In a society in which there is a lot of attention apparently waiting to be spent, it’s not such a far-fetched dream.
What’s strange is that people now seem to believe that it is better, more significant, to have fame than talent. A species of anti-intellectualism seems to be at work. Talented people stand out from the mass, marking themselves as de facto elitists. The merely famous, though, give hope to us all.
// Notes from the Road
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