Damned Fame, Anyway


The day after the height of the brouhaha over Terry Jones and his powerful (24-member) church and its threat to religious tolerance (and the day of the first reported death resulting--in Afganistan) comes a review of Joaquin Phoenix's new movie, I'm Still Here, about the ennui of fame.

Sometimes the fates collude, perhaps trying to make us think, and not just react.

Yesterday, The Times ran a story about how the media has blown the Dove church threat out of proportion; today, in the review of the Phoenix film, it links to a video of Kate Moss and child trying to get out of the airport in LA, surrounded by papparazzi.  Irony?  No, just the reality of our time.

As we all know, Andy Warhol wrote, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."  Maybe so, but Warhol was a little simplistic and, as it turns out, rather naive.  His "will be" might better have been "will attempt to be" or "will demand to be" or "will be forced to be"--or even "will believe they deserve to be."  His statement avoids any hint of causation, of the forces that propel people into the media spotlight.

According to the Times article, Jones hit the media bigtime through timing.  While it may have been accidental, he slipped into the news cycle at just the right time (another failing of the mainstream media, by the way, this dependence on news cycles--but the article never really addresses that).  Another church, that Westboro Baptist Church that likes to demonstrate at the funerals of fallen servicepeople, burned a Koran a couple of years ago--to no notice.

But Jones hit it "lucky," and will now be drawing dollars and notice (sort of a minor-league Sarah Palin) for being known--not for knowing anything.  Who cares that people are dying because of his grandstanding.  Who cares that he knows nothing about anything.   The ball of the roulette wheel stopped on the number where he'd piled everything--and he's damned sure to collect.

What do we do about this?  How do we stop being so celebrity obsessed? 

Oh, yes... it's on us.  Just as we'll never win the drug war by concentrating on the suppliers and paying little attention to the users, we'll ever stop abusive media celebrity unless we look to the consumers--us.  It does no good for the media to say they won't show pictures of the burning (which has now been canceled)--someone else will, in this media-saturated age. 

It's on us to stop "using," to turn our focus to other and better things.  "Terry Jones isn't worth my time."  "I don't care to see another picture of Kate Moss."  "Lindsay Lohan?  She's young and foolish.  So?"  "Sarah Palin has yet to say anything useful.  Until you show me something valuable from her, I'll ignore her."

Sure, I'm naive, too... but I can't think of any other way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into than each of us, individually, changing the topic when these people are brought up.

If anyone asks me again about Terry Jones, I am going to start talking about religious toleration--but without reference to him.  If anyone asks me about Kate Moss, I'll respond with questions about how models are treated in the fashion industry.  When someone mentions Lindsay Lohan, I'll ask if they know about the problems that have been faced by child stars, back even to the days of Jackie Coogan.  Sarah Palin comes up?  I'll ask whether celebrity has come to trump ability in our political process.

If we all start doing this, taking the focus away from the media circus and turning it to real issues, maybe we can change the media themselves.

But, as I said, maybe I'm just naive.

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