When Mom and Dad were first married they moved to the “Land of Oz”, (California) and directly to the “Emerald City”, (Los Angeles); home of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, swimming pools and movie stars. In those simpler times, one of their favorite entertainment activities was to drive around Beverly Hills and look for movie stars. Up and down Rodeo Drive, Sunset Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire they would drive, hoping to spot a celebrity that they’d seen on the big screen. I’ve heard them tell of the excitement of chasing Clark Gable around the town, losing him and then seeing him again, finally to be shaken, but left with the experience and conversation for the rest of their lives. Spotting a celebrity, for a couple of wide-eyed novices from rural Missouri, was a big deal.
Today it seems everyone is a celebrity. From former cops who’ve killed three or four of their wives, to disgraced public officials hauled off to prison for embezzling campaign funds (these two are only Chicago examples). From has been child actors who’ve spent time in one too many rehab stints, to spoiled rich kids who’ve done nothing more in their lives than be born into wealth. Our culture is obsessed with celebrity. Everyone wants to become famous, and it seems that they’ll do anything to achieve that status.
Turn on the television today and “reality” shows dominate the listings (much to the chagrin of many wannabe actors). There are cooking shows, enough to make you never want to eat again. There are shows about house hoarders. House hoarders?! There are shows about “celebrity wife swappers” and bachelor’s looking for a wife and vice versa. There are shows about people who do really stupid things, at great risk to life and limb, just to get their fifteen minutes of fame. There are even shows about extremely overweight individuals, being abused for the entire world to see, trying to lose enough weight to be characterized as fat rather than obese.
I suppose all of this narcissism is relatively harmless, unless these famous for doing nothing people are given more than just their fifteen minutes of fame. It becomes dangerous when the used to be nobodies are given a platform, and what they say begins to be taken seriously. Or because somebody can sing the scale in the most mellifluous fashion, we somehow take them seriously when they spout off about world hunger and how to solve it. Take the most recent example of this absurdity.
Dennis Rodman just returned from a trip to North Korea. Well, good for him. Who is Dennis Rodman? He’s a celebrity. Why is he a celebrity? He used to be a very good basketball player, about twenty years ago. Played ball with another celebrity named Michael Jordan. That was then, and anymore he’s only known for being a freak show; in the same fashion as the “Yak Woman” in the local circus. Anyway, Dennis decides he’s going to represent the United States in enemy territory, kind of unofficial ambassador; so off he flies to North Korea.
North Korea: led by a man various human rights groups view as a tyrant and leader of one of the most repressive regimes in the world; Kim Jung Un. What a pairing; a murderous dictator who imprisons hundreds of thousands of political opponents and a former basketball player, now known mostly for his facial jewelry and odd dress. This looks like a set up for some serious policy negotiations to me. I heard about this and chuckled, but the American media took this all too seriously, running stories about the visit on the hour. When Dennis returned to the U.S., what used to be called serious news personnel sat down with him to get the scoop. It was as if Neville Chamberlain had returned from Munich and his meeting with Adolph Hitler (with much the same result; a hapless sucker being played for a fool by an evil dictator), or Kissinger from China. ABC News actually had George Stephanopoulos do a serious interview with Rodman, with serious questions!
Dennis, IQ unknown but easily guessed, said that Kim is “a great guy” and “I love him. He’s awesome.” Kim sent a message back to the President via Dennis, “He wants Obama to do one thing: call him.” “I don’t want to do war” Kim said to Dennis. He could have fooled the rest of the world; or was he shooting off those nuclear warheads just for entertainment? He was joking, just having a little fun! But the best part of the interview, the reason that it had to be Dennis as negotiator, was when Rodman said this, “He loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said: ‘Obama loves basketball’. Let’s start there.” Wow! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that before? We could have the two dictators, er leaders, play a little game of horse and the winner gets South Korea! All we have to do with evil dictators is find out what their favorite pastime happens to be. If they love movies, we send George Clooney to negotiate. If they love reading, Stephen King. If they enjoy knocking back a few brewskies, we could send Jimmy Buffett or Ringo Starr. It’s so simplistic that even a two-year old could appreciate the concept.
It seems that the line between celebrity and real importance is becoming all the more blurred over time. It isn’t uncommon now for presidential candidates and other politicians to appear on late night television comedy shows and ham it up for the audience. Where it once was fashionable to want to emulate those who had achieved the highest levels in their professions, it now seems that those at the highest levels want to emulate the lowest common denominator within our culture. All in an effort to appear cool.
If Einstein were alive today he would probably have his own television show titled, "It's All Just Relative, Isn't It?" The most anticipated episode of season one would be titled, "Gravity: Law or Suggestion?" It wouldn’t surprise me if I read tomorrow that President Obama had just filmed an episode of Jackass 5, riding a skateboard down a fifty foot stair rail, into a plastic pool filled with cow manure. The next day he would appear on David Letterman describing how awesome the experience had been. David would be envious, but only to a point. Afterward, via man on the street interviews, the American public would be heard saying, “Did you see the President on Jackass? That was cool!” I'm embarrassed for our country.