Jonas Salk and Paris Hilton
There is no TV show that irritates me more than 20/20, the ABC News “Magazine,” especially when John Stossel does one of his famous investigative reports. The “research” always reminds me of something I once did for my 8th grade Social Studies class.
Friday’s 20/20 was titled “Are We Addicted To Fame?”
If you could wave a magic wand and make yourself smarter, stronger, more beautiful, or famous, which would you pick? I was surprised by how many people pick fame over everything else.
The show introduces us to our culture’s sick obsession with celebrity and fame. There are showbiz kids desperate for a part in a sitcom, students who take Learning Annex-type courses to become celebrity assistants, and crazed fans who dream of just being in the same room as someone famous.
Throughout the show, you get the sense that (the famous) John Stossel looks down on these fanatics. In fact, he seems to be disappointed in MOST OF US, as if most Americans are a bunch of sick puppies. To understand our crazed obsessions better, he turns to the usual suspects — the EXPERTS!
I used to wonder where these newsmagazines always find these experts, but blogging has helped me understand how the mass media works. A few months ago, a producer from Washington Post Radio emailed me after I wrote some humorous blog post about Mel Gibson’s infamous night out. The host wanted to interview me about my opinion of Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism, as if I had some special knowledge of the subject because I was both Jewish and had seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome three times. Do I really need to say any more about how qualified these experts are? (editor’s note: Neil is available as a media “expert” on blogging, relationships, Los Angeles, New York, Redondo Beach, pizza in Flushing, and
women [sorry, that one is still a mystery to him])
For all of John Stossel’s hand-wringing about our sick society, he glosses over the fact that the ONES who profit the most from this celebrity culture are the experts he interviews, such as Janice Min, editor-in-chief of “Us Weekly.”
Ms. Min on celebrities of today:
“You don’t even have to be so talented to be famous. You just have to be outrageous, well dressed, gorgeous, date the right person.”
John Stossel also interviews Leigh Hallisey, a professor who TEACHES a course on TV and Popular Culture at Boston University’s College of Communication.
“It used to be enough that you got attention from your parents. You got attention from your teachers, your peers and that sort of thing, but that is no longer enough,” said Hallisey. “We want attention from the worldwide media.”
However, the real talking head of the show is Jake Halpern, who just happened to have written a book titled “Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction, which just happens to be be published by Houghton Mifflin RIGHT NOW in January 2007 (talk about a good PR firm). I have not read the book, but I have a feeling it doesn’t contain any scathing attacks on media-obsessed magazines such as US Weekly or Entertainment Weekly. How do I know this? Because Entertainment Weekly is running a 7-Page excerpt from the book right in the magazine! (another PR coup!)
John Stossel is fascinated by Mr. Halpern’s findings, tidbits like: most teenage girls would rather grow up to be a celebrity assistant than a U.S. Senator.
Mr. Halpern theorizes that celebrity magazines like “Us Weekly,” “People” and “In Touch” are so popular because people are lonely. Halpern points out that today more young people tend to marry later in life and more can afford their own living spaces, so they spend more time alone.
Celebrities become a way to connect us to each other. It’s sad really. There’s a lot of head-shaking going on in the 20/20 episode. Our children are fame junkies. The rest of us are lonely and miserable, with no connection to real life. The worst part of our celebrity obsession is that we are all growing up to be imbeciles. To prove this, John Stossel takes to the streets and asks passerbys to identify both Paris Hilton and Jonas Salk. Much like in those Tonight Show “Jaywalking” segments, most people are idiots. Everyone knows Nicole Richie’s former partner, but only an oid fart has heard of the developer of the first polio vaccine.
For shame! For shame!
But who’s to blame? Our parents? Our schools? Modern loneliness?
If John Stossel had any cojones he would have looked over at some of the ABC News executives he works with. A quick search on the ABC News website shows 505 pages of news stories about Paris Hilton and ONLY 22 pages about Jonas Salk. Is it any wonder we know and care more about Paris Hilton than Jonas Salk — because ABC News likes it that way!
By the way, just out of curiosity, I looked up the last ABC News story that mentioned Jonas Salk, one of the greatest men of the Twentieth Century. This is it —
The same year that Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, a little-known chemist at General Foods stumbled on to what would provide a revolution in mouths across the country.
William A. Mitchell had a simple hope in 1956 — make instant soda from a tablet. The soda didn’t pan out, but he created a hit. His research led to the invention of Pop Rocks candy.
A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: CES, Day One