Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: John Stossel

Fame!

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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

The Blogosphere is Like Orange County, 1969

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I had been reading Sarcastic Fringehead for a few weeks. We even emailed each other with funny stories, but something was “off” about my visualization of her. There were details that didn’t fit. Finally, I asked her, “Are you a black woman?”

Yes, she was. She is. Was I wrong to ask her that?

One of the pleasures of blogging is that we can be invisible to each other and just focus on each others’ words and thoughts. We judge someone more on a clever line than how one looks or what “group” someone belongs to. Even we do include photos of ourselves, we don’t reveal many of the cultural or regional quirks that might separate us from each other.

While this lack of context can unite us, it can also make the blogosphere bland. I have no idea of the ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation of most of my fellow bloggers. Should it matter? Not really, but sometimes I wonder if my online life is LESS diverse than my real life. I thought of doing a demographic study, just for fun, but I was worried that someone would be upset. Even the hip New York city bloggers seem to live less in the real New York City, than in an all-white Orange County, circa 1969. I hope the blogosphere isn’t turning out to be like my high school cafeteria was, with everyone hanging out by ethnic and racial group.

I was actually excited to learn that Sarcastic Fringehead was black. Can someone please introduce me to a black mommyblogger?! I know it may not be fashionable to say so, but I like differences between people. I though it was funny when Rhea wrote in a comment that she would share my bed, even though she was a lesbian. I had no idea! How cool. Rather than separating us, I feel “closer” to her now, knowing this intimate fact (don’t worry, Rhea — I won’t get too close and ruin your lesbian credentials).

I love accents. I love Sophia’s accent. I love to hear the Southern accent of Laurie from Crazy Aunt Purl when she makes a video. After all, we all can’t speak proper Amercian English like we do in New Yawk.

Although I don’t consider myself a “Jewish blogger,” I haven’t been shy about babbling about Jewish stuff. In fact I do it so often, that Leesa from Montana is now fluent in Yiddish.

I think I’m even changing my mind about this year’s Survivor Maybe the race gimmick is a clever idea. By acknowledging our “differences,” maybe we can better see that at the core, there aren’t MAJOR differences — everyone who plays Survivor is as dumb and selfish as the next guy.

Last Friday, there was a special 20/20 on racial stereotypes. What struck me as the most interesting part of the program wasn’t that racism still exists, but how far we go to make believe there aren’t ANY differences at all.

In my post about colleges, I noticed that a few women are still upset about ex-Harvard Dean Lawrence Summers and his speech about women and science. Although he was quoted as saying “women thinkers were inferior to men thinkers,” he never actually said that. From Wikipedia:

In January 2005, Summers suggested at an economic conference that one reason there are fewer women than men in science and engineering professorships might be innate sex differences in the distribution of intelligence. The suggestion was that variation in intelligence (in particular with regard to science and math ability) is higher in males, resulting in a higher number of highly intelligent males, resulting in more men at the very high levels of “intrinsic aptitude” that scholarly jobs required. An attendee made his remarks public, and a firestorm followed in the national news media and on Harvard’s campus, which incorrectly implied that Summers argued that men are somewhat more intelligent than women on average.

20/20 brought up this issue, as well as the controversial subject of black athleticism. It was amusing to see coaches coming up with complicated reasons for why blacks predominate in sports — none of them having to do with genetics. Is it really racist to suggest that African bodies may be built differently? Or is it wrong to suggest that men might have a stronger instinct for spacial learning? How can anyone live with a woman for one day and say there aren’t fundamental differences?

Of course we are all individuals. I cry at movies more than Sophia, blowing that myth. I just think a total color blind attitude towards life — and the blogosphere — doesn’t really create the diverse society we are hoping for. Why shouldn’t there be differences among groups? Ignoring it doesn’t promote tolerance. If there are no cultural differences between us, than there is really nothing to tolerate. I’m all for making my part of the Blogosphere like Queens, NY rather than Newport Beach, CA.

So, yes, I will share a lesbian’s bed. As long as she doesn’t snore.

Update:  Interesting case study about a website’s diversity.  (via Petrona and Cognitive Daily

 

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: Anonymous Sources

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