the writing and photography of Neil Kramer


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


  1. Mist 1

    I am outrageous and well dressed, but, I am always dating the wrong person.

  2. lizardek

    It was the well-dressed part that tripped me up, as usual. Damn those comfy pants!

  3. Bice

    Jonas Salk is hot! Everyone knows that.

  4. better safe than sorry

    ooooooooooo, pop rocks, they’re hot!!!
    i’ve never heard of that guy, i haven’t watched that show for at least ten years and i have no idea who nicole ritchie dated. i’m usually far behind in the celebrity headlines, but i like to be up-to-date on you:)

  5. Spinning Girl

    Fame …
    I want to live forever.
    I want to learn how to fly!

    John Stossel and his condescending head-shaking. I cry for man!

    Also, I doubt Jonas Salk ever rocked out on a lollipop the way Paris can. And that’s saying something.

  6. V-Grrrl

    Um, so your point is, like, what? Cause I’m missin the story here, Neil.

    Did Jonas Salk and the General Foods chemist have a closeted gay thing going on? Is that why the candy was called Pop Rocks? Did they like, do it in the LAB? Did the candy make it better? Enquiring minds want to know.

  7. Becky

    I think wanting to be famous also has something to do with wanting “stuff.”

    Having been convinced that we exist to consume products, “obviously” the most successful people at that are celebrities, rather than people like Salk.

    Which only means our middle-schoolers are not really aware of the buying power of the average Senator’s salary…or their inheritance.

    But middle-schoolers clearly seem to understand that working hard to earn advanced degrees and then slaving away to maybe find a solution to a problem that aflicts all humanity is not going to get you a seven or eight-figure salary and a yaht on which to party with your synocophantic peeps.

  8. deannie

    Don’t tell your penis this but it is a well established fact that if you want to become known as an “expert” on any topic, writing something and having it published is the way to go.

    And THANK YOU! I have always felt the same way about John Stossel’s reporting style. I think John Stossel is reason #12 why I turned off cable TV when my daughter was born.

    Truly however, TV serves up mindless pap in the form of the ongoing, constant screaming found in the marketing & commercialism. There is good content to be found but the commercials you are constantly punched with is truly mind numbing.

  9. kapgar

    I think the spirit of Jonas Salk (he is dead, right?) is conspiring to re-release a super strain of polio just on you for Photoshopping disease-heiress Hilton on a Time cover with him. For shame!

  10. margaret

    addiction is SUCH an ugly word

  11. Lou P.

    From the famous and semi-famous people I’ve known, I’ve heard that fame is a double-edged sword. It can open doors and create opportunities for you, but by the same token it’s something that they wish they could turn off at times, i.e. going to the grocery store, going out to dinner with their family, etc.

  12. Dagny

    Pop rocks are much more important than curing polio.

    And 20/20? Nah. “Numb3rs” comes on at that time. And in a couple of weeks there will also be new episodes of “Psych” in the same timeslot. Seems like a no-brainer which are the superior viewing.

  13. Dave G

    I think you did a deeper analysis of the situation in the last four paragraphs of this blog entry than Stossel did in his entire report.

  14. Megan

    What you have to do, Neil, is stop watching the “news” or anything that tries to pass as the news. If it’s important, you’ll find out about it. Or they’ll make a Lifetime TV movie about it.

    Me? I’m still waiting for my 15 minutes of fame. Maybe I need to stop wearing underwear.

  15. The Cynical Girl

    The most offensive part of John Stossel’s reporting is his mustache.

  16. fringes

    The bigger question here is: why the hell were you watching 20/20? Do you not have cable or more than five channels? Was your TiVo’d transsexual lesbian on AMC not having a good hair day?

  17. Bre

    The next time my mother casually mentions that she was married at my age, I will tell her that Pop Culture has done this to me!

  18. bookfraud

    neil, you’ve hit upon it. the entertainment-industrial complex. people who are famous for being famous is nothing new, but now we have the entertainment-industrial complex to cross-promote everything!

    also, do you think we all blog in order to capture our share fair share of fame? perhaps we should become notorious mass murderers — that will make us famous in a hurry!

  19. deezee

    Applause! Applause! I love how the media ‘reports’ on the problems it creates without turning the glance back on self. How conveniently self-serving.

    (Reword reference to John Stossel’s balls and maybe to men and their penises and submit as op-ed, please…)

  20. Cover Your Mouth

    The hope of curing polio and the hope of making instant soda from a tablet – totally makes sense to mention these things in the same sentence.

  21. M.A.

    Instead of watching 20/20, come celebrate my 500th blogpost with me, Neil. *hint. hint*

  22. tiff

    Funny how theses issues come up when the mother company publishes some book that needs a little publicity.

    And not the good kind of funny.

  23. Churlita

    No. we don’t blog because we want fame, we blog because we’re modern and lonely.

  24. Sweet

    When I worked in the mag biz in NY, I was asked by a channel to give commentary on Angelina Jolie. I’ve never even met her! Luckily I didn’t have to do it. Nuts. All of these ‘experts’ crack me up.

  25. steppingoverthejunk

    having grown up in Los Angeles and having gone to highschool with ANTHONY SABADO JR (google him and you will see) I know about stuff so I will just say this…everyone is looking somewhere else to excuse them of responsibility. There you go. Sure, everything plays a part on where we get our ideas and play out our actions, but really, we are the ones responsible for ourselves and if we can think for ourselves and just CHILL once in a while, we won’t be seeing Britney’s puss-kit all over the place and if we did, WHO CARES? (okay, I ranted)

  26. Neil

    Holy crap, Stepping… don’t tell me you once made out behind the bleachers with ANTHONY SABADO JR.?!

  27. ElizaF

    I guess all the fault lies with parents who allow their kids to associate with brands and familiarity like Disney, pixar, dreamworks and all their well-marketed characters. That need for association continues on into audulthood and the need to “relate to” and read about known faces. (I refuse to call them celebraties as infamous people is a better description)

  28. steppingoverthejunk

    neil, check my blog for the most recent post about one of the hottest guys around

  29. n

    i love you for this post.

    the most entertaining stuff that I watch on TV is usually media commenting about other media (more intelligently that the show you are talking about). one of them (in australia) is and there was Chasers episodes on Today Tonight experts.

    What crap is shoved down our throat when we decide to let in mass media!!

  30. n

    continued from above
    the show is – media watch. and this is the link –

    somehow the html tag did not work

  31. Jules

    Isn’t blogging and asking for comments another way to seek approval from people – become famous in the blogosphere? Perhaps we all suffer from the addiction on differing levels.

  32. Neil

    That’s my goal here. To become the “Paris Hilton” of the blogosphere (with a wee dash of Jonas Salk).

  33. teahouseblossom

    Ugh, I’ve had it with the mainstream media. And John Stossel has become the darling of the far right..

    There will always be good journalists. Come join me in the Center for Public Integrity!! And read “Foul Ball” by Jim Bouton.

  34. Spinning Girl


    Just thought I’d milk that one for a few more minutes.

  35. Caron

    Great minds discuss ideas.
    Average minds discuss events.
    Small minds discuss people.

    -Eleanor Roosevelt

    I always aim to use my great mind, but sometimes I’m just small.

  36. mckay

    caron, that’s one of my favorite quotes.

    i’ve been around lots of famous people and i would never want to be famous. rich, talented and unknown – that sounds great to me.

    neil, this is another reason why i don’t watch tv news or news shows.

    fab post!

  37. Leezer

    THANK.YOU. STEPPING. Oh, and BTW, did you see Anthony Sabato Jr. naked, by chance?

  38. Danny

    I saw John Stossel speak once at a social studies conference and he gave me the willies. Did you know he thinks global warming is a sham instigated by liberal fearmongers? And that organic food is no better for you (sometimes worse!) than food that is grown using pesticides? And that the public schools should be replaced with a voucher system?

    Were there any Paris Hiltons in our youth, famous without the slightest bit of talent? I’m sure there were and I guess I should be relieved that they’re now completely forgotten. As a human being, I wish Paris Hilton a happy, fulfilled life. As a “role model” for young girls, I wish her immediate extradition to Neptune. I’m sorry to admit that I watched that YouTube video last May of rich boy Brandon Davis trashing Lindsay Lohan in the most disgusting, imbecilic ways (“she smells like diarrhea, she has a fire crotch, she’s only worth about seven million which means she’s really poor”) with his then-girlfriend Paris Hilton laughing uproariously at every dig. In another time and place these people would be publicly stoned in a coliseum.

  39. Think Frustrated

    Isn’t that why we all started blogs in the first place? To be famous? No. Me neither.

    Also, at first glance, that lolipop in Paris’ hand looks more like a dildo. There, I said it. Dildo.

  40. Dating Dummy

    Salk should have had a faux hawk.

    A very well-thought out post Neil. Indeed it does make you wonder…

  41. mckay

    danny, i was wondering if all the ‘fire-cr****’ comments directed towards a person are grounds for sexual harassment. sure sounds like harassment to me.

  42. maribeth

    This was a good post. However, Jonas Salk is dead. So is polio, for the most part. Not exactly newsworthy today. There must be a better example of a living scientist/technologist to compare to Ms. Hilton.

    Steve Wozniak gets 915 pages.

    Dean Kamen gets 415 pages, while Jane Goodall gets 180 pages. Perhaps their numbers are lower than Paris’s because they do fewer stupid things.

  43. Neil

    I knew who Dean Kamen was. Really. (thank god for the Internet!)

  44. Jessica

    Yes, we are addicted to fame, but how else would we find out what to wear if we didn’t seek Ashley Olsen’s strong influence; she knows what she’s doing, especially when it comes to shoes!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial