Our final in-class essay was probably the most stressful for me because of the short time frame. We needed to choose between two topics: the obsession with media and its role in our lives vs. US V. Jones --a case that went to the Supreme Court on whether the FBI should be allowed to track suspected fugitives, or whether it is a violation of privacy.
However, after writing a research paper that was heavy on law, I opted to take a different route and write my essay about the role of media in our lives.
We were given two sources for each topic, which we needed to actively read, and write notes on. I am a very systematic person and although my methods might be time consuming, I prefer to prepare what I write and spend a lot of time making sure it is just how I want it. With the in-class essay, we needed to display our ability to read, analyze and write an argumentative essay that made sense, in a short time. I was anxious the entire time I wrote it, to the point where I thought I might not be able to complete it! But I did. Here it is:
(image courtesy of Photobucket)
12 December 2011
Obsession with celebrity has become a hallmark of American culture. In Neal Gabler’s essay, “Our Celebrities, Ourselves” he claims that it is our interest in both the entertaining open narrative of celebrity life as well as our identification with their struggles and triumphs, that form the foundation of our obsession. Famous people such as Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Kardashian have had successful reality TV shows that allow the public to peek behind the façade of their public persona, and into their private lives. What we discover behind the veil is that they are in fact, human, too. The reason us ordinary people spend our free time following the private lives of celebrities is, Neal Gabler suggests, “because in their celebrity we find ourselves.” So, although the rich and famous have a god-like stature in American culture, they are really just trying to figure out who they are like the rest of us. Although I understand and agree with some of Gabler’s perspective on American obsession with celebrity, I feel it is overly simplistic. While it is true that it is our emotional connection and relation to celebrity narratives which compels us to pay attention, the reason we care at all is actually a symptom of our disconnection from genuine human emotional attachment in the midst of an electronic age.
The fact that we become so emotionally invested in the outcome of personal melodramas played out by celebrities on reality TV illustrates the imbalanced perspective of American culture today. For instance, next time you are in average company at a social venue, try starting a dialogue about an article in the NY Times versus Kim Kardashian’s, and undoubtedly you will have more response regarding Kardashian. Gabler feels that it is because of our emotional connection to their narrative that celebrity stories have come to be more popular than traditional narratives, such as fictional narratives wherein we must suspend disbelief to buy the story (Gabler). He also claims that we have a desire to dismantle celebrity in order to bring them down to earth with us –hence, the interest in seeing things take a turn for the worse; we are also entertained by their ups and downs, and watching them provides an escape from the mundaneness of our own lives (Gabler). While this is all true, it’s nothing new. Celebrity has always had a powerful place in American culture, just think of Elvis and the Beatles. The difference is how prevalent and pervasive our fascination with celebrity has become in the last couple of decades. Celebrity obsession has become a full-blown phenomenon since the advent of the technological age, because celebrity privacy has changed with it, and we are simultaneously losing connection with our actual reality as we become more embedded in virtual reality.
In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian book, “Fahrenheit 451” he paints the picture of a society bearing strong similarities to our modern-day American culture, people have less interest in reading literature and a familial attachment to virtual families via television. Famous people have become like family and friends to many Americans, we are interested and invested in their triumphs and tribulations in a way that would seem natural to people we actually know and care about. Simultaneously, our actual communication with loved ones has become relegated to e-mails and text messages as we are busier and busier with less time for authentic human connection. So, it is no wonder that being so starved for these essential connections to other human beings in our actual lives, that we seek out extreme dramatizations of these connections via celebrity lives. Another consequence of this trend is the lack of attention many Americans, especially young Americans, are giving to thinking critically about real-life events, the kind of character building reflections and experiences that help to develop a caring and responsible individual who wants to be a part of the world around them. We desire to escape into virtual realities with our imaginary celebrity friends, where we aren’t troubled by anything that may be painful to realize, or require personal effort to amend.
The sad fact is that we buy the seemingly authentic narrative fed to us by celebrity lives because it makes us feel something that we think is real, it fills a hole in the personal lives of people who are slipping deeper and deeper into a virtual bubble of reality. What’s worse is that the reality of celebrity personal lives is just as false as any other fictional narrative, as Eric Felten asserts: “In these plastic times of ours, even the fakes are phony” (Felten, “Kim Kardashian Fails the P.T. Barnum Test”). Celebrity obsession is the symptom of a broad emotional disconnection, which has been exaggerated by our descent into an insulated and detached era of technological reliance.
Gabler, Neal. "Our Celebrities, Ourselves." Chronicle Of Higher Education 49.27 (2003): B7. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Nov. 2011.
Felten, Eric. "Kim Kardashian Fails the P.T. Barnum Test." Post Modern Times. (2011): n. page. Print.
Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own, 1988; Winchell, 1994) addresses a favorite subject of the punditocracy—the leaching of entertainment values into every aspect of modern culture—refreshingly, without moralizing. While he admires such forerunners as Richard Schickel (Intimate Strangers, 1985) and Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985), Gabler shares neither their nostalgia for a mythic past, in which everyone accepted a secure hierarchy of cultural values, nor their slightly hysterical vision of a rapidly approaching future, in which no one will be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. On the contrary, as Gabler’s sharp, class-conscious analysis of American history persuasively argues, conflict has always occurred between high art and low entertainment: —Sensationalist trash was not a default culture for the intellectually impaired but rather . . . a willful attempt to raze the elitists— high culture and destroy their authority.— This attempt gained strength at the end of the 19th century, when yellow journalism blurred the boundaries between news and sensationalism, and the —Republic of Entertainment— reached its apotheosis with the arrival of movies and then television. Few would argue with Gabler’s broad contention that —everything in the public sphere was now to be measured by entertainment,— as demonstrated in his amusingly acid survey of everything from television news to book publishing to celebrities (and politicians) whose lives are as much a subject for public consumption as their work. His claim that entertainment has become the primary force in ordinary people’s lives rests on shakier ground, though selected examples, like bankrupt small farmers creating agrarian theme parks—and the theatricality of contemporary shopping malls—have considerable bite. One can only applaud Gabler’s understanding that entertainment may empower as well as anesthetize the masses, though the book’s final pages suffer from his adamant refusal to decide which trend is dominant. At times infuriatingly inconclusive, but Gabler is probably right that —there [are] no simple answers, only vitally important issues.—