I'm Just Saying…

March 13, 2011

Death of a Culture Vulture

Culture vulture (cul·ture vul·ture): n. a person who is very interested in and enthusiastic about the arts; a person who attends cultural events.

            It’s hard to pinpoint where it all starts to go wrong. One minute you’re a literature reading, classical music loving, well-read, well-rounded individual. The next minute you’re sitting zombie-like, eyes glued to the E! television network, watching an all day marathon of “Keeping up with the Kardashian’s” and “Khloe and Kim take New York.” Oh wait, that’s me I’m talking about. But I’m going too fast. In order for you to understand this, we have to go back a little.

            It’s no secret that today’s social media is akin to “The Six Million Dollar Man,” or more like “The Twelve Million Dollar Man” (adjusted for inflation). It’s better, stronger, faster. You not only know where everyone is and what they’re doing, you know in real time, at the very second it’s tweeted. You can keep up, not only with the Kardashians, but all celebrities. This includes regular people who are well known because they appear on television, whether we want them to or not.

            It starts with a tease, you know, that first taste. That’s how all addictions begin. You think: I can handle this. After all, it’s just E’s “Live From The Red Carpet” before the Oscars, “The Fashion Police” post show, a little dose of “Access Hollywood.” It’s not like I don’t have my own life, right? I can stop any time I want. Sure, that’s what they want you to think.

            For a writer the rationalizations are even more gratuitous. “It’s my job to observe life in all its forms.” Except reality television isn’t real life. It’s scripted non-reality. People filming themselves as they fight, make up, have intimate conversations with their significant other, get plastic surgery, go to the gynecologist. Still watching? Me too. Like a train wreck, I can’t look away.

            The age-old argument continues to rage: with all this hysteria, media circus, and contrived drama, is the media systematically dumbing down America? Is there truly nothing else to concern ourselves with besides Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen? And why are we obsessed with celebrity to the point where ordinary people with no visible means of talent can make a career of being in the public eye? Is there nothing to read, discuss, or otherwise become engaged in, rather than remain a voyeur?

            Some will say, “Don’t be a party pooper Jill, we’re tired of worrying about the economy, the job losses, and the housing market. We want to relax, we want to unwind, we want to not think.” Point taken. However, one last surviving neuron in my cerebral cortex still twitches, wondering, if we as a collective society have gone on an extended brain drain, isn’t that bad? If Rome burned while Nero was playing his fiddle, don’t you wonder if our  preoccupation with “Dancing with the Stars,” “Jersey Shore,” “The Bachelor,”  Heidi, Speidi, and Snookie is the proverbial match? You know when the shit usually hits the fan? When no one is looking.

            And so I degenerated from a reasonably intelligent, inquisitive individual, into a mindless, vapid, empty shell of my former self.

Phase I: Chronic channel flipping during the 7 p.m. hour is clustered around channels 2, 4, and 51; namely, “The Insider,” “Extra,” and “E! News.” If I miss anything, I discreetly tune in to “Chelsea Lately” for a late night recap.

Phase II: References to various celebrities creep into my daily conversation. Flip phrases such as “Charlie’s kids were removed from his house,” “Lindsay has turned down the plea deal,” etc., are thrown around as if I know these people, which, I don’t. I haven’t read a book in weeks.

Phase III: Marital difficulties and infidelities can now be catalogued and referenced  by celebrity. If you have an affair while your wife is pregnant you’re pulling a David Boreanaz. Having multiple affairs just because you can is pulling a Tiger Woods. Having an affair with a stripper and ruining your wife’s shining career moment is pulling a Jesse James. I’ve lost interest in hobbies. I unwind before bed by cruising internet entertainment sites. People, Us Weekly, and Entertainment Weekly are all bookmarked in my internet favorites. 

Phase IV:  I can’t sleep at night. I’m having a crisis of identify. Who am I, if I can’t decide if I’m on team Aniston or Jolie-Pitt? I’m worried about Jen. Is she going to adopt a baby? Will she ever find love again? I need help. Must find a 12-step celebrity de-tox program.

Phase V: I have hit bottom. I plan my conversations around celebrity tidbits.  I don’t listen. I wait to talk, concerned that I mention the juicy morsel first, as if I know something that no one else has heard. I have my moment of clarity: I am a gossip whore.  I spend time talking about other people. I feel like shit.

            I have to make a decision.  Become a card carrying yenta, change my career path to entertainment reporting (my version of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em), or sign up for a monastic retreat and get out of town. I do none of the above. I quit. Cold turkey. The first two days of withdrawal are terror filled agony. I hold the remote in my hand lovingly, stroking the buttons. It’s been two days of no news. Two days without a report from Mario Lopez or Billy Bush. I am sure I am running a fever.  I find myself thinking: what will I talk about? Oh, the shame.

            I soldier on. I turn off the television. I stay off the internet. I go to the library. I soak my brain in Austen, Chandler, and Tolstoy. Ironically, I also read works by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, two gentlemen who knew more than a thing or two about alternate realities. I think, in a way, that’s what we have now, an alternate reality. Nothing is private anymore. Intimacy is for sale, for publicity. I think of  Madonna’s movie Truth or Dare back in 1991 and the moment she didn’t want to talk to her doctor off camera.  It was Warren Beatty who observed, “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” That was 20 years ago.

            I focus on keeping up with current events now, what’s happening in the world nationally and internationally. There is a whole world out there beyond the “Jersey Shore.” I’m focusing on my writing. My many hobbies keep me busy. Still, the entertainment page of The Huffington Post gently sings its siren song to me. Do I ever peek? Yes I do. But I only read the headlines. That’s progress, isn’t it?


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