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The Tabloid Carnival: Celebrities As Entertainment

One of the more troubling aspects of the Tiger Woods scandal is what a political consultant famously referred to as “bimbo eruptions.” That devastating (and devastatingly accurate) description of then-president  Bill Clinton’s extramarital history, and his PR problems, feels pretty familiar right now. Especially as more women come out of the woodwork to grab their tawdry piece of the action.    

Which is why, when I heard that the New York Post‘s newest advice columnist is Ashley Dupre, it seemed like a sign of the apocalypse. The call girl implicated in the 2008 Eliot Spitzer scandal is now a member of the press. As a struggling freelance reporter posted in her Twitter update this morning, “I’ve been going about this writer thing all wrong.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t know where to start. The desperation of the mainstream media to stay relevant and profitable. Our reality-show-obsessed, celebrity-saturated culture. The glorification of (for lack of a better term) bad behavior. Our anything-for-a-buck national mentality. The inane and growing list of people who are famous for…being famous. In short, the tabloid-ing of America.

Then I saw Neal Gabler’s excellent Newsweek piece about modern celebrity. Drawing on the work of Daniel Boorstin, he argues that the narrative, not the individual, is what is truly celebrated in today’s culture of fame. Which is why Joey Buttafuco or Tila Tequila might actually trump Queen Elizabeth. Gabler posits that celebrity has become our new art form, edging out the more traditional forms of entertainment like movies and novels. What’s more, celebrity-worship (or excoriation) might actually brings us together at a time when everything else (politics, values, and common experience) divides us.

After reading Gabler’s article, I now feel educated, whereas before I just felt dirty. See, to me, it still seems more about schadenfreude, a way of feeling better about ourselves. We can be morally superior to the cocktail waitress who sells her story, and at the same time, we wouldn’t want to be in Tiger’s shoes.

Yet, after reading Dupre’s debut column, I was mildly surprised. Her “advice” is pretty far from her Girls Gone Wild history. It’s solid, commonsense, and self-referential only where it needs to be. Coming from someone else it would be boring. But, as advice from somebody with her, um, narrative, it has more weight.

So, as our tabloid values take over not just the national consciousness, but the national media, “like cultural kudzu,” I’ve decided to give my indignation a rest and enjoy the entertainment factor. On his Twitter feed, actor James Urbiank offers, “Rachel Uchitel in talks to be new NY Post ombudsman.” That’s a joke. At least, I think it is.

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