Hype and overexposure. These are the hallmarks of our culture these days. We've just been through a blizzard of hype about a snowstorm in midwinter Ontario that went in one day from snowpocalypse and (shudder, on Facebook) "snowlocaust" to winter as usual.
As for overexposure, the current celebrity culprits' names appear online and in print like annoying floaters before our eyes - Justin Bieber, Charlie Sheen, Oprah, Will and Kate (okay, I will have a soft spot for them until after their April wedding), even Don Cherry.
Then there is Sarah Palin. More than 22 million results spring up when you Google her name. Last month, in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, in which Ms. Palin and her overamped political rhetoric surfaced as a controversial issue, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank confessed he had a "Sarah Palin problem," an addiction that, he wrote, "cheapens and demeans me," because he mentioned her countless times in his columns, blogs and tweets even when she didn't do anything newsworthy. So he called for a "Palin-free February," urging colleagues to join him in a moratorium on writing about her.
Now, predictably, Mr. Milbank is more high profile than he's ever been, as thousands check in to see if he's keeping his promise and conservative commentators accuse him of bias.
I congratulate him for going beyond the Palin, but obviously I have decided not to join him because here I am, mentioning her name. (I did vow never to write again about certain of her family members and I have kept my word.)
But as many journalists point out, part of the overexposure problem is that it is a vicious circle - in this click-if-you're-curious online culture, writing about any of the aforementioned automatically gets you eyeballs as people flock to read yet another story or opinion piece. Which fuels yet another round of exposure.
Even though some of these figures are legitimately newsworthy and at times evoke larger themes, we are often being lazy when we default to them. But our audience is lazy, too, relentlessly clicking and commenting on the same names, the same overheated stories. I'm guilty of it myself - or how would I even know that Charlie Sheen has "issues," let alone a porn star locked in his bathroom?
Meanwhile, in real life - family dinners, social outings, get-togethers over coffee - few of these names are ever mentioned as people concentrate on subjects that are personally important to them: matters of health, love, work and money. Or sports. Or, yes, popular culture, but with the focus not on the tawdry doings of celebrity figures but on how we connect with certain books, plays and movies.
When a truly important event unfolds - last year's earthquake in Haiti, this week's revolutionary upheaval in Cairo - these overexposed names retreat for a while because they are rightfully seen to be irrelevant in the world's eyes. But soon, up they pop again as some critic wonders online what on earth Two and a Half Men is going to do with you know who back in rehab.
February - Oscar month - isn't exactly the best time to wish celebrity culture would go away, but I can do my bit can't I? I will give up Oprah Winfrey. She was the first guest to be interviewed last month by Piers Morgan, CNN's replacement for Larry King, and the interview was nauseating, as Mr. Morgan, who is actually a likeable and intelligent interviewer, shamelessly sucked up ("can I touch you?") and Oprah played him like a Stradivarius. I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed that Oprah's subsequent announcement of the discovery she has a half-sister neatly coincided with her need for ratings as she premieres her own network. So, starting now, here's to an Oprah-free month for me.
I guess I could also forgo Charlie Sheen, but all bets are off if he actually dies from his excessive habits, because then, believe me, instead of being just a prurient pastime for many people who never fail to follow the links to another report of his disastrous play dates, he will be a cautionary tale for weeks on end.
Don Cherry? No problem, I'm done with him anyway.
It's worthwhile to note that in 2007, the Forbes lists of overexposed celebrities included Paris Hilton, Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell, who would now probably have to announce they have had a threesome to get back to their all-time publicity high.
That of course is the good news about our frequently lazy, unimaginative, overexposed, blizzard o' hype media culture: Your time can be up before you know it.
In other words, sic transit gloria. Or at least Gwyneth.
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