Astronomical, or, what are you lookin’ at?

Star-gazing has developed a new meaning in modern America. It’s about celebrity, not the firmament.

"Siegfried and Roy Mirage tiger 1990-05" by Henning Schlottmann (User:H-stt) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - 1990
“Siegfried and Roy Mirage tiger 1990-05” by Henning Schlottmann (User:H-stt) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 1990: Don’t mess with the tiger.

Even celebrity has been diminished these days. It can pertain to those who flaunt their lives in “reality” television spectacles, or to those who have attained some other kind of notoriety.  Celebrity does not require talent as I think it once did.

Whether we attribute the expression “famous for being famous”  to Malcolm Muggeridge or to Daniel Boorstein, the fact that it takes very little to acquire fame is a real “syndrome.” It is symptomatic of a culture engrossed by images of ersatz housewives fighting while dining out.

Aren’t these disputes staged for dramatic effect? “Unscripted” television is an outlet for voyeurism. It is often dismissed as simply our guilty pleasure, but it is in many ways disturbing.

This kind of fame for fame’s sake started innocently enough, I believe, with talent competitions, and man in the street interviews. People like being on camera. They can’t get enough of seeing themselves in the public eye. When exhibitionism meets voyeurism, we get treated to exhibitions of silly or ridiculous behavior which stand in for entertainment. Desiring the limelight is natural to the American character; we are expected to
blow our own horn.

The worst that can be said of it, however, is that it encourages its “stars” into thinking they are more important than in reality they ever will be. It makes them want to turn their “15 minutes of fame” into many hours in the public spotlight.

The contests in which participants are forced to compete on remote islands are galling. The ones where they need to form alliances, and explain their “strategy” to the camera are worse. Opportunities to find a love match with a stranger are close to pathetic. Group living in which everyone shares chores and expresses themselves are generally painful to watch. Blame it all on public television and the Loud Family.





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