Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Cult of Celebrity

Our society seems remarkably fixated on the overnight celebrity, the person who does something extraordinary or finds themselves in an extraordinary situation (see: Sullenberger, Charles). At times these individuals are more than happy to be recognized for their achievement and then slip quietly back into the woodwork; other times these individuals ride their 15 minutes of fame far beyond their expiration date (see: Kaelin, Kato).

Then there are those simply desperate for notoriety, those for whom reality shows were created. Many of these individuals will stop at nothing to be famous and certainly do not worry about portraying themselves in a less-than-flattering light (see: Upton, Caitlin) or doing something they might not otherwise do were it not for the attraction of the spotlight.

And then there are those who find fame because they do something objectionable or controversial. For some reason, our society likes to welcome those people with open arms. We love to give them a bully pulpit, and the media in particular likes to jump on those bandwagons until the next big thing arrives. It doesn't matter if their accusations are outrageous (see: Prejean, Carrie) or if their behavior is reprehensible (see: Hilton, Perez); if there's a talk show or news program, you'll be sure to see their faces for a while.

Which brings us to our latest pseudo-celebrities, Michaele and Tareq Salahi. This telegenic couple decided to crash a White House state dinner (apparently the second political dinner they attended uninvited), posted pictures of their adventure on their Facebook page, shopped around an interview to the highest bidder and now they claim to be "shocked" about the attention. They didn't crash the party, they say.

But were they invited? Excellent question. They can't produce an invitation, of course, but they didn't crash. And yet this most implausible of excuses has given them more media mileage than if they appeared with a smiling baby or singing kitty on YouTube. Congressmen want to have hearings into the security breach. Talk shows are clamoring to talk with the Salahis. At any minute, I expect Rush Limbaugh or Karl Rove to blame President Obama's administration for this blunder.

And in the end, what are we left with? Two people who didn't do much of anything being treated as if they did, riding the fame train until it stops, perhaps at an episode of Celebrity Rehab?

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