One of my 2018 goals is this:
Select three behaviors that I am opposed to and adopt them for one week, then write about my experiences on the blog.
During the month of October, at the suggestion of a reader, I spent at least 15 minutes every morning reading the TMZ website in an attempt to immerse myself in the celebrity culture that I have always shunned and despised.
It did not take long for me to realize that it was going to be a long month.
My initial thought was that investing in celebrity culture might be similar to following the lives of athletes. I spend time almost every day reading about my favorite sports teams and their opponents, learning about who is hurt, what the coaches are thinking, and what the athletes had to say about their performance.
I thought this might be similar. If I’m invested in the lives of athletes who I have never met, I can probably become invested in the lives of celebrities who I’d never met, too.
Turns out I was wrong, for a few reasons:
First, I had no rooting interest in these celebrities. Was I supposed to be excited that a YouTube sensation was dating a super model? Was I expected to be interested in the feud between these two actresses? Should I care that a reality TV star is getting married to a punk rocker?
If so, I can’t imagine why.
I understand the insanity of rooting for a football team comprised of men who I don’t know and have never met. I understand how silly it is to cry while watching strangers win a championship. But I grew up watching the Patriots with my grandfather and the Celtics with my mother. I learned to love these teams because they represented the place where I lived and the people who I loved.
When it comes to sports, there is an emotional connection rooted in tradition, geography, and winner-take-all competition. I watch these men battle. I bear witness to their struggle. I can’t help but admire them. Love them.
In this way, sports, at least for me, are different.
I also love Bruce Springsteen, at least as much as any member of the Patriots, but I would never weep while watching Springsteen win a Grammy because Springsteen doesn’t represent me, and his struggle to win a Grammy did not happen so explicitly and directly before my eyes. His goal was not to defeat his fellow musicians in a battle for Grammy supremacy. He was not standing against an enemy combatant. He wasn’t engaged in a real-life version of Guitar Hero.
He just wants to make great music and sell lots of records and tickets.
I love these athletes because they represent me, and they constantly thank me for their support. I watch them toil through hardship in order to win. I cheer them on when I’m in the arena and the stadium, and sometimes that cheering actually impacts the results of the game.
The noise that we make can change the way the opponent plays. That is incredible.
These have earned my allegiance. My devotion. I feel like I’m a member of the team. In football, I’m referred to as the “twelfth man.” Eleven players on field plus me.
I have no allegiance to Justin Bieber. I never will.
Second, watching sports gives me the opportunity to watch excellence in action, similar to going to a museum to see great paintings or going to a concert to listen to a world-class performer.
I thought that following celebrity culture might offer a similar opportunity, but a website like TMZ and pop culture in general does not celebrate excellence. It does not highlight the beauty of Beyonce’s voice or the acting chops of some new teen heartthrob. It’s all about the drama. You need not be the best in your business to garner the most attention. You simply need to create the most fuss. Experience the most trouble. Create the biggest problems.
I found this exceptionally annoying. Pop culture reporting is drawn to the negative story. The breakup. The divorce. The fight. The spurned lover. It leans heavily to the negative and exploits human beings when they are at their most vulnerable.
I also can’t help but think that pop culture, at least as it’s represented on TMZ, is stupid. Mindless and uninspiring.
On the morning I write this, the headlines on TMZ are:
Safaree Asked Erica Mena’s Mom and Son For Permission To Marry Her, Before Proposing
Forest Whitaker Files Docs For Divorce From Wife Keisha Nash Whitaker
‘Goodfellas’ Actor Frank Adonis Dead at 83
DMX Getting Out of Prison in One Month, He’s Got Family and Movie Offers on the Brain
Christie Brinkley and Sailor Brinkley Cook Looking Hot During Tropical Christmas Trip
CHRIS BROWN SPANKS MONKEY ALLEGATIONS… She’s Not My Pet!
Chris Brown & Nia Guzman on Verge of Hammering Out New Child Support Deal
Dig a little deeper and there is a story about pay inequity between an actor and an actress, which is poorly written but interesting. Dig a little more and you’ll find a piece written by a retired NFL player about the nature of safety in football today. I’ve read articles like this before, but it’s at least an important and real issue.
But these are not the top stories, nor do they represent the typical pop culture story gaining the most traction today.
Dumb stories gain attention. Terrible behavior garners the headlines.
Lastly, I discovered that my knowledge of celebrity culture actually made their work slightly less appealing to me. I don’t want to know that the man singing the song I love is going through a custody battle. I don’t want know that the actor in the movie I’m watching has cheated on her husband with another actor. I never need to know who is pregnant and who has broken the law.
The last thing I want is the real life nonsense and drama to be filtering into my mind while enjoying the music, television, and film that these people create.
I has happy when the month was over and I could delete the TMZ website from the top bar of favorite websites (and my life). It was a fascinating journey into a world previously unexplored and also a terrifying realization that a significant portion of Americans care who Jennifer Aniston is dating or if Cardi B will take back Offset.
This is entertaining and important to people, and I’m not happy about it.