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Star power
Feb 23, 2007

“Young people attribute celebrity as being a contribution to society. They’re so seduced by celebrity that many don’t understand there’s a difference between celebrity and greatness.”

No, the above wasn’t the musing of deceased media guru Marshall McLuhan, though the statements do present insight into the working of today’s society. 

Actually, the words above were 

spoken by co-worker Jill McKenzie, a mother of two. She wonders what today’s youth are learning as they spend more and more time exposed to a society that has drifted away from the “real” world and into the reality-warping realm of celebrities such as Britney Spears and Anna Nichole Smith.

It’s not a concern that advocates a 

return to the 1950s and the comparison of Elvis Presley’s swiveling hips to the Devil’s dancing or the mass burning of records in the 1960s because the Beatles said they were more popular than Jesus Christ. 

Pop culture itself is not bad for youth. It never has been.

Each generation has had its own entertainment icons who cause teenage girls to swoon or young boys to briefly believe they possess the powers of Spider-Man. 

It’s not even the pervasiveness of American Idol or other so-called reality television shows on the airwaves. As long as these shows are perceived for what they are — mindless entertainment of the moment — there’s no harm, no foul. 

And, it’s not because Cola-Cola pop drinks and McDonald’s hamburgers have infiltrated every corner of the globe. American consumerism is dominating the world, but even this cannot be seen as the work of Satan.

“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village,” said McLuhan in 1962. But, what he could not anticipate is that this global village would, in effect, become the haven of celebrity to the exclusion of anything else of real importance.

What is of concern is the lack of depth that now prevails in the news media.

The concern is that the media has  been dumbed down to cater to pop culture rather than report “hard” news. 

Entertainers no longer just provide entertainment, they have become mainstream “news.” Star power has transcended the entertainment magazines, television and talk shows to become a discipline of “serious” reporting. 

The news hour is now geared toward titillation rather than information.

Today, Spears’ decision to shave her head is given 24-hour news coverage and extensive commentary by so-called experts on CNN. It’s as is if a wealthy, troubled entertainer is more important than the conflict in the Middle East, the tragedy in Darfur or global warming. 

Notwithstanding sympathy, what 

is the significance of former stripper Smith’s death by an apparent drug overdose when compared to American soldiers dying in combat each day in Iraq?

How did celebrity become confused with greatness? Or for notoriety to merit the same treatment as greatness?

The death of Smith does not in any way have the same impact upon the world as, for example, the assassination of Gandhi or John F. Kennedy. What had Smith done to change the world? Had she led a nation to independence like Gandhi did for India through non-violent protest? Had she presided over he Cuban Missile Crisis like President Kennedy that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust?

We have lost all sense of perspective. A woman with no other claim to fame other than looks and having married an elderly, ill billionaire has trumped starving refugees in the Sudan. The only refugee status Smith could claim was her desire to escape to the tax haven of the Bahamas. 

We are being strangled and transformed by a steady diet of the unimportant. Stupid pet tricks are now a feature of mainstream newscasts, with the battery of news “readers” saying in unison to the TV cameras after each segment, “Ahhh, isn’t that cute.” 

Spear’s newly-bald head is captured in close-up and then beamed for public viewing in all its splendor during the six o’clock news as the top item.

How can we ever hope to understand a world on the verge of disaster when we are inundated with the trivial. Where is the historical context to the conflict 

between Palestinians and Israelis. 

The lack of context poses more of a threat to the peace and security of the world than Janet Jackson being exposed during a Super Bowl game. This episode warranted only a few seconds of airtime and a few laughs, but instead became the dominant story of the evening news 

following the game. 

Actually, what game? 

The Super Bowl itself has fallen prey to the hype of  stardom — commercials  and the rock singers at halftime have become the primary reason for watching the telecast. This year’s game on the field received scant attention compared to the fact that Prince was singing at halftime and Billy Joel was singing the national anthem. Joel was amazed by all the media questions directed his way in the week leading up to the “big show,” wondering whether or not a football game had even been scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday. 

There are probably more websites devoted to who has sung the Star Spangled Banner or provided the entertainment during halftime than past Super Bowl winners. 

At least sport stars and sporting events still operate under the assumption that they are providing only “entertainment.” The only time they receive extensive news hour coverage is during a regularly scheduled sports segment and when the Grey Cup or Super Bowl comes to town. Still, this coverage pales when compared to Spears’ shaved head or Smith’s alleged drug overdose.

We should be concerned that the boundaries between celebrity and greatness are now being blurred in the minds of our youth. There should be real concern expressed that mass ignorance is on the verge of overtaking North America.