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The politics of celebrity commentating

It’s always struck me as quite odd how the throat-clearing that goes on at the front of so many quasi-intellectual essays talking about recent celebrity drama/gossip/insane meltdowns inevitably takes the form of the author establishing with absolute clarity their own complete and utter disinterest in celebrities. Apparently the only way you can establish yourself as a compelling voice about this particular facet of pop culture is to claim that you yourself, unlike that huddled masses crowding around the tabloid displays in the checkout lines, are above even giving a shit about our nation’s economic and entertainment elite.

Why is this? I can only surmise that its a kind of ressentiment or at best a sort of tactical self-deception that the author knows they’re going to need to engage in in order to stomach talking about people much richer and famous than they. In order for me to sound both current and interesting, I have to feign complete disinterest in the matter I’m about to spend a whole bunch of time having a metadiscussion about. If I were to admit being interested in the banal topic I’m writing about, all fictive authority and supercool pop cultural street cred would melt away and I’d be just another talking head passing on celebrity gossip on EW.

Allow me to venture an unprovable, but I think quite probably true hypothesis about what’s actually going in most celebrity commentators. If anyone really and truly doesn’t care that much about Brad and Angelina’s most recent adoptions and affairs, I’ll wager its the talking head who is forced to sit across from them and act interested as they interview them. By contrast it is online magazine writer, whose book likely sits somewhere around #1,079,836 on Amazon, who actually does care, feverishly, about what’s going on in celebrity culture and how they can write about it in a way that establishes themselves as decidedly above the fray of the cultural trend of celebrity fascination. Indeed, I’d contend that there’s a good case to be made that it is denial of interest in celebrity culture that is the most developed and potent instance of celebrity fascination itself. People that really don’t care about celebrities don’t care enough to prattle on about it.


  1. Wilson wrote:

    While I think the posture you articulate has some truth, the example you link to does not fit the “online magazine writer” you characterize. Jacob Weisberg is the editor-in-chief of the Slate group and can write on anything he damn well pleases.

    Weisberg may want to send people to Amazon to find his book mocking Sarah Palin which is on remainder (and sits at #374,939) but he doesn’t have to because he is worried about how his book is selling or how he can get more freelance work. Weisberg has one of the plumiest jobs in journalism now: at the helm of a new media company that is profitable.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  2. Aric Clark wrote:

    I assume all protestation of this variety is just a cheap rhetorical trick like Paul or Marc Antony saying they are not very good at speaking, before delivering a great bit of oratory.

    Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  3. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    Since I have a somewhat long memory here’s the reason why I am not so sure Weisberg cares as little about celebrities as he says he does now:

    He may really not care most of the time but writing twice on the subject from two different angles in six years is still more than never touching on the subject at all. Halden may consider that ammunition for his point. Palinisms is another one. By now Palin would have to count as a celebrity rather than a policy-maker. :)

    But to say something about Weisberg’s “possible” perspective, “celebrity” in editor-speak could be construed as anyone who ends up getting mentioned in a publication for anything that would land in the range of Arts & Culture to Living sections. If you influence fiscal, foreign, or domestic policy somewhere or make business decisions you’re in the “hard news” category. If you just write books that people read for amusement rather than utility and produce consumer goods or experiences of any kind you’re “soft news” or “features” which tilts you heavily toward celebrity. I was a journalism student almost two decades ago so I can say I at least learned what mentality can be at play in deciding who is or isn’t a celebrity based on editorial focus. There’s a propensity for people in hard news to look down on soft news as a river of puff pieces. Soft news tends to see hard news as enslaved to the inverted pyramid format and beholden to whatever official sources spout whatever through press releases. Sorry to ramble but after lurking on a weekly basis I’ve found something I feel eager to comment about. :)

    Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Permalink
  4. Great post Halden, I am almost sure you are right about this. But, as a quasi-quasi/pseudo(poseur) intellectual myself, I find Weisburgs argument pretty interesting. He asks/answers: “The most obvious explanation is that humans enjoy living vicariously through those of our species who are richer, more famous, attractive, and sexually desirable than the rest of us. Whether couched in terms of envy, admiration, or derision, celebrity fascination begins as an exercise in imaging what it would be like to lead a more carefree and pleasurable life…the fantasy many of us harbor about taking leave of bourgeois convention. Flying off to the Bahamas on a private jet with beautiful porn stars, filling your briefcase with bricks of cocaine, telling the boss to go screw himself—this is behavior that bridges the gap between “how deplorable” and “if only I could.”” My question is: isn’t vicariousness elemental to Christianity (and humanity? is it flippant to say Christians live vicariously through Christ? or even that much of our theological musings resemble popparazzish fiddle faddle? And what about those animals that change colors, etc. and disguise themselves in order to survive being eaten or to eat others?). Derrida or Vattimo, one (in “Religion”) quoting Carnap, who referred to Leibniz who observed something like ‘in Hanover in the winter there are no cherries in nature, cherries nevertheless remained as referents of discourse in nature of the discourse itself‘ (112). In short, they are making a point about what they call ‘anaphoric discourse,‘ that they argue amts. to a ‘vicarious and compromised form of the referentialistic semantic paradigm of presence.‘ That is, you can’t even mention the word “God” without bringing in the entire theological kit-and-kaboodle from Avvakum (see my other post) to Zeus). That is, you can write about celebs, or write about the writing about celebs, or you can write critically about those that write about celebs, or you can write critically about those that write critically about writing about celebs, or you can write a blog reply to a blog post on those that write critically about writing critically about those that write about celebs, but i’ll be damned if you still ain’t writing about cherries in Hanover in the middle of winter!! And Damn it all, writing this has made me late for work, but God forgive me, I’d rather be on a private plane heading to Bahamas with a brick of coke and a couple of porn stars….Obliged.

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  5. So I guess that makes this post a meta-meta-discussion then?

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  6. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    Double imputation certainly hinges on a bilaterally vicarious relationship, Christ vicariously bore our sin on the cross so we vicariously receive the credit for Christ’s righteousness. What are christus victor and christus exemplar if not explorations of how the vicarious work of Christ is considered to be a benefit to us?

    Friday, March 4, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

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