Celebrity gossip an unworthy addiction

Every time I wait in line at the grocery store I find myself surrounded by tabloids. Supposedly these so-called “magazines” (if they can so be called) are located there so that people will decide to buy them while the cashier is ringing up their groceries.

I always try not to look, but I feel drawn to their garish covers the way people find themselves drawn to car crashes and train wrecks. “Britney Spears hospitalized for mental breakdown.” “Lindsay Lohan gets arrested right out of rehab.” “Angelina Jolie separates from Brad and adopts five kids.”

And every time I catch myself staring at these rags I wonder the same thing: who cares? People today know more about celebrities than politics, the economy or world events—a lot more. Doesn’t this strike anyone else as a bad thing?

We live in a world where magazines, newspapers and websites are willing to pay paparazzi large amounts of money to follow famous people around all the time and take pictures of them going about their daily lives. Why is this? I have absolutely no interest in seeing pictures of Cameron Diaz at the airport or Orlando Bloom walking his dog. Why does anyone want to see such things? I don’t even know Cameron Diaz or Orlando Bloom. And how does it affect me if Angelina Jolie changes brands of toothpaste?

But obviously there are people who do care, because the whole practice of celebrity stalking and the publication of pictures and gossip and the like has become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

It’s really scary to think that we live in a nation where people know more about celebrity gossip and entertainment crap than about what’s going on in the world. Most people probably know more about Brad Pitt than the politicians representing them in Congress. Even if you have little to no interest in what Jessica Alba ate for dinner last night, it’s hard to escape the tidal wave of tabloid fodder.

Celebrity information is constantly stuffed down our throats—tabloids in the supermarket, headlines in newspapers and magazines and segments on what are supposed to be hard news television programs.

I don’t see anything wrong with having a mild interest in celebrity affairs. I mean, I guess it could be interesting to see how people who make more money in a year than I will in my life spend their fortunes—interesting or depressing. But I just don’t understand how or why celebrity stalking has become such a huge part of our culture.

All this celebrity overdosing can’t be good for us. For one thing, it’s probably not a good idea to care more about Heath Ledger’s death than the war in Iraq or the situations in Kenya or Sudan.

Let’s not forget the kind of examples these people are setting for us. Nowadays it’s completely common for single actresses or singers to have babies. Maybe the single motherhood thing isn’t so difficult when you can afford a few full time nannies and you don’t have to go to work all day every day.

And what about drugs and alcohol? All celebrities caught getting high or drinking underage have to do is pop into a resort-style rehab facility for a few weeks (or days, or hours). Then once they get out, they go right back to raking in the millions making movies or recording singles. I doubt it would be quite so easy for any of the rest of us.

I know celebrities aren’t the best role models, and in theory they shouldn’t have to be. They are just people like you or me, with a job that earns them a (very comfortable) living; they didn’t ask to be put in the spotlight (well, they didn’t all ask to be put in the spotlight). But whether they like it or not—whether we like it or not—our society has made them idols, people to look up to.

It’s important to note that I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with seeing movies or concerts, or watching television, or whatever. Watching people act in films and on television is different from greedily taking pictures of them just walking down the street. Usually when a person follows another person around and takes pictures of him or her and records his or her every move, we call it stalking. With famous people we just call it part of being a celebrity.

I know it isn’t easy just to separate yourself from the barrage of celebrity information that has become such an integral part of our culture these days. Still, maybe we should try a little harder to care more about the things that really matter. So the next time you’re tempted to pick up that tabloid with Hannah Montana on the cover—be strong, put it down and pick up The New York Times instead.