Friday, November 5, 2010

I Can't Think of Anything to Write About

Writer’s block. It’s for everyone. In reality, I can think of lots of things to write about, but often they’re painful subjects and I’m simply not ready or in the mood to enter a dark phase, if only for a few hours. So, I’ll just rant about a subject that is close to my heart, coursing with a different kind of emotion: the makings of a celebrity in America. As I’ve grown used to my graying hair and the plumping that comes with middle age, as I’ve watched my children grow and tried to make good citizens and human beings out of them, the culture has worked against me. In America, we now care less about good citizens and good human beings; what we spend our time caring about is fame.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for Saturday nights, when we popped a big bowl of popcorn and sat shoulder to shoulder on our couch to watch Saturday Night at the Movies. It was always a classic, often a Western. We saw Paint Your Wagon and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. We sat spellbound through Funny Girl and cheered at the end of To Sir With Love. We enjoyed the stories and the acting and recognized the “stars” as somehow separate, members of an elite group. They had Talent, and that’s primarily why we spent our weekends mesmerized by their performances.

I took several acting classes in high school. Locked in the invincible mindset of an adolescent, I began to dream of a life on the stage. That dream soon died. Except for my peers’ opinions, which were embarrassingly high, I didn’t receive enough unqualified praise to convince me to continue my study. My teachers were nice, and they told us all to keep acting, but that was the point: they encouraged everyone similarly. I didn’t have any particular talent; I turned to English in college, a discipline in which I really did excel.

Is excelling the point? Partly. Today, when I scan headlines, I see the word “celebrity” used for people who seem to have no distinguishing talents at all. A short list: parents like Kate Gosselin and the Duggars; socialites like Paris Hilton and Tiger’s mistresses; Briston Palin and her notorious beau Levi Johnston.

It is tempting, I’m sure, for people to want their proverbial “fifteen minutes of Fame.” But then, why don’t we allow them—push them—to move on? Joe the Plumber has retreated into the shadows, thankfully.

Why, I wonder, has the American public begun to tout anyone the television places in front of us as a celebrity? I am not suggesting that a talent for parenting is small potatoes; it’s not. But the “celebrity parents”—oops, I forgot Octomom—aren’t celebrated for their parenting, per se. They are celebrated for having a lot of kids, often in a short span of time.

I have played a lot of softball. You could film me if you wanted, but the camera’s presence wouldn’t change the fact that perhaps my talents lie more in persistence than athletic prowess.

And what has Bristol Palin done to be labeled a “star”? She’s an Advocate. For teenage abstinence. Has anyone else noticed that she didn’t abstain? Isn’t it confusing to the people she’s supposedly inspiring? A recent ad she did for The Candies Foundation spotlights the precarious position she’s in and the mixed message she sends the audience.  The gist of her message is this:  Hi, I’m Bristol Palin. I had sex when I wasn’t married and now have a child. But I have a famous family and a lot of money and support. You don’t, so you shouldn’t have sex. Please don’t do what I did.

This is advocacy? Are we, indeed, as mindless as our preoccupations with these faux stars suggests? The main criteria for television stardom these days, after all, seem to be good looks and an unquenchable thirst for attention.

Most toddlers have that going for them.

My sister, like Bristol, had a child out of wedlock. She was nineteen. After a short, miserable marriage to the child’s father, she became an advocate, too, for her own growing family. She advocates daily for honesty, integrity, hard work, mercy. She’s beautiful, inside and out. So far, no TV offers have come her way. Did I mention she’s hard working and funny, too?

When I fume inwardly at these headlines and the ridiculous elevation of people with few discernible talents to the status of celebrity, I must remember that we make them what they are. And we do it in spite of their often unsavory behavior off screen. Remember Paris and cocaine? Octomom’s consideration of an X-rated film?

I suppose that rather than asking “What’s wrong with them?” for seeking and then courting the spotlight, I could more fruitfully ask, “What’s wrong with us?” We’ve privileged mediocrity and beauty over talent, character, solidity. In a world of constantly shifting shapes, is this the best we can do?

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