There are more people who know what’s going on in the lives of Jon and Kate than what’s going on in Iran.
Is that a sad commentary on our population or an indictment of the media? While some may claim that the media is obsessed with Jon and Kate’s sordid story, along with the personal lives of countless celebrities, I’d have to say the blame lies with the people who watch and read the tabloid news rather than the people who bring us the news.
There’s a revolution going on right now and it is not being televised. Not unless you count ten minute segments on your nightly news, right after the twenty minute piece on Jon and Kate. Maybe on your cable news network, which gives it a clip show treatment, right before Nancy Grace chomps up two hours of air time with a sensationalistic story that’s two years old.
Does the media decide what to feed us or do we tell it what we want to be fed? The ratings for shows like The Bachelor or American Idol tell us all we need to know: the public gets what the public wants, and the majority of the public wants to tune in to TMZ dishing dirt about Perez Hilton’s fight instead of a news segment about an uprising in another country.
Whether it’s reading the tabloids, scouring gossip blogs, or watching reality shows, there’s an obsession with the lives of others that some of us find alarming but many find enjoyable. But what’s in it for the people who enjoy it? What do they get out of peering into the world of celebrities? I asked several gossip-hunters what attracts them to the world of celebrity exploits. Their responses:
“It’s the antithesis of what my life is now or ever will be so I use it as a break from real life. It’s a lot like watching a television series, only not scripted, at least not as thoroughly. Half the fun is guessing how much of the information is true and what the next story will be.”
“I think the reason that people glom onto celebrity trash is because celebs don’t seem like real people, and because the larger more pressing world problems can seem too big. Ultimately the Jon and Kate dilemma affects ten people only, and no one is calling on us sedentary Americans to do anything about it.”
“I think it keeps us from gossiping about the people we know.”
The last comment is a very popular sentiment among the tabloid viewers; they can talk about people, but not gossip. They’re not whispering to friends about coworkers, they’re whispering to their coworkers about celebrities and reality show contestants — people whose lives will not be impacted by a few snide comments at the office water cooler. It’s a shared interest. In much the same way people gather to talk about sports or politics, the tabloid lovers gather to talk about what happened last night on Rock of Love or the latest story Nancy Grace is exploiting.
The media is only putting out there what people are viewing and reading. If everyone stopped watching TMZ or Nancy Grace overnight, their shows would be gone. But people love this stuff. Take Jon and Kate for instance. The ratings of Jon & Kate Plus 8 rose as their marriage fell apart. The more volatile their relationship, the more they fought, the more people tuned in. That a failing marriage and the exploitation of eight young children makes for spectacular ratings says a few things about us: We are voyeurs. We are bored. We need a break from reality. Our lives are empty. Our lives are too full. We are easily entertained. We have nothing else to entertain us. We have on blinders. We want to see everything. We live through the experiences of others. We are experiencing too much.
There are myriad reasons people watch and read tabloid news. Whatever the reasons, they are watching it in droves. We can sit back and blame the media for forcing this on us and shoving it in our faces on a daily basis, or we can blame the people who buy The Star and watch Nancy Grace and The Bachelor.
Or we go about our business and recognize that we live in an age where we know, by choice or immersion, more about the divorce of a couple from Pennsylvania than we know about our own relatives.
Either way, it’s our choice to learn and read about the things we think are important, even if the mainstream media doesn’t put it on the plate for us. There’s a revolution happening, and I don’t mean the one airing on TLC on Monday nights.
The media doesn’t tell us what to watch; it gives us what we want to watch. In a time when print newspapers are going the way of the dinosaur, many of them are surviving by turning their front page into replicas of The Star, knowing that the latest news of Jon and Kate or Brad and Angelina will have those papers flying off the shelves.
Protests in Iran do not sell papers; protestations of infidelity do.