The endless cycle of a declining popular culture

Paparazzi scumCheck this shit out (Fig. 1). These photog sleazebags should be ashamed of themselves. Even more ashamed than Britney should be of herself.

I watched a “news” video online the other day that framed an absolutely shameful picture. I’ll get to the shameful part in a minute, but the video was taken at the scene of the climax of the latest Britney Spears meltdown. (Paging Dr. Phil. Ugh.) Aside: Is it a coincidence that Britney Spears’ initials are B.S.? I have my doubts.

I’m referring, of course, to last Thursday when Spears reportedly got into a dispute with her ex over custody of their kids and was later taken away in an ambulance after the police were called. It was the latest of many incidents, and it won’t be the last.

One of the things about Spears and the madness of the celebrity gossip cycle that surrounds her is that every incident is just one more chapter in her never-ending novel. Spears has become a pop-culture constant; just wait for a while, and you’ll inevitably have yet another “celebrity meltdown” story.

I have one question: Whom can we blame for all this?

Certainly, Spears is a way-too-easy target. Her life the last couple of years has been like a Perfect Storm of what-is-she-thinking celebrity insanity. Every presumed instance of Rock Bottom has been illusory, because it turned out there was plenty more excavating to do.

But blaming Britney alone (and this applies to the Parises and the Lindsays of the world as well) is not the answer. This madness is only focused on them. It is not created by them.

The reason I’m writing this is not so much because of Spears as because of what I saw in that video, which contained 10 seconds of particularly sickening footage: As the ambulance with Spears pulled away — amid an epic media feeding frenzy of absurd proportions — at least a dozen paparazzi followed in what looked like a rape of the vehicle.

You’d think the president of the United States were being carted away. Well, no, because the president would at least have the Secret Service to gun down all the photographers for being too damned close.

Now, I understand that celebrities — especially of the train-wreck variety — are going to be photographed aggressively and excessively. But this crossed the line by way too far. I mean, a woman is being taken away in an ambulance, and it’s apparently okay that we’ve got a dozen sleazebags with cameras running 6 inches behind the ambulance, shooting their flashbulbs in through the two little windows in the back. There should be laws about this.

No wonder Spears is losing her mind. She has to deal with this every day. And it has become clear that she hasn’t had the mental faculties or the guidance she needs to do so in a healthy or intelligent manner.

So when did the paparazzi get so far out of control? Has it always been this way? Has it gotten worse? As a chicken/egg issue, did increasingly crazy celebrities create increasingly aggressive paparazzi, or vice versa? Is there no limit to how many boundaries of decency can be breached? Don’t these selfish, idiot photographers realize that celebrities are still, at the end of the day, people? Will someone in Hollywood step up and say that this is simply unacceptable?

But as much as I despise the paparazzi’s complete lack of boundaries, they do have a point when they say they are only delivering what the public has asked for. The photographers are only one part of the cycle.

And that cycle is: (1) Celebrities do stupid things, usually to their own detriment. (2) The utterly shameless paparazzi crosses all lines of human decency to photograph it. (3) The news media exercises the worst aspects of lowest common denominator in ceaselessly reporting it. (4) The public consumer (i.e., you) exercises no discriminating taste in eating it up, thereby confirming as correct the media’s decision to pander without regret. (5) Holier-than-thou bloggers and columnists (i.e., me) exercise blatant hypocrisy in discussing it, while claiming we’re outraged by and superior to the train wreck, even though we’re just as guilty for staring at it. (6) Repeat.

In short, we’re all to blame. And let’s face it: None of us is going to stop. We can’t help ourselves.

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15 comments on this post

Destructor
Monday, January 7, 2008, 5:33 pm (UTC -6)

While we can’t stop the madness, we can end our participation of it and eliminate if from our personal spheres. I never really bought celeb mags, but now I ask my girlfriend why she buys them, and ask if she would stop. If a news item comes up about a celeb, change channel. If i read a blog entry about celeb-obsession by my favourite trek reviewer, I write about how he should quit with that.

Some people will always be obsessed with celebs. But democratically, all we can do is ‘vote’ the obsession over- by not looking ourselves.

Matthew
Monday, January 7, 2008, 6:53 pm (UTC -6)

I think potentially you missed the step where the celebrity themselves cultivated the media and the paparazzi for their own means. For me, it removes most of the pity I could ever feel for these people.

stallion
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 12:50 am (UTC -6)

I really hate the paparazzi. They just make me sick. All this media attention isn’t really helping Britney Spears. Her new album was a flop and the only people who are benefitting from all of this are bloggers, entertainment shows, and whoever is taken these pictures. But at the end of the day Britney is rich. It doesn’t matter if her music is a success or not.

smeos
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 3:42 am (UTC -6)

The simplest solution is for the celebs to stop doing stupid shit all the time. Too drunk to drive home from the club? Call a limo. Don’t like living in Beverly Hills? Move to Montana and hire private security. Got an obsessive parent shoving you into the spotlight? Tell them to piss off and have a normal life.

Chief Oddball
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 11:39 am (UTC -6)

I think smeos has a point, in that there are a good number of actors and actresses who get comparatively little attention because they’re not very interesting to photograph. i.e., their house is consistently in some semblance of order. The consuming public gets bored with that; they want reports of juicy scandals, debauchery and destruction.

But at the same time, there’s a certain point of no return where it no longer matters how normal you are. When you rise to the level of stardom that Britney Spears [once] commanded, you could be a paragon or a loon — the paparazzi will hound you incessantly regardless.

David Payne
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 12:53 pm (UTC -6)

Jammer, don’t forget what happened to Princess Diana just over 10 years ago. The paparazzi have always been scum!

Jamahl Epsicokhan
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 2:37 pm (UTC -6)

^ I haven’t forgotten, and, yes, the paparazzi were scum there too. But that brings me to another question: Who the @#$% still cares about all the Princess Diana hoopla? More than ten years later, we still get hour-long special documentaries on TV about the “investigation” of the crash and “new evidence.” Enough already.

Max E.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008, 1:01 am (UTC -6)

I find it deliciously ironic that in the current sidebar is a Google ad for Us magazine. I know Jammer has no control over those and they show up based on the keywords in the current page, but I found it amusing.

David Payne
Wednesday, January 9, 2008, 9:59 am (UTC -6)

Totally agree with you there as well Jammer. And it also has the annoying side effect of giving the conspiracy theorists too much air time!

Menbailee
Thursday, January 10, 2008, 2:41 am (UTC -6)

I’m dubious that the public consumer is as significant a step in keeping this downward spiral turning as the standard argument would have it. Yes, the media keep pushing it, and yes, people keep watching it, but does that mean that people wouldn’t watch something else if it were pushed instead? I actively avoid this stuff, and I have yet to know anyone who doesn’t complain about it. For that matter, did that old B.S. reality show even get worthwhile ratings? A large chunk of people just tend to watch whatever is on television. That could equally well be something immensely more edifying than what it is.

Yes, I am challenging the notion that pandering to the lowest common denominator actually pulls in the best crowds. To cite a show Jammer reviewed, note how Andromeda’s ratings sank when the show lowered its standards in association with assumptions about what American viewers wanted. Yes, networks still made money by putting it on the air, but less than they could have, and they persisted in putting forth brainrot due to lack of respect for their audience. With the b.s. about B.S., I believe it’s the same. I put responsibility for the disgusting pattern of paparazzi and their media in the hands of the paparazzi and their media. Distributing that responsibility and consigning ourselves to the inevitability of the cycle strikes me as the best possible defense of the behavior that this article begins by critiquing.

Good lord, I read and enjoy Jammer’s reviews for years, and my first response argues with him? Hi, Jammer. I’ve frequently found your thoughts insightful, and I look forward to commenting now that your reviews page enables it.

Dingdongalistic
Thursday, January 10, 2008, 4:19 pm (UTC -6)

“But that brings me to another question: Who the @#$% still cares about all the Princess Diana hoopla? More than ten years later, we still get hour-long special documentaries on TV about the “investigation” of the crash and “new evidence.” Enough already.”

Here in Britain, the people still care enough for the Express to sell more newspapers by focusing on the story, despite what Private Eye and Have I Got News For You might say about it.

Dude
Friday, January 11, 2008, 12:43 am (UTC -6)

Did you not watch the last episode of Extras? The Christmas special? Enough said.

Matthew
Friday, January 11, 2008, 9:38 am (UTC -6)

“Here in Britain, the people still care enough for the Express to sell more newspapers by focusing on the story, despite what Private Eye and Have I Got News For You might say about it.”

If that was a scifi story it would be a predestination paradox though, I mean its the Express! If they haven’t filled their Diana or Madeline McCann quote for the week, what would their ‘we think we’re reading a classy newspaper when in fact its just another red top’ readership do?

Destructor
Sunday, January 13, 2008, 5:36 pm (UTC -6)

The irony of the Diana crash is that all the people who wailed and blubbed over her grave were the exact same people who created the demand for photos, which led to the hounding of the paparazzi immediately preceeding her death. The people who mourned her were, in effect, her murderers. If that was not enough to wake people up and make them stop reading celebrity goss mags, well, nothing will.

Stef
Monday, January 14, 2008, 6:11 am (UTC -6)

To be fair with the Princess Diana debacle: Remember, it wasn’t just her that died. Dodi’s father has never been satisfied with the official reports of his son’s death, and who could blame him?

I too get sick of the Diana stuff on TV, and Britney, and the whole Anna Nicole Smith death stuff.

Like Eddie Izzard said about Princess Diana dying:

“My dad said to me that his mother died when he was 12, and no one gave a shit.”

Has Britney shaved her hair off again to pass another drugs test?

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