The Downside of Being Wired


 

 

japan

 

 

HOW MUCH CELEBRITY GOSSIP DO I NEED?

 

Do I need to sign up for e-mail alerts so I can be notified the moment Lindsay Lohan goes back into rehab? What happens if a major Hollywood scandal breaks while I’m asleep? If I am to believe the Internet promotions I routinely receive, I might suffer the greatest humiliation of all, being outside the loop at exactly the time when everyone else in inside.

 

No, there’s simply too much at risk to let my need for celeb news flap in the winds of chance. If I’m going to be a fully-functioning member of society, I have to know what everyone’s talking about and be plugged in 24/7. Thank God for the many Internet “news” services.

 

The last guy who serviced my computer arranged for the MSN home page to pop up whenever I go online.  I haven’t figured out how to change that setting, so I always get my first dose of what doesn’t matter the moment I flip open my laptop.

 

The things we pay attention to matter, at least to us, in that they determine our growth.  We become good at whatever we practice. If I spend more time focused on the sex lives of younger, better looking people than me, my own sex life will suffer, not just in comparison, but in absolute terms.  Only so many of my brain cells can be pre-occupied with sex, and if they’re all given over to the hearsay happenings of people I don’t personally know, then my own sex life is going to be bleak indeed.

 

Entertainment News makes death seem like a aberrant event, and as an entertainment option it is worthy of note for at it’s hard to top death as a story element. So imagine the power of a celebrity death! Taken too young, at the height of his or her beauty! I just googled “celebrity death” and up popped autopsy photos of Heath Ledger and Whitney Houston. Fearing my psyche and sanity were in danger, I closed the page as soon as I realized what I was looking at.

 

I recently toured Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, and ran into a group of American tourists. When I asked them what they were looking for, they confessed they were only interested in finding Eva Peron’s grave. Hers was the only celebrity grave they knew about. Having been of the same mindset on my first visit, I remembered being surprised how relatively humble her crypt was, at least compared to some of her neighbors in the city of death, who were resting underneath a prodigious mountain of marble angels frozen in Victorian gestures of mourning.

 

So it takes the collaboration of historians to separate the merely rich from the famous. I mean, how many of the rich bankers buried there have had musicals written about them, much less a movie starring Madonna?

 

The whole idea behind celebrating only a few important personages has to do with cutting to the chase.  We simply don’t have enough time in any one day to investigate all the people we might encounter, so it’s easier to just keep tabs on a representative few. There, individuals can stand in for whole categories, and we can free ourselves to concentrate on…to notice….to focus on…what’s really important, which is…er, what was I saying?

 

The other great problem with celebrity watching involves the fact that it’s a form of voyeurism.  Watching others from a hidden or secret place is not only creepy, it’s exhausting because there are many more of them than there are you. How do you decide when you’ve spied enough?

 

The few times I’ve been in the presence of a real celebrity, I’ve noticed that they’re pretty much like the rest of us, and that there’s nothing besides the over-familiarity brought by too much photography to explain their specialness. That’s not to say that they’re not perfectly nice, hard-working people who take care of their families and try to do the best they can.

 

Whoever is making a profession of snapping sneaky morgue photos of newly dead celebrities must have moments when he wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders what he’s really accomplishing with the gift of life

 

Being mortal is just one aspect of having feet of clay, and it’s the clay feet that is probably the most important trait besides beauty and talent for someone to qualify for the role of Modern Celebrity.

 

 

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Where’s Home, Anyway?


I like the idea that home is where you are, not where your stuff is. Most of my stuff is still on the other side of the planet, but this is my current home. After too much travel, I don’t long for my Rubbermaid containers of stuff, I long for my bed.

Ivan Illich, the social critic and very-smart-guy who wrote Deschooling Society, Energy and Equity and Medical Nemesis, spent the last years of his life traveling through Indochina and Latin America, talking to villagers. He’d had enough of big cities and important people. Of course, he spoke ten languages, so that made the task easier. He kept chewing on one bone and one bone only, and that to deliver a warning. Don’t trust experts.

More precisely, it wasn’t so much experts that he despised, but the institutions they fronted. Once our institutions developed beyond a certain scale, they became perverse, counterproductive to the beneficial ends for which they were originally conceived. The end result of this paradoxical counter-productivity was schools which make people dumb, complacent and unquestioning; hospitals which produce disease; prisons which make people violent; travel at high speed which creates traffic jams; and ‘aid and development’ agencies which create more and more ‘needy’ and ‘underconsuming’ people.

So he felt most at home in the “Underdeveloped” world.  He died of mouth cancer in 2002, choosing to deny himself medical care and even an expert diagnosis. In his last days he kept a little opium pipe with him, sucking on it more frequently as time went on. One side of his face  appeared normal, the other was increasingly consumed by a cancerous growth. He died one afternoon while taking a nap.

Here, in Northern Thailand, where village life is still the norm for many people, I can imagine myself as Illich’s less-erudite brother, looking for pearls of common wisdom hidden among the hype of mass-produced nonsense we call popular culture.