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.

 

 

Hard to Be Here Now No Matter Where You Are


BEWARE OF ENTERTAINMENT

The expectation or demand that life be entertaining is a new phenomenon, one that has blossomed like an algae bloom in the last thirty years or so.  Just yesterday, I was receiving a massage in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and on either side of me lay people in their twenties, who spent their massages playing with their smart phones, furiously scrolling up and down, hoping to be distracted from this deeply pleasurable and therapeutic experience by catching sight of a photo of  cute puppy or a meal one of their friends just ate. Certainly, given the rate they were zipping through these posts they weren’t doing much real reading, nor could they be noticing their massage, the thing that they were paying for and was happening to them here and now.

When the novel was first created, in the beginning of the nineteenth century, some warned that it would encourage the foolish and impressionable to waste their valuable time on trifles instead of concentrating on and working for what mattered. Nowadays, we would praise anyone who had the concentration to read a novel. We would declare that person a student of the arts, an intellectual.  Try teaching a college class that requires reading a novel and see how many of the students voluntarily submit to such torture.

Constantly seeking distraction or entertainment becomes addictive, and as with most addictions, you can never get enough of what you don’t need.  You end up trading the Real McCoy for its shimmering substitute. And when that trade proves unsatisfactory, you find there are no refunds.

Family life is more than a few good-looking actors sitting on couch trading witty comebacks. Romantic love is more than the titillation of a first kiss.  We all know that at least theoretically, but when faced with an opportunity to choose the real over the virtual, most of the time we leap for the illusion. This is why so many of our young people hope to enter the Entertainment Industry. Everyone is vaguely aware that there’s big money to be made there for simply goofing around and creating ghosts.

When you ask young people what they would like to be when they grow up, a discouraging proportion volunteer “a celebrity.”  The idea that a person would not be celebrated for outstanding achievement in a certain area, but rather that the state of being celebrated would itself become a full-time job is a relatively new one.  Think Paris Hilton, role model for a generation.

Entertainment is a first cousin of advertising, that all-pervasive enterprise which seeks to invent heretofore unknown needs and then fill them. Again, the end result is wasted time and resources, disillusionment, and bondage.  Far from being a lofty goal, the chronic thirst for entertainment proves the greatest obstacle to achieving any lofty goal.

But this process of fooling Pinocchio into becoming a donkey on Pleasure Island begins in his seemingly simple desire to be distracted.  Please, amuse me, now, this instant, or I’ll die of boredom! So you turn back to your smart phone, hoping this time the voyeuristic hit will satisfy. Most of the time it fails to, but intermittent reward is the essence of addiction. Usually, when you yank of the slot machine handle not much happens, but every long once in a while…jackpot!

I enjoy a good movie as much as the next guy, but I only go to the cinema maybe once a month. My cell phone is the cheapest one available, and the cost of operating here in Thailand is absurdly cheap, about three dollars a month.  I make or receive about one call per day. Compared to most people, I spend more time in content creation, and because I don’t speak Thai and am much older than the target audience, there’s nothing for me to watch on Thai TV.

I fear for the young people of the world, whether in developing or developed economies. The Man has you by the throat and you don’t even know it. In fact, you’re grateful. The harder he squeezes, but more you’re willing to give up.  As it says in the Bible, Esau sold his birthright or bowl of porridge, and when he wanted a refund, it was denied him, though he sought it with bitter tears. Youth and health are a gift, a temporary gift that will eventually be taken from you. Wasting it chasing phantoms is grim folly.