Society has fascination with celebrities

By Ned Cantwell

Journalists never stop wondering what makes a reader pause and actually read a news story. Why, just then, did he put down the remote clicker and zone in on the CNN report?

Some of the answer is obvious, of course. When nature proves no terrorist organization can match its wrath, the whole world stops and looks and listens and pours out its generosity to the tsunami victims.

Closer to home, New Mexicans pay at least scant attention when their governor opens the legislative session with an address that makes some of his opponents recall Herbert Hoover’s chicken-in-every-pot and car-in-every-garage promise.

Still fewer New Mexicans, I would guess, paid much attention to a subsequent news story. Two days after Bill Richardson detailed his optimistic spending plans, the staff of the Legislative Finance Committee warned the state could face a possible budget squeeze in 2007 because growth in spending is outpacing like revenues.

A world catastrophe, state politics, subjects that attract the reader’s attention — I get it. What I don’t get is society’s almost insatiable fascination with celebrities.

Normal curiosity? Sure. Not long ago in New York I exchanged glances with Dennis Farina who plays Joe Fontana on Law and Order. The little cartoon bubble in my mind said, “He’s a famous star. What have I seen him in?” The little cartoon bubble in his head said, “Another idiot. I hope he’s not armed.”

Similarly, it is fun to recognize, without going ga-ga, that New Mexico has her star connections. We know that Demi Moore was born in Roswell. We are led to believe Debra Winger once owned a cabin in Ruidoso.

Santa Fe and Taos are celebrity magnets, of course. Of recent note, Julia Roberts bought 32 acres of land from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. That’s a pretty good trade, but Donald won’t be leaving us. He owns several houses in Taos and if he doesn’t watch his mouth when talking to our troops in Iraq, I suspect President Bush might give him more time to spend in those houses.

When normal curiosity about the rich and famous is replaced by media hysteria, it is puzzling. No example is more illuminating than society’s bizarre fascination with Brad and Jennifer.

Most of us have, at one time or another, driven through Socorro on I-25. What would have happened one day if the state police put up a roadblock and detained you for an hour because a wedding made the freeway impassable? Road rage, that’s what, and not a mild case, either.

And yet that’s exactly what took place on the Pacific Coast Highway, which I suspect handles at least twice the traffic any given day than is seen on I-25 in Socorro. They closed the highway to accommodate the influx of guests for the $1 million wedding that joined Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

They pledged their love forever, but forever lasted only seven years. The world went nuts when these two nice young people formally announced their intention to separate, a decision that was, get this, “the result of much thoughtful consideration.”

My, how mature. Maybe that’s why we are so agog over these celebrity folks.

When we normal people run into marital hot water, the result tends to lean more toward flying pots and pans, thoughtful consideration having hit the road a long time ago.

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated columnist living in Ruidoso. Contact him at: ncantwell@charter.net