Friday, March 9, 2007

David Bowie, Profit

Fame, its not your brain, its just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane

-- David Bowie, "Fame"

Americans want to be famous. And with that sentence, I win the "duh" award for the week, narrowly edging out the NHL for suspending the goon Chris Simon of my beloved Islanders indefinitely for his savage and embarrassing two-handed stick swing to an opponent's face last night.

But, while obvious, my premise is also true. We are living in the middle of a fame addiction epidemic. People say reality TV is harmless, but I think it's a symptom of a larger problem in American society: Everybody wants to take shortcuts, and nobody wants to earn anything. I get that Americans always wanted to be famous, but I can't help but think that in the not-too-distant past, they wanted to be famous for actually doing something. It seems to me that now the goal is just to be famous, without letting that pesky step of "accomplishment" stand in the way.

I know it's not absolute. I know there were tabloid kings and queens in the days of Louella Parsons and Dorothy Kilgallen. I just think that it's gotten worse. Way worse. Rodents in the Taco Bell in the Village worse. We have more media now, with the vastness of the Internet and every conceivable niche garnering its own cable TV channel (I'm canceling my service when the Colonoscopy Network debuts). Marilyn Monroe appearing topless in Playboy in 1953 was shocking. Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears appearing bottomless in photos in 2007 is yawn-inducing.

The weird part of this whole thing is that fame clearly isn't all fun. We see reports of Britney Spears, who, I guess, kind of accomplished something in her life, going hardcore nutjob, checking in and out of rehab centers, shaving her head, buying tattoos like they were lottery tickets, and, according to today's reports, trying to hang herself with a bedsheet. Also in today's headlines, we see someone who most definitely accomplished something, Eddie Van Halen, heading back into rehab, days before his band is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So, when someone sits at home and says, "I think I'll send a video in to try and get on The Biggest Loser so the whole world can watch me try and lose weight, but at least I'll be on TV and be famous!" I can't help but wonder why the padded van doesn't immediately pull up to this guy's door and escort him on an all-expenses-paid trip to the funny farm -- with no cameras present, of course. I mean, do people see images on the Internet of Britney, bald, slamming her umbrella against her accomplishment-free husband's SUV in a frenzy and say to themselves, "I got to get me some of that fame! Look how good it's been for Britney!" Not to mention the oh-so-attractive lives of such ability-challenged, famous-for-being-famous luminaries as Nicole "But Officer, I Was Only Going One Way" Richie and Paris "One or Three For The Road" Hilton.

(As an aside, I hope the Associated Press is given an honorary Pulitzer Prize for deciding to stop carrying news items about Paris Hilton's exploits. I feel quite confident that nobody will write a news story in 2007 that will have as much positive impact on our society as that decision will.)

Nancy Reagan took a lot of heat (justifiably) for saying in the 1980's that the drug problem could be solved if people just said "no." But, since fame doesn't induce chemical reactions in the bloodstream, she might just be on to something with fame. I think it's safe to say that Americans should follow the Associated Press's lead and just say no to people trying to be famous for being famous.

Of course, I'm afraid that the average American is too busy reading about Britney's rehab tantrums and watching Laguna Beach to actually know what the Associated Press is. I have a solution: A new reality show called, "I Want to Be a Stringer." Ten recent graduates of journalism school live in a house and vie for a chance to work as an entry-level reporter for the Associated Press. Think they'll have trouble finding ten people willing to forgo the chance to write about Paris Hilton? Nah. After all, who would pass up the chance to be on TV and be famous?