Prime Time Crime  


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of June 18, 2007)

Celebrity culture overboard


  By John Martin

Just about anything Al Gore says these days is bound to make the headlines.  But the former US Vice President recently shared some words we would all be wise to consider.

During a book promotion tour, Gore criticized the "trivialities and nonsense" of celebrity gossip in the media. "What is it about our collective decision-making process that has led us to this state of affairs where we spend much more time in the public forum talking about-or receiving information about-Britney Spears shaving her head or Paris Hilton going to jail? "Gore asked.

Good point.

It wasn't that long ago one was forced to go through the humiliating experience of purchasing the National Enquirer at the supermarket check out counter to learn who was cheating and who was in rehab.

But now, any consumer of news and information is going to find it very difficult to avoid getting their fill of celebrity gossip.

I've yet to watch 30 seconds of American Idol yet I know all about Simon's sarcasm, Paula's drunken slurring and Sanjay's hair.

For me, the turning point was several years ago when the first season of Survivor, another show I have never seen a moment of, was treated by the media as an actual news item. Every major newspaper provided detailed coverage each week as one person after another was voted off the island. And this wasn't in the entertainment section. It was treated as page one news.

One cannot blame the media for blurring the line between entertainment and actual news. Clearly, there was and remains an appetite for this type of information. It would be quite reckless and dishonest to chastise the media for providing the coverage and content their readers and viewers demand.

People have always been curiously voyeuristic about the rich and famous. But unless one buried themselves in the tabloids or tuned into Entertainment Tonight there was really no reason to know about some actor's weight problem, drug addiction or political views.

Compounding what Gore refers to as this "destruction of the boundary between news and entertainment," we've become conditioned to hang on to these people's words as though they were authorities on the subjects and topics they speak of.

Bono is an expert on Africa and famine. Rosie O'Donnell knows what really happened at 911. And Sheryl Crow wants to save the planet by cutting back on toilet paper.

Actors and rock stars provide commentary on everything from politics to foreign affairs to the environment. They regularly appear on talk shows and discussion panels alongside legitimate informed specialists.

I recently received e-mail from a reader who reminded me of an Elvis Presley story. Elvis was asked during an interview what he thought of the Viet Nam war draft dodgers and the king of rock and roll, who served in the military himself, replied, "Honey, I'm just an entertainer and I would just as soon keep my opinions about that to myself."

But now, it appears the opinions of entertainers, like their personal lives, are as important to us as their craft and talent.

This may all be quite titillating.

But it makes one long for another Gary Cooper-the strong, silent type.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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