- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

The Kobe Bryant story will be a new stage in the 24-hour world of TV depictions, When Good Celebs Go Bad.

Here’s why. We’ve crossed the border and have entered the land of “Celebrity.”

It used to be fame and fortune would go hand in hand. But it’s a misperception to think it’s the draw of riches that attracts contestants onto shows like “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” They are there to find their 15 minutes of fame, more than the long-shot of sudden wealth. If they win cash, it’s secondary.

Today the underlying name of the game is, “Who wants to be a celebrity?” And the answer it seems is everyone.

At one time, when we referred to celebrities, we thought of Hollywood and the glamorous stars of the silver screen. But in today’s fame-infatuated world, where overnight stardom can turn Joe Lunchbucket into Joe Millionaire, the lure of the camera draws all walks of life into its scope.

In today’s star-hyped culture, we exist for others. We project ourselves onto the screen because it’s how we recognize ourselves.

From the immediacy of the digital camera that instantaneously hands us a repro (they’re now in phones to cut down on the wait-time it took to upload and send a scan) to the larger “Truman Show” we all want to be cast in, welcome to the Ashcroftian world of “The New Candid Camera.”

But just as we find it to be an encroachment on our civil rights to be watched at any time, doing anything, anywhere — whether a parking lot, a freeway or a department store — we’ll do the strangest things to get attention to gain notoriety. Witness, the menu from bugs to body parts for contestants on some reality TV shows.

Surf the net and there are sites with just a living room in someone’s own home where you can just watch whatever happens from the utterly mundane to the totally bizarre.

Celebrities are everywhere. Ads, which had once been declasse for movie stars, are now loaded with those upper echelons, from Sharon Stone hocking AOL to Zeta Jones selling cell phones that transmit all those same pictures along with AOL Instant Messages.

Celebrityhood, while drawing politicians, journalists, sports figures and even criminals into its orbit, pulls us as observers into its world. Sometimes we’re like witnesses to a car accident — a horrible personal tragedy.

And through a world now based on interaction, we’ve created some mythical fourth dimension, where stars (the gods of our culture), live alongside ordinary mortals. There they conjoin to exist in a world of media, with the aid of photojournalists, paparazzi and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Caught now in its web, we have the 24-year-old superstar Kobe Bryant accused of a felony sexual assault charge with a 19-year-old woman.

But Kobe is more than just an athlete. As a kid out of high school, he rocketed into stardom by joining the L.A. Lakers seven years ago. Ever since, he has been hired to endorse everything from Nike to McDonald’s, making him the third most in-demand pitchman behind Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

For the 19-year-old young woman, the allure of a superstar must have seemed intoxicating.

Whether or not the young girl was assaulted, surely she must have been drawn into the allure of superstardom.

The power and gravity of sports stars, rock stars and movie stars, turns the Newtonian notion of celestial attraction into a sphere all its own.

Likewise, the rest of us get pulled along for the ride. And even though we’ve all been through O.J’s hood (with the help of his neighbor, Kato Kalin) and Bill and Monica’s and Martha’s too, the further technology takes us, the closer we are to actually thinking we live alongside the gods of Celebrityhood.

In Greek mythology, gods interacted with mortals, frequently had sex with them and were in many ways not the role model you would want for your kid. Nevertheless, humans worshipped them. Clearly, we still do.

Abe Novick is senior vice president of Eisner Communications in Baltimore, Md.

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