- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 18, 2007

Fame game

“Why is it that most celebrities in the culture today are people I’ve never heard of? … Whereas I used to merely ignore news about the faux famous and their tabloid-targeted exploits, I now notice it and feel repulsed. And I’m pretty sure that’s the whole idea. …

“Obviously, celebrity repulsion has been in the air in recent weeks. I don’t need to name names, but suffice it to say that popular culture’s approval rating … is at an all-time low. Whether we’re talking about a deceased gold-digger or an apparently deranged astronaut … it’s pretty clear that it’s never been a worse time to be famous. For one thing, the competition is stiff. (The Dixie Chicks, celebs with some old-school fame value, swept the Grammys, but we’re still more interested in paternity claims and NASA-issue diapers.) For another thing, celebrity is just not as valuable as it used to be. By the look of things, just about anyone can get it. …

“The You Tube/’American Idol’/MySpace regime may be providing new opportunities for genuinely talented, less conventional people, but it’s providing even more opportunities for untalented, often downright annoying people. ‘Celebrity’ now connotes a mundanity that borders on tedium, not to mention that smelly territory of reverse indifference.”

— Meghan Daum, writing on “Fame-iness,” Saturday in the Los Angeles Times

Gossip time

“Most of the much-vaunted human capacity for complex language is dedicated to gossip. Perhaps the most striking finding of recent research on human conversations is that about two-thirds of our conversation time is entirely devoted to social topics: discussions of personal relationships and experiences; who is doing what with whom; who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ and why; how to deal with difficult social situations; the behavior and relationships of friends, family and celebrities; our own problems with lovers, family, friends, colleagues and neighbors; the minutiae of everyday social life — in a word, gossip. …

“Even in universities and the headquarters of multinational companies, where one might expect conversations in common rooms and restaurants to focus on matters of wider importance such as politics, business, cultural or intellectual issues, no subject other than gossip occupies more than 10 percent of total conversation time — and most of these ‘serious’ topics only account for about 2 or 3 percent.”

— Kate Fox, writing on “Evolution, Alienation and Gossip,” for the Social Issues Research Centre at www.sirc.org

Quote notes

“Sherlock Holmes never said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’ Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in ‘Casablanca’ says ‘Play it again, Sam.’ … Marie Antoinette did not say ‘Let them eat cake.’ … Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in ‘Wall Street,’ does not say ‘Greed is good.’ …

“What Michael Douglas did say in ‘Wall Street’ was ‘Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’ That was not a quotable quote; it needed some editorial attention, the consequence of which is that everyone distinctly remembers Michael Douglas uttering the words ‘Greed is good’ in ‘Wall Street,’ just as everyone distinctly remembers Ingrid Bergman uttering the words ‘Play it again, Sam’ in ‘Casablanca,’ even though what she really utters is ‘Play it, Sam.’ When you watch the movie and get to that line, you don’t think your memory is wrong. You think the movie is wrong.”

— Louis Menand, writing on “Notable Quotables,” in this week’s issue of the New Yorker

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