July 24, 2014

From Sex Tape to Red Carpet...REALLY?

For several years in my youth, I embarked on a spiritual quest of sorts. During this time, I explored many world religions and found that they all seemed to share a certain amount of universal truth.
I was particularly inspired by the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. While trained as a lawyer and not an “official” apologist of Hinduism, he summarized his philosophy by constructing a list that he called “Seven Sins:”

                    Wealth without work
                    Pleasure without conscience
                    Science without humanity
                    Knowledge without character
                    Politics without principle
                    Commerce without morality
                    Worship without sacrifice
Just today, this inventory came to mind as I waited in line at the supermarket. I was assaulted as usual by the vast array of gossip magazines, right and left. In a quick succession of headlines I learned who’s cheating on who, who is having whose baby, and who else is just a general schmuck. And of course, the obligatory “Nostradamus Says The World Will End On Tuesday,” and “The Ghost Of Bob Hope Haunts A Beverly Hills Golf Course.” I’ve grown to expect and accept these things, even if they hold no interest for me.

But as I loaded my Clorox and pork loin onto the checkstand conveyor belt, a flurry of existential thoughts crossed my mind: Why do we care? Why are these things important? Who is this guy, anyway? It all seemed so silly, so pointless. So let it be known on every shore and in every nation and tongue, that from henceforth I propose an eighth entry to this list:
                   Fame without achievement.

Let me explain.

More and more with each passing year, it seems, these people have done nothing to deserve such fanfare. They have made no contribution to the world, such that they should merit our acclaim. Surely actors and musicians brighten our lives with their arts, and we celebrate them. Industrialists build businesses, scientists cure disease, and we laud their works. As we should.

And yet…

The granddaughter of a travel company executive has sex with her boyfriend, records it on videotape, and (oops!) it gets “leaked” to the news media. (Yeah, right.) With this instant fame, she lands a deal for her own TV show alongside her bestie (herself the unremarkable child of a celebrity).
Three sisters, with no particular credential apart from a connection to an aging has-been athlete, get noticed on the L.A. party circuit. (Oh, and they look good in a tight dress.) They land rich good-looking boyfriends, and get their pictures taken at all the best soirĂ©es in town. Is that a Vera Wang she’s wearing? Suddenly we’re supposed to be interested in the most intimate details of their lives. 

Another young woman, the daughter of two musicians I admired as a child, reappears after living in the shadows for years. She makes the rounds of the TV talk shows, where the hosts fawn over her as they would with a head of state or an Oscar-winning actress. Wherefore such adulation?  Can she sing? Act? Play a bassoon? Did she build a homeless shelter or invent that proverbial better mousetrap? Nope.
So why all the fuss? She changed her name and appearance, and assumed a new sexual identity. Alrighty, then. (Sorry, lady, but until science can fabricate functional boy parts, you’re just a girl with a beard.)
Shall we go on? Snooki romped on a beach and shed her clothes. Kato Kaelin enjoyed the limelight surrounding O.J. Simpson. The talentless Zsa Zsa Gabor married a German prince. Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly appeared on game shows for decades, but no one seems to know why they were famous in the first place.
Of course, I don’t have to care. Surely I could just tune out the noise and get on with my life. Yet it disturbs me to no end when I see Jay Leno do his man-on-the street interviews, and more people recognize a picture of Kato (for...something) than Joe Biden. Millions of young girls admire Kim Kardashian (for exactly what, I can’t tell), but they’ve never heard of Condoleezza Rice.

Some would say it's not right for me to impose my moral values on strangers. Fine. But my grievance here isn't really about ethics (although the argument could be made). You might have your own reasons for believing there's nothing wrong with wild parties and indiscriminate sex. But are they truly virtues, such that we should celebrate those who have no other claim to fame?

Our children are growing up in this culture of instant unearned fame, and more often than not said notoriety seems to be gained through exotic sexual exploits. Not achievement. Not virtue. Not education. Or in the immortal words of Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

Let’s teach our kids to work.



  1. UGH. I totally agree. It annoys and infuriates me that people who work hard are seldom recognized for their contributions. That's one of the reasons I love what Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs is doing. He uses his celebrity to magnify the working man. That's commendable.