We are now an entirely gossip-based society.
My old friend Mark pointed me to the latest outrage. Last week there was a string of stories (this one is typical), saying that the actress Sandra Bullock (remember her?) and her boyfriend Bryan Randall (you don’t remember him because you never heard of him) were on the verge of a break-up. “On the rocks” is how the situation was universally described. “Sandra Bullock’s romance with Bryan Randall is on shaky ground, and might need a ‘miracle’ to work,” was the first paragraph of the story linked above.
Yes, indeed a miracle was called for, but not the kind of miracle the dirtbag press was talking about. The boyfriend, a Los Angeles photographer, was not out and about with his girlfriend because he was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died Saturday. Some of the publications that had trumpeted the story left it up in its original form. Some, such as Cosmopolitan, compounded the felony by replacing it with a new one that implied that the actress is kind of a slut.
None I could find printed a retraction, correction, or apology.
Everything that is covered by popular news media is covered from a point of view that the subject is a celebrity, albeit often a sudden and temporary one. This week a woman was bitten by a shark near Long Island, New York. (It is strange, isn’t it, that “shark attacks” suddenly rise during the absurd “Shark Week” on the “Discovery” — yeah, right — Channel, and the week or two immediately thereafter.) The media were disappointed that the woman who got bitten was 65 years old and there was little chance they could use the hotkeys that insert the phrases “rocking a micro bikini” and “well toned abs,” so they worked with what they had and spoke of her wound: “Rockaway Beach shark attack victim ‘lost 20 pounds of flesh’ after bite: sources,” was the initial headline in the New York Post. The story mentioned the 20-pounds statistic a couple of times, but its source was never even hinted at, and my guess is that it was made up. Or, to get into the spirit of things, sources say it was made up. (Hey, I can be a source.)
That initial story ended like this: “‘Thank you for your concern but no comment,’ her daughter, Dasha Koltunyuk, told reporters outside the hospital where her mom was recovering Tuesday.”
There was a follow-up today: “Family of Rockaway Beach shark attack victim who ‘lost 20 pounds of flesh’ breaks silence: ‘Grateful to be alive’” Still no evidence in support of the 20-pounds thing. The breaking of silence consisted of them saying that the woman and her family are glad she’s alive, now leave us the hell alone.
She got bitten in close proximity to “Shark Week.” She is a celebrity. For now.
At least once or twice a week, a “TikTok influencer with [made-up number] of followers” dies. Often, it is an ink-monster teenager. Always, it is someone you have never heard of. Increasingly irrelevant publications are grasping. Celebrities are invented with the job title of “celebrity.” Look in the celebrity press: have you ever heard of any of these people?
Even if you have heard of them, what business is it of yours who they are dating? What business of yours is the reaction of a private citizen to being bitten by a shark? Or her family’s reaction? (And the reaction is always very weak broth, anyway. Only if the woman had gone swimming in hope of being fish food, or her family said they were sorry the creature didn’t finish her off, would their opinion of the matter be news by any sensible measure. If sharks are eating people, it’s a public service to let everyone know. It stops there. But public service no longer is a consideration. Now it’s about the pound of flesh — or “20 pounds” in this case, accounting for inflation.)
My friend (or maybe former friend — I think I angered her in a discussion a few months ago) Krista Bradford documented how television news coverage had declined in a first-person 1993 Rolling Stone article. She was basically drummed out of the industry (despite having won several local Emmy awards). The secrets must never be revealed. She was a traitor to a corrupt industry. That industry was beginning to influence the “respectable” media.
For a time in the late 1980s I worked in that industry. The newswriters and editors at CBS had gone on strike, and I was one of those. I still needed to eat. I went to work at a celebrity gossip tabloid.
Frankly, the newsroom at the grocery-store tabloid was newer and more efficient than the newsroom at CBS. It lacked the snotty attitude of CBS, too. The people there bore no illusions about their jobs.
It would have been difficult illusion to maintain, anyway. I’ve mentioned and will mention now again the time I was handed a quote about a celebrity and was told to write a story around it. This meant going back to the magazine’s extensive library of clippings and finding other stories that supported the editor’s thesis, the “it can be revealed” aspect of the story. I was nearly done when the editor came over. A paid spy we had in the newsroom of the competition was doing the same story. I was now to write a new story saying the the story I had just written wasn’t true and you were a blackguard if you believed it.
There has always been some of that in the media, but never before was it so celebrity-based. Nor has the definition of “celebrity” ever been so blurred.
The reprehensible louse Donald Trump would never have become president but for his position as a celebrity. Otherwise he would just have been another loudmouth failure blaming his numerous obvious shortcomings on others. Such persons usually enter politics at an earlier age. But Donald Trump had a television show that apparently someone watched. During his campaign he was covered as a celebrity. Nothing important to national governance was considered.
Hillary Clinton was covered as a celebrity, too. She was a hard sell because she was and is a screeching harridan, exhibit A as to why her husband could be forgiven his peccadilloes. Bill Clinton was the real celebrity.
Four years later, Joe “not-yet-Bugout” Biden, a stupid man with union backing who was always withdrawing from presidential elections when it was discovered that he and the truth were not friends, got a pass when he hid in his basement. This let the media build its own picture of him, create its own 20 pounds of flesh, which it has had to defend ever since.
It is all a popularity contest, a reality-based game show. It is celebrity stuff, not serious consideration by sober grownups. And we are paying for it, and will pay more.
But, hey, Sandra Bullock may be about to break up with her boyfriend.
On account of his death.
There is nothing so private that the celebrity media won’t cover it. The phrase “none of your business” is unknown to them. And now everyone is a celebrity if the celebrity media say so.
We’re letting them lead us to a place we won’t want to be.