The emptiness of celebrity gossip

2009-12-15 06:46

For decades society has

sought role models who serve as examples in all facets of living – individuals

who have triumphed in their chosen fields and who through determination and

passion show us that anything is possible.

As a child I had

pictures of Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee and Malcolm X on my walls. I was fortunate

enough to have access to books by and information on people such as Can ­Themba,

James Baldwin, Richard Wright, ­Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Bessie Head, Alex

La Guma and Eskia Mphahlele – authors whose words reflected elements of my life.

These as well as

musicians of mine and my father’s time were people whose dedication to their art

were examples to inspire me to pursue the dreams I hope to fulfil. I still look

to public personalities I admire for inspiration. And being a lover of the

written word I collect biographies and autobiographies from Quincy Jones, Sammy

Davis Jr, Prince and Jimi Hendrix to Marilyn Manson, Slash, Bob Marley and

­Truman Capote. I draw the positives from their experiences and try to learn

from the lessons they have learnt.

These are

individuals who exist or existed in the public domain because of their work,

which serves as the primary point of contact for us. All of this has changed.

The advent of

radio and television and now the explosion of the digital universe have changed

the way we perceive and engage with public personalities. I don’t know when, how

or why this happened but the attention gradually shifted from what they do for a

living to how they live.

While we have always found the private lives of

celebrities intriguing, the obsession and the level of exposure has reached

fever pitch, with people building their lives around those of celebrities.

I have been

known to linger on the E! Entertainment channel while channel flipping, usually

on my way from MTV, BBC Knowledge to Supersport, catching the latest irrelevant

news about some random celebrity. Occasionally I have also been known to read

gossip pages.

Randomly surfing

the web will, without fail, throw up several celebrity gossip blogs. Flipping

through any newspaper one often pauses at the inevitable celeb page with the ins

and outs of some random person’s life.

Hang out on

twitter or facebook and you’ll be confronted with some absolutely irrelevant

piece of information about an actor or singer or socialite.

Recently Tiger

Woods had an accident in the wee hours of the morning and the social universe

spent over a week speculating. Some theories included his wife taking a golf

club to his head for his alleged infidelities.

J-Lo slips on

stage during her performance at the American Music Awards and this warrants

extended discourse on whether it serves her right or how it came across


Drug habits,

break-ups, make-ups – all of these now qualify as worthy news in our

celebrity-driven society. Phantom ­careers have been created to fuel this need,

with those who report becoming as famous as those ­being reported about. Perez

Hilton became “relevant” ­after writing gossip about celebrities in Hollywood

and is now invited to all the events, presenting awards.

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