I used to be obsessed with celebrity gossip.
It feels so strange to say that now. The idea of it seems so naturally repulsive that I can't believe that I spent my years in law school basically addicted to it. Since I've left the US I've stopped checking celebrity gossip web sites, I don't watch reality TV and until just now I didn't even realize these changes had been happening. It is amazing the stuff that so quickly drops out of your life once you start living.
What I have seen of the celebrity culture in Turkey is so different. Often times when we are having lunch at work or going for a little shopping after, one of my colleagues will note that someone walking by is a model, a pop star or an actress. Every now and then we see some of the footballers around. In the beginning I thought they were just pulling my leg. But then I began to realize they were serious. The amazing thing is, no one cares. No one stops to gape. People don't pull out their camera phones and start snapping away and they most certainly don't approach or bother these people who happen to entertain for a living.
It is incredibly refreshing. And it is nothing like the US.
What's wrong with obsessions with celebrities? Everything. It reflects so many social ills and it stagnates progress in society. It affirms unrealistic expectations and creates superficial value systems. It promotes a culture of back-stabbing, gossiping and disloyalty.
What's wrong with reality tv? I used to watch shows like The Hills and I would almost always feel bad or disappointed with the type of people that live in the world. Most of the time, I would make fun of the people I had just watched. It may not seem socially significant, but each time that happens, it becomes easier for us to be mean in general, it makes us think that some people "deserve" to be made fun of, that they "deserve" to be ridiculed. And it is not long until this mentality seeps into our interactions with people we actually know. Many times we watch these shows and feel embarrassed for the people on the screen or think of them as pathetic. These shows often highlight the lives of rich, self-obsessed, catty girls. The men in these shows are often enablers and the girl's conflicts almost always center on some male 'loser.' These shows highlight extravagant lifestyles or attempts to become rich, famous, or beautiful.
And we forget in all this, that we are pathetic too. For helping to fuel this machine. For being a part of a cultural defect that is incredibly destructive to our society. For legitimizing it so much that it is now the mainstream. Even when I am reading the NY Times or the Washington Post I see what can only be classified as celebrity gossip in the news. Tweens like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas brothers are being invited to the White House. Pop culture is the language that we speak. Celebrity worship is our religion.
I shouldn't be so judgmental. I know I was wrapped up in this culture myself until quite recently. But living outside of it, I can see how destructive and barbaric it is. A lot of people might say that i should lighten up- it's just for fun. But it's more than that.
There are an estimated 8 million anorexics in America. Every year, this disease claims more and more lives. Study after study has shown direct correlations between media images and the development of anorexia. When it is quickly becoming the culture that we breathe, how much worse will these numbers get for the next generation? Each year over 1.5 million women are physically assaulted by male partners. Every day 3 women die at the hands of their partner. Where do messages of inferiority and dependency come from? Each day, we are exposed to the degradation of women on celebrity websites and on these reality TV shows.
Little girls are now 'fans' of the likes of Paris Hilton and fathers who are notoriously known for being absent in America will humiliate themselves to allow their little girls a chance to go see Hannah Montana, who is one of the worst role models for girls. Fourteen year old tween stars now regularly show up to awards shows with partners and most of their bodies exposed. A few years ago this would be associated with pedophilia, now it is suitable content for magazine covers. Hey, it's 'art.'
And while we spend our time, energy and resources following the lives of celebrities, we are not bettering ourselves or our country. People in the U.S. know less about the world than almost any other country, which is humiliating considering our access to resources. The average person knows more about the latest celebrity than about their own president. Do you know that mainstream US magazines have different content than what the rest of the world see?
What I am not saying here is that if you check People.com or watch a reality tv show that you are personally a degenerate. And I am not saying there is anything wrong with being interested in entertainment in its own sphere. But what I am saying is that the systematic infiltration of celebrity culture into mainstream society is destructive as a whole and is at the very best exasperating existing problems we have in our society and at worst creating a whole new slew of them. It takes up our time and energy and while we are wondering what catty exchange happened between two celebrities- we don't know about basic domestic and international social problems.
There is a price to pay for a voyeuristic and obsessive culture. There is a price to pay for filling our heads and our time with what can only be described as trash. I appreciate being away from America because in many ways it helps me value it more. It affirms how much I love it. But to truly love something, you must see it for what it is. You hope for something better for it, for the best for it. So, I look at my country with so much love and so much hope that it's people will demand something better of it and of themselves.