The Gossip Pages

June 11, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

I have often wondered why people care so much about the private lives of actors and actresses. This is not a recent phenomenon - in fact, it predates movies - but the increasingly intrusive antics of the paparazzi have elevated it to new levels. Frankly, though, who really cares if Tom Cruise is head-over-heels in love with Katie Holmes? Congratulations to the pair if they have found true romance, but spare me the details. I don't need to know. And so what if the chemistry between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt spilled off-screen from their on-screen pairing during Mr. and Mrs. Smith? Considering what overexposure did to Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, it's no wonder they're keeping a relationship under wraps, if such a relationship exists.

Tabloids are everywhere. You can't walk into a grocery store without seeing them prominently displayed. And you can't surf the TV spectrum without running into an "Entertainment Tonight" or an "Inside Edition." There's even an entire network devoted to gossip. As a population, we are fascinated by the antics of stars, but why? Is it jealousy? Envy? Or some kind of preceived void in ourselves that causes us to seek validation by peering into the lives of those we idolize.

Idolization is acceptable - even expected - in kids and teenagers. But the older one grows, the more unseemly and pathetic it becomes. It's one thing to admire the work of an actor, but quite another thing to follow their every move. Actors are not their characters, nor vice versa. The Internet has now allowed millions of people to become stalkers from the comfort of their homes. It's kind of scary, and it's easy to see why some stars lament their loss of freedom.

Over the years, the paparazzi have grown from being nuisances to being menaces. Incidents like when Sean Penn went on the offensive seem almost quaint by today's standards, when even high speed flight isn't enough to dodge a determined photo-snoop. Everyone knows that paparazzi harassment led to the grisly death of Princess Diana, yet even that public disaster hasn't resulted in a reduction of the feeding frenzy. It doesn't seem to matter if someone is hurt or killed, as long as the picture is taken.

While it's in vogue to blame the photographers, they're only making a living, albeit in a parastic fashion. The real people to blame are those who buy the tabloids and watch tabloid TV. Take away all these readers and viewers and the appetite for candid shots drops away. It's a simple matter of dollars and cents, but no one wants to hear this. The person who turns on "Access Hollywood" doesn't believe they shoulder any portion of the responsibility (no matter how small) for Lindsay Lohan's recent car accident.

Another unfortunate byproduct of this tabloid obsession is the phenomenon of individuals being famous for no reason other than that they are famous. In particular, I am referring to Paris Hilton, whose porn video merely extended her fifteen minutes. By now, she's past the 30 minute mark and hopefully down to her final few seconds. Aside from her willingness to appease the paparazzi, she has no descernible talent (at least nothing I can remark upon in a column that might be read by children). She can't sing or act, and, at least in my opinion, she's not especially attractive. But she's famous. Most people I know think of her as a joke, but I wonder whether she belives we're laughing with her rather than at her. There's a difference, but maybe the subtlety of it escapes her.

I wish I had an answer for why the "cult of celebrity" is so potent. Why is it a big deal to people who have never met them if Brad and Jen get a divorce? (See - I didn't even have to use last names.) Why is Lindsay Lohan's breast size a topic for discussion? Who cares if Demi Moore is pregnant? It boggles the mind that these things are more important to some people than events in their own lives. Why not let the stars live their lives while we live ours?