15 December 2010
Celebrit-ism and cashing in on Oprah
Walter Cronkite was the newsman who brought me evening news when I was a child. Every weekday at 5:30 pm, after the school day faded into afternoon frivolity, Hebrew classes or quick school studies, I stopped to watch the CBS evening news with this icon of American journalism. We found out about international and national news from this trusted man. Never a whimsical sort, and always full of information that seemed reliable. That was news.
That, however, is not the way things are done anymore. Katie Couric, formerly of the NBC Today show, joined CBS and reads the news nightly. Her perky style and loyal following on the morning show gave CBS executives great hope that she would bring a boost in the ratings to the tired CBS program. That worked for a while, and whatever the numbers are today, this spoke to me those years ago when Katie jumped ship. And now things are even clearer.
I live in Sydney, home for the last 12 days of Oprahmania. I'm weary. It's almost like a hangover from the massive explosive larger-than-life consumption by the media and by the public of this icon of American daytime television. I wrote a previous blog about Oprah. (See it here ) But today I'm thinking wider and further. It's about celebrities and our inordinate voyeuristic demand for more and more information about people with whom we have no real relationship.
I call it celebritism. Any ism is weak, to be sure, and like Moishe Rosen used to say, the only 'ism I believe in, is nepotism. But whimsy aside, as a society, driven by whatever weakens us or by whoever is leading us, we now demand a person of beauty rather than substance. We are looking for someone we like more than someone we trust. Perhaps this changed in the US in 1960 when John Kennedy looked better on national television debates than his opponent Richard Nixon. Ideas like medicine seem to be more consumable if dressed up in something we like. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Back to Oprahism. This phenomenon in Australia cost the Aussie taxpayer a little over 5 million dollars. (Some in the US will ask "Aussie or US?" And today we are at parity, so stop asking that question!) Wow, 5 million to get someone to our shores. No one has paid me to visit their country. Ah, but I'm not going to bring 302 other tourists and give away Western Australia necklaces to each guest on my show. I'm not going to be seen by 40 million Americans today on my daily show. And when Oprah's show is seen in January, worldwide, they say the return on investment from the small cost of 5 million dollars will be more publicity than any Australian tourism office has ever spent.
What drives this? The cult of personality. The cult of celebrity. Newscasts nowadays feature entertainment news. But this is rarely about the actual shows that are playing. It's usually gossip information about who is breaking up or sleeping with whom. Today Andy Lee and Megan Gale broke up. See, that's entertainment news.
Last month, Australia paid 3 million dollars to get Tiger Woods to play a golf tournament in Melbourne. He didn't win, although he did well, but cashing in on Oprah or Tiger or whoever, it's all about the celebritism that is running amuck in our society.
So how do we fix it? Admit that we care for real stuff, character traits like honesty and loyalty. Demand of yourself to look at things that matter, in the long run, like your family, and poetry, like trees and ocean, those birds that sing each morning. Ask of yourself to be faithful and kind, no matter who gives you a necklace. Try to help the poor and needy. Care more about those who cannot pay you back.
Seems too 'goody-goody'? I think not.