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Celebrity

08/13/07 5:55PM By Olin Robison

(HOST) Lately, commentator Olin Robison has been thinking about a chicken and egg kind of thing - that is - whether the media simply reflects our fascination with celebrity - or feeds it.


(ROBISON) Most of us have at one time or another been tempted to buy one or more of those trashy magazines deployed next to supermarket check-out counters.  You know, the ones that tell us that Paris Hilton is out of jail, or that space aliens have landed in Arizona, that sort of thing.
 
Why, oh why, I have frequently wondered, do I need to know about the private lives of Britney or Paris of Brad and Angelina or Tom and Katie?  What difference does it make?  And to whom?  The answer, surely, is "It doesn't matter at all to much of anyone."  Perhaps holding this view marks me as a callous, uncaring person; but I don't think so.
 
And yet we seem to have a media culture that feeds on such stuff.  And the networks and the papers copy each other.
 
The fact that Madonna recently adopted a child in Africa gets far more attention than the plight of tens of thousands of others who are quite literally starving.
 
I admired the statement several years ago by the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player Daryl Strawberry.  The Los Angeles Times asked him his views about ending the Vietnam war.  He replied that he didn't have a view, nor, said he, would it matter if he did.  "I'm a baseball player," he said.
 
Perhaps I make too much of it.  It is probably no more nor less than networks and newspapers doing whatever it takes either to sell papers or to add to the viewing audience.  The people who watch Jerry Springer are as entitled as those who used to watch Dan Rather.  O.K., good point.
 
But I plan to complain anyway.
 
When speaking on a college or university campus, I have learned not to make too many assumptions about what listeners know.  To do so, to make many assumptions,  just leads to awkward silences.
 
The true over-the-top-moment for me came a few weeks back while I was watching coverage on a major network of a news briefing by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Right in the middle of this important man's briefing, the network cut away for "Breaking News" that had something to do with the ongoing saga of determining the genetic father of the late Anna Nicole Smith's baby.
 
Oh, good grief!  What on earth has happened to us?

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.
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