Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Some celebrity gossip ...

 ... Which is just sad. Heidi Klum and Seal are divorcing after six years of marriage and three children. 

G and I were talking about this yesterday. So many celebrity marriages break down. Why? The spouses are often separated on tour, of course, or on location for months at a time. You often need a large dose of narcissism and self-absorption to become a celebrity in the first place, as well as sharp elbows and laser-like will. And that is often incompatible with easily living together with someone else.

But it is also just sad as an indictment of one vision of "the good life", to use the older Aristotelian term. 

The entertainment celebrity is one of the pinnacles of aspiration of the culture, after all, from the American Idol shows all the way through to the obsessive interest of Access Hollywood and People magazine and celebrity websites. 

It's almost a cliche to say that the Hollywood life can often be a very empty one. It is a capricious and risky lottery to begin with. For every successful actor or singer, there are a thousand still waiting tables or selling real estate. 

If you are successful, it can be a short-lived career. The parts dry up, the next album doesn't sell. You become a has-been a short flash of time after being a wannabe. 

I think this is one reason why Hollywood so often inclines towards liberalism, as success seems so capricious, rather than earned or deserved. It always seems precarious. 

And the personal toll on relationships can be severe, as we see today. The lifestyles of the rich and famous in Brentwood and Mandeville Canyon may be lavish, but drug-addled and loney. 

The people who seem to have it all suddenly clearly don't. in fact, that is probably one of the reasons the gossip magazines sell. See, Jennifer Aniston may be beautiful and rich and famous. But she can't find or keep a man! It is a strange mixture of idolization and knocking people from their pedestals into the ordinary mess of life.  

Maybe you can tell a lot about a culture from the people it idolizes. Other cultures have idolized the warrior, or the aristocrat, or the saint, or the  (supposed) "proletarian.". It tells you a lot about what a culture considers the good life to be. 

In older epics like the Iliad or Beowulf, warriors fight and die to achieve a sort of immortality of reputation, or lingering glory. And perhaps there is a sort of immortality in entertainment, too. Every other week another starlet seems to dress up as Marilyn Monroe, for example.  

Some cultures have very different ideas. In medieval or early modern times, people obsessed over saints' lives and bloody martydoms the way they now obsess over actresses.  Foxe's Book of Martyrs was one of the great best-sellers of the sixteenth century. 

And for many centuries in the west the chivalric knight or (later) the honorable "gentleman" was an object of aspiration or admiration.  

Hollywood aspires to the status of "art", which is a different sphere from celebity, of course. But that is not what the celebrity magazines are interested in. 

Being beautiful, rich and famous, an ex-Victoria's Secret Angel and a fashion icon ticks a lot of the boxes of our culture. But it is still sad. It's difficult to imagine any sort of good life if your most important, intimate relationships fray and fail. Even if everyone could live like a Hollywood star, it wouldn't be a particularly happy society. 

Even with wealth and talent and beauty and fame, it can be hard to be happy. On one level, it is the most obvious thing in the world to say. Folk wisdom and church preaching and other strands of the culture have said this for years, or even centuries. 

On the other hand, it suggests that the good life is hard to achieve with just material resources and vulgar admiration.  And that should make us think about just adding to GDP and labor market measures as well and how we want the economy to evolve as well. The volume of monetary transactions in the economy is not exactly the good life either.  

The culture matters too. And Hollywood has not always been good for the culture. It's not necessarily its job, of course. 

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