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Today’s Headlines

Looking at the toxic celebrity media.

Today I’m going to examine the current top headlines on Google News, not so much for what their covering as for why they are covered.

I’m viewing the site without a Google Account, though they still may be applying location data based on my connection’s IP address and/or other tracking being done. Let’s start with some basic numbers:

  • 34 headlines
    • Six in Top Stories
      • Three of the six related to tragedies surrounding Celebrities
      • Four related to death and sickness
      • Two related to political struggles
    • Five in World
      • All five about Leaders of factions, nations, etc.
    • Five in U.S.
      • Two related to death and sickness (one historical)
      • No leaders or celebrities directly mentioned
    • Two in Business
      • One about an investigation into corruption
      • One fluff piece about a famous/historical restaurant
    • Five in Technology
      • Of the seven companies mentioned in Technology (not including the names of the companies hosting the articles), two are mentioned eight times (three times and five times), with the rest being mentioned once each.
    • Two in Entertainment
      • Both heavy on the Celebrity, of course
    • Five in Sports
      • Two about trades/hires
      • Two on future success chances
      • One about a labor dispute
    • Two in Science
      • One on a company selling flights to the moon
    • Two in Health
      • One on fighting childhood obesity, the other on treatment for depression
  • Ten mention someone of Celebrity in the headline

Ah, the news. The soap opera of our world. Teaching us that if you want more than your immediate family to take interest when tragedy or success comes your way, it’s either got to be weird or you’ve got to be famous.

Celebrity is a problem. Whether it’s a member of some cultist royalty, a political leader, military leader, sports star, musician, or just a yokel elevated to celebrity status by a hyperactive media, it’s a problem.

It’s even a problem in the open source/free software community, when people like Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman are given heightened attention not for what they say, but for who they are.

I don’t care where Guido van Rossum (inventor of Python) works, though I’m very happy to use the language. I hope his life is good, but no more than anyone else.

When Stallman talks about an issue (such as the recent Free Software Foundation: Blogs: Richard Stallman: 7 December 2012: Ubuntu Spyware: What to Do?), I’m not concerned about his past endeavors or opinions. I read that essay with the goal of evaluating the ideas. Now, knowing something of his background helps to charitably parse his argument. But that’s the general case of having a feel for an individual’s ideas.

The problem comes when people feel one way about the man and therefore automatically gravitate to one side of an argument. The problem comes when people confuse success with merit (eg, in admiring a political, religious, or athletic figure). If Michael Jordan is the best damn player in the history of the National Basketball Association, I’d better get his shoes.

Celebrity is toxic. It lets us look past the character flaws of a leader, for no good reason. If a leader behaves badly in one way, they aren’t necessarily unfit, but their achievements do not absolve them.

The news media (both mainstream and niche) focuses on celebrity. It does this because it’s an easy sale. If someone walks into your delicatessen and you offer to sell them some exotic meat on some exotic bread, they might try it. But you’ll do the bulk of your business with standards like the BLT and reuben on rye. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry ice cream. Cheese pizza.

There are vegetarians and vegans, but at present there aren’t really any celebrity-free news junkies or sources. You can’t get political stories without the (R) and (D) plastering. Technology to the media means gossip about a small number of high-profile firms.

For most of the news, my answer hasn’t wavered in years: no thanks, I am not hungry (for that). I’d rather eat ideas than celebrities.

Celebrity News is not News

The question is why the Pope is considered meaningful enough to garner mention in a non-religious news context. The answer is that historically the Pope had a lot of power to cause people to kill each other.

Looked at the news today to find this utterly silly celebrity news story about the Pope adding another 22 Cardinals to his team (they had been part of the lower-tier Archbishop team that performs with Pope on tour). What is the big deal that this gets classified as World News? I specifically unsubscribe/remove celebrity news and sports from any news content I consume. Because it’s not meaningful to me.

The question is why the Pope is considered meaningful enough to garner mention in a non-religious news context.  The answer is that historically the Pope had a lot of power to cause people to kill each other.  Same reason they still cover the various Royal Families of the world without properly sequestering those to Celebrity News.

Having had the ability to get a lot of people killed, they were relevant.  You might be one of the people that would be killed, or that would kill, or know some of those people.  It was good to know if people were going to be killed.

But these days, I don’t think the Pope can have anyone killed, and if he or she can, a stop ought be put to that Papal power.  Same for the Royal Families.

It’s different for Roman Catholics, as it is for the subjects of the Royal Families.  But is that any different than being a fan of a pop singer or a fan of a sports organization, when viewed from the outside?

At best, isn’t the modern non-Royal, non-Religious celebrity just a counterpart to the former celebrities that were ordained by the gods?  And the other counterpart, the leaders and politicians, they are news only because they have the power to get people killed and otherwise harm society in similar ways.

But high profile figures are harmful in and of themselves, as they are seen as archetypes for the rest of us.  If the politician or the Pope resort to certain types of rhetoric, the average person for whom they represent archetypes will follow their leads.

This is clear when we look at nations brought to war on the backs of bad arguments and shoddy evidence.  The debate isn’t just shaped, but fabricated by the hands of these archetypes.  Whether the war is on illegal immigrants or a foreign nation, the capacity for the average person to make their voice heard depends upon the archetypes’ ability to show respect for the rest of us, and they seldom do so.

So, celebrity news is not news, but seldom is the new authority’s view news.  It’s agenda, it’s propaganda.  It is the cloth that the followers hang inside their minds, and when they look out to the world, their view is framed with that cloth.