Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The media and some? most? all? people's obsession with celebrities (especially of the reality TV variety) has reached a new level of absurd with the Jenner / Kardashian daily coverage. Last night it was on the news! Now, I know our news is crap, but it struck me as ridiculous, a new low. I have been thinking about a wonderful passage in Mark Twain's autobiography that is so apt:

Olivia Logan’s notoriety grew out of – only the initiated knew what. Apparently it was a manufactured notoriety, not an earned one. She did write and publish little things in newspapers and obscure periodicals, but there was no talent in them, and nothing resembling it. In a century they would not have made her known. Her name was really built up out of newspaper paragraphs set afloat by her husband, who was a small-salaried minor journalist. During a year or two this kind of paragraph was persistent; one could seldom pick up a newspaper without encountering it.

“It is said that Olivia Logan has taken a cottage at Nantucket and will spend the summer there.”
“Olivia Logan has set her face decidedly against the short skirt for afternoon wear.”

“The report that Olivia Logan will spend the coming winter in Paris is premature. She has not yet made up her mind.”

“Olivia Logan was present at Wallack’s on Saturday evening, and was outspoken in her approval of the new piece.”

“Olivia Logan has so far recovered from her alarming illness that if she continues to improve her physician will cease from issuing bulletins tomorrow.”

The result of this daily advertising was very curious. Olivia Logan’s name was as familiar to a simple public as was that of any celebrity of the time, and people talked with interest about her doings and movements, and gravely discussed her opinions. Now and then an ignorant person from the backwoods would proceed to inform himself, and then there were surprises in store for all concerned:

“Who is Olivia Logan?”

The listeners were astonished to find that they couldn’t answer the question. It had never occurred to them to inquire into the matter.

“What has she done?”

The listeners were dumb again. They didn’t know. They hadn’t inquired.

“Well, then, how does she come to be celebrated?”

“Oh, it’s about something. I don’t know what. I never inquired, but I supposed everybody knew.”

For entertainment I often asked these questions myself, of people who were glibly talking about that celebrity and her doings and sayings. The questioned were surprised to find that they had been taking this fame wholly on trust, and had no idea who Olivia Logan was or what she had done – if anything.

On the strength of this oddly created notoriety Olivia Logan went on the platform, and for at least two seasons the United States flocked to the lecture halls to look at her. She was merely a name and some rich and costly clothes, and neither of these properties had any lasting quality, though for a while they were able to command a fee of $100 a night. She dropped out of the memories of men a quarter century ago. (Mark Twain’s Autobiography, volume I, page 151).

Now if only the Jenners & Kardashians and all their ilk would fade away. But instead of people realizing these are no talent losers and focusing on something, anything even slightly more real, relevant and important, these fools will instead be rewarded with book contracts and "courage" awards. (Really?!) BTW, I know this because (as I mentioned) it was on the news last night, not because I consume tabloids. Some empty-headed, snarky reporter was gushing over the brilliant marketing of Vanity Fair.  I don't think "brilliant" and "pop culture" are words that go together very well. Still, I guess it is a comfort to know the ridiculous already existed in the 19th Century; we did not invent it in the 21st.

No comments: