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Focal Plane: Celebrity scoffers

This is the nineteenth instalment of the GoobNet Focal Plane, an occasional series wherein we highlight an unimportant social problem, trying to make you care about it. Use the Whine Control, left, to view other instalments.

“Believe it or not, without all the hype and all the circus that does surround me, I’m a pretty normal person. I try to live my life as normal as possible.”

Two weeks ago, Dave Beckham stood under a sunny Southern California sky and said that to the assembled crowd. With some of the hype you’ve been hearing, you might be forgiven for expecting him to stand over the sunny Southern California sky.

But not everyone is happy to see him. Some, unbelieveably, feel that the Los Angeles Galaxy’s performance on the standing sheet is more important than its performance on the ledger sheet. One such person is Henry Scalatorres, who has held season tickets for the Galaxy since 1999.

“We’ve seen all this before,” Scalatorres says. “Remember Luis Hernandez? Hong Myung Bo? They were supposed to swoop in and make the Galaxy the biggest thing ever. And what happened? They sold a few tickets, got a few people away from their movies and their TV shows. But they were both around for only a couple of years. And after that, they were forgotten. Like they were never there.”

Scalatorres may sound irrational, disagreeable, and downright bitchy. But he cannot be accused of being alone. In fact, he is part of a growing segment of the population: people who don’t care about celebrities.

Counterculture

Charlotte Macadam moved to Los Angeles eleven years ago and has since settled down, bought a home, and had a child. Outwardly, she appears to have blended in with the Angeleno population. But there is one thing that sets her apart from her neighbours.

“I don’t care about celebrities,” she admits. “They mean nothing to me. I don’t watch celebrity news shows. I don’t read Us Weekly, or People, or any of that other shit. And I sure as hell don’t watch Larry King talk to some guy who saw Paris Hilton walk into jail or whoever the fuck he talks to these days.”

Someone asks her why she lives in LA if she has no regard for celebrities.

“My job,” Macadam replies. “I have a great job. The weather is fucking fantastic. And we got everything here. I mean everything. Look. Near to me there’s a Thai restaurant, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Pakistani restaurant, four Chinese restaurants, a Peruvian restaurant, an Ethiopian restaurant, even a Georgian restaurant. Not the state, the former Soviet republic. I found that out when I went there a few years ago. I walk in and there’s all these, like, dumplings and cheese bread and shit. I was like, Where the hell’s the fried chicken?”

Fried chicken notwithstanding, if you are getting sick of hearing about Beckham and Brangelina and Tomkat and all those chicks who run around without panties on, you’re not alone, according to social historian Leila T Sevarapidopoulis.

“LA’s counterculture has always been significant, but only recently has it been able to really make itself known,“ Sevarapidopoulis says. “In the past people with contrarian viewpoints would get together with each other nearby in places like Venice. In recent years, though, the Internet has made it possible for these groups to contact one another easily. People in these groups have been able to find each other through sites like Myspace.”

This leads to what Sevarapidopoulis calls a high irony: The same sites that extend the traditional culture can also extend counterculture. In fact, on the same message board, one might find posts such as “omg beckham is soooo hot” and “god, all those teenyboppers masturbating over beckham make me wanna vomit”.

Glamour overload

At the University of California Los Angeles, Prof John Pearce teaches a graduate level sociology class called “Resistance to Popular Culture”. He was asked what gave rise to the massing trend of disregard for celebrities.

“I believe it’s mostly the media,” he says to the questioner. “Time was, there were ten or more newspapers in each major city, plus a variety of radio stations. Today, only a few newspapers remain here, and the LA Times dominates. The same with other media like television. You can say that there are hundreds of cable channels, and that’s true, but large corporations like Viacom, or Disney, or Sony, or Time Warner, these companies each own numerous cable channels. That leads to groupthink, and it leads to each one covering the same things their rivals are covering when they see what sells.”

Another student asks, “So people are just getting sick of seeing the same thing on every channel.”

“Exactly,” Pearce responds. “Glamour overload.”

Macadam can relate to glamour overload. She works for a publishing company and continually refuses to proof manuscripts of biographies of celebrities, and particularly of their ghostwritten autobiographies.

“One day I read one of those things,” she said. “It was shit. It was all, ‘Oh I went to so and so school, and I learned this, and I had that teacher, and that’s why I’m like this today,’ and it’s like, who gives a shit? There’s way too many people like that, way too many books, way too many talk show interviews.”

Kylie, Kanye, and Vick

Back in Pearce’s class, an interesting discussion is taking shape. Pearce has claimed that mass media fails to reflect what should be the priorities of modern society.

A student in the back raises her hand and says, “Wait a minute. There are some benefits too. Celebrities have the ability to bring attention to important causes. Like when Kylie Minogue had breast cancer.”

Someone else adds, “Or when Kanye West said George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

There is laughter at this, but the room seems to recognise that it is a valid topic. Pearce says, “Well, that’s true. Celebrities can be a voice for improvement. But are they? I mean, for every Bob Barker who speaks out against cruelty to animals, there’s a Michael Vick.”

One person asks who that is and is informed that he’s “the dogfight guy”.

The student in the back points out, “Yeah, but even that brings attention too. Dogfighting wasn’t an issue a couple of months ago. Now everybody’s speaking out against it.”

After the class is over, this student, a Welsh woman named Meghan Danley, is asked if there’s an upside to celebrity obsession.

“I think there is,” she replies. “Celebrities have a lot of power. Their actions, their words are seen and heard all across the world. And with the present media environment, and the Internet, judgment is passed on them pretty much instantly. That means they’re barometers. As soon as word gets out that, say, Vick was running a dogfighting ring, there’s outrage everywhere, and so we can find out that most people are against dogfighting, which wouldn’t otherwise be relevant.”

Hearing this, Pearce shouts on his way out, “But if the press was doing its job, we wouldn’t need to wait for a scandal to find out that people don’t like dogfighting.”

We love you LA, we do

So what to do about supporters of the Galaxy, who for some reason would prefer to have a winning team rather than a winning player?

Jamie Chowak, a high school junior who has been attending Galaxy matches since she was eight, would seem to be a likely candidate for a Beckhamaniac. So who is her favourite player?

“Kyle Veris!”

Who?

“He’s an awesome defender! He’s tough, and he’s powerful, and I love his cornrows!”

Okay, but what about Beckham?

“He’s good too, but things have gotten crazy since he got here. All the paparazzi and everything. Like the other day against Pachuca, all the photographers in front of us were looking up at Beckham’s suite, and we were all like, ‘Hey, to your right! The game’s over there!’ Besides, for all that money, we could sign, like, two hundred Kyle Verises.”

She provides no suggestions as to where the other one hundred ninety nine would come from.

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