ADDICTED TO CELEBS
Jack Shafer has an amusing piece in Slate:
Several million years before Bonnie Fuller ditched Jann Wenner’s Us Weekly to remake David Pecker’s Star tabloid into a shiny celebrity magazine, life on the African savanna had already sculpted the human psyche into a vessel that would thirst for page after page of articles about the mating rituals, health, and drug problems, fertility problems, wealth and status displays, and plastic surgery secrets of actors, rock stars, and other modern luminaries.
Celebrity gossip has ruled the media ever since the late ’20s when Walter Winchell invented the genre in his syndicated newspaper column. Winchell served a hearty blend of hard news, loose facts, innuendo, and vitriol about stars, politicians, and the rich. Compared to today’s celebrity rags, Winchell covered an entire universe of people. But thanks mostly to Fuller’s influence, the constellation of people worth gossiping about are the blond and fertile–and a few legacy stars like Liza. It’s as if Fuller and her competitors milled the whole grain of Winchell’s formula to a pale dust. This gossip is so finite and restricted that only the primal power of evolutionary psychology can explain their pervasive hold on the collective imagination.
But if the celebrity rags are media proxies for the tribal gossip and mating rituals of the savanna, why are most stories about women? Why are most readers female (67 percent of Us readers are women, the magazine reports)? Setting aside the possibility that most readers are closeted lesbians paging their way from one cheap thrill to another, my best guess derives from the school-dance truism that girls like to look at boys but love to look at the competition–especially the alpha competition. (For further evidence of how women love hints on displaying their fecundity, see their abiding interest in Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and the rest of the fashion magazines.) The women who read the celebrity rags fantasize about fabulous courtships, fairy tale weddings, romantic honeymoons, and the everlasting bonding of parenting. When divorce happens, they relish every human detail. For whatever reason, most men can’t wrap their minds around the importance of Chris Robinson and Kate Hudson’s romance and impending child.