Anna Nicole Smith: the woman who was “famous for being famous.” This story was on every single television monitor in the Miami airport as I was heading home from a speaking engagement at 6:00 am yesterday, Saturday. I couldn’t miss it, even when plugged in my computer in a corner.
Why is it that we are so interested in celebrities?
I think our fascination may be due, in part, to the lack of local community in our lives. For millions of years our forebears traveled in little hunting and gathering bands, often consisting of about 25 men, women and children. Then as many as 500 people assembled at large lakes during the dry season. And across the firelight, in the dark, beneath the stars, they gossiped about their neighbors. This way they set social norms, ostracized offenders, and sized up where they stood in the social whirl.
We still live in communities--but often they aren’t local. For example, I don’t know my neighbors in my apartment building in New York City. My colleagues at Rutgers have never met my close friends; nor have my friends in publishing, at Chemistry.com, in my email network or in my other social and business networks ever met one another. In short, the only people that you and I and everybody else “know” in common are celebrities and others in the news.
Television has become the global campfire. We sit around it and get the news; then we share our thoughts about these events and people with our pals.
And gossip, we do. As we discuss the life of Anna Nicole Smith, her many lovers, the unknown father of her daughter, and her trajectory into stardom, we are still doing what we did a million years ago. We are measuring our own achievements, tailoring our goals, adjusting our plans, building mutual codes of ethics, and laughing and crying together.
“How misfortune with a knapsack plods the earth” wrote the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova. Misfortune visits all of us, even the rich, the beautiful and the famous. Perhaps as we see the celebrities struggle with life the same way we do, we feel our own good fortune and renew our deep connection to humanity.
Semper ad astra, Helen