It starts with shortness of breath. Next comes the hyperventilating, the eye twitches, the body spasms, and mangled speech. The flailing arms come out soon after, trying to seek reassurance from anyone passing by: “Did you see that? Did you see him? That was him! That was him!” Deep breaths. Regain composure. Put the crazy face away, and try to look nonplussed that David Beckham just walked RIGHT by you, and grazed your shirt with his arm. David Beckham. His arm. Your shirt. That shirt will never get washed again.
Sound familiar, or likely?
It can be easily argued that we live in a celebrity culture. With resources like People.com, TMZ, and the ever-infallible Perez Hilton, we know more intimate details about celebrities than we do our own friends and family. I may not know the name of my best friend’s ex, but I do know that Jared Leto used to date Cameron Diaz, who used to date Justin Timberlake, who used to date Britney Spears, who used to date Kevin Federline, who used to date nobody famous… that is, before dating, impregnating, marrying, and divorcing, Britney Spears. Through the celebrity-stalking bible known as Us Weekly, I’ve learned that Michael Phelps likes Chinese food, Ricky Martin likes boxer briefs, and Lindsay Lohan likes women. From watching E! News and listening to Ryan Seacrest on the radio, I have developed a wealth of celebrity trivia that would make my high school US history teacher cringe. What year did Madonna’s first album come out? 1983. Who played the little girl in Remember the Titans? Hayden Panettiere. What did Jessie take that got her “so excited” but yet “so scared”? Caffeine pills. No, I may not know exactly what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do, or where to find Pakistan on a map, but I can tell you that back when they were married, Dennis Quaid cheated on Meg Ryan. (Plus, I’m guessing that Fannie/Freddie and Pakistan/Iraq aren’t all that important anyways.) It may be hard to justify, but celebrity stories trump news stories every time.
For many of us, celebrities are just incredibly fascinating. Typically most of us would think that it’s crazy to camp out on the sidewalk for hours, just to get within screaming distance of a children’s book author. We would find it odd to reach out and grab at random strangers’ arms, legs, and (other) body parts. Perhaps we want to get close enough to verify that celebrities are, indeed, human. And so we change our shopping route to follow them at the supermarket. We stare at them, enraptured, as they do mundane things that all of a sudden seem fascinating. We try to take a picture of them buying carrots with our camera phone. Maybe all of it is just to confirm that they too eat food, walk places, and have boring days. Maybe it’s to reassure us that they are, kind of, just like us.
Then again, if they were really just like us, they wouldn’t be celebrities. So we live vicariously through their awards nights, champagne parties, airport rampages, and drug busts. We dedicate our whole day to wait in line for tickets to see Madonna, and we set aside The Shirt That David Beckham Touched for framing. It may not be right that we place celebrities on a higher pedestal than prime ministers, Congressmen, royalty, philanthropists, teachers, doctors, firefighters, police officers, community organizers, war veterans, environmentalists, public defenders, public servants, social workers, human rights activists, and often in the case of young people, parents… BUT, celebrities have brought us entertainment in the form of Britney & Kevin: Chaotic. So, I feel quite justified.