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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    People magazine vs. The New York Times

    While guiltily checking for updates on gossip Web site Perezhilton.com between classes, instead of researching real news topics for my column, I began to mull over why a normally sane person would care about who Anna Nicole Smith’s baby daddy is, or what suspicious substance was photographed on Lindsay Lohan’s nose.

    The fate of the free world does not hinge upon this oh-so-vital information. It would be much more useful to be reading up on international feeling toward Iran, or examining presidential hopefuls issue by issue, rather then cooing over paparazzi photos of baby Shiloh and papa Brad.

    So why is it that People magazine has had the highest advertising revenue of all U.S. consumer magazines for 16 years running? What makes it easier to grab a gossip rag then to happily dive into The New York Times?

    The easy argument would be to suggest that the glossy pictures and lack of words in the illustrious People may have a thing or two to do with it.

    However, I fear that there may be something more insidious at work here, something lurking in the murky depths of American culture – something like the pervasive influence of television.

    It is no secret that scientists have been railing for decades about how children are watching too much television. What may be surprising are the actual numbers and the discovery that “”Heavy TV viewers exhibit five dependency symptoms – two more than necessary to arrive at a clinical diagnosis of substance abuse,”” according to Professor Robert Kubey of Rutgers University.

    The A.C. Nielsen Co. recently reported some worrisome statistics (printed nearby).

    It would appear that not only have a generation of U.S. citizens been raised by a television, they are also addicted to it.

    Many people around my age spent more meaningful time watching the cast of “”Friends”” bond during their 10 seasons of happy TV togetherness than conversing with their parents – people who are supposed to be role models for their children.

    Television by the numbers

    3.5: Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children.

    1680: Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television.

    70: Percentage of day care centers that use TV during a typical day.

    54: Percentage of 4-6 year-olds who, when asked to choose between watching TV and spending time with their fathers, preferred television.

    So, if more time is spent watching television growing up, it would make sense that a person would want to know more about a celebrity’s personal life as they got older, much like how an adopted child would want to get to know their birth parents.

    The celebrity’s face becomes familiar because of repetitive viewing, like an acquaintance, then perhaps like a friend or family member. Our brains are being tricked into kinship.

    This false sense of familiarity can then breed obsessions. A 2003 USA Today article showed research by Dr. James Houran and associates showing that “”one in three people are moderate to advanced celebrity worshipers,”” based on a sample size of 600 people in a national study.

    Additionally, a University of Leicester study found that “”one in ten people is so obsessed with their idol, that it affects their daily life.””

    May I state the obvious? That’s a lot of people.

    It seems that it is easy to read about a movie star’s private life, because they are comfortable. We are used to them. We can eat up every little detail of their lives because we believe they are like a friend.

    On the other hand, it’s not so comfortable to read about a world that is unstable, a world that is becoming a fearful place, a world with major players who are foreign to us, people whose lives are fundamentally inaccessible.

    I highly doubt that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would react well to paparazzi photos of him getting a half-caf mocha latte.

    That does not mean that one does not need to be aware of his actions and the actions of countless other political figures. It’s just harder in part because of the lack of familiarity.

    Additionally, delving into the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy is just plain difficult. It is infinitely complex and, well, foreign.

    Spending time reading about the seemingly fascinating lives of a celebrity is an easy cop-out when the rest of the world seems too depressing. However, it can be a dangerous cop-out at the expense of time that could be spent on being informed on the state of the world.

    That being said, when the next juicy celebrity scandal rolls around, read it. Just remember its place in the grand scheme of things and quickly cleanse your mind with an update on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

    You’ll feel better afterward.

    Joyanna Jones is a journalism senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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