Most weeks, when we’re out grocery shopping, my wife and I amuse ourselves in the checkout queue by reading the covers of certain magazines and lampooning the headlines.
It’s fun. And a lot like shooting fish in a barrel.
These magazines are ostensibly about real people – all of whom we are supposed to recognise by first name. And these magazines reveal chaotic lives filled with all the shallow melodrama and emotional roller-coaster of a poorly written soap opera.
Famous women lurch from marriage ultimatum to separation drama to diet crises to baby bodies to bikini bodies and back to baby bodies again on a weekly cycle. They obsess with babies, wedding plans, divorce plans and diets. They have secrets known only to us – when we read the story of that ‘secret’ in the magazine.
The men these erratic and unstable celebrities associate with are impulsive and shallow, showering their women with ultimatums, having affairs, betrayals, and fighting battles with the bottle. Then reconciling. All of it on whispered account from ‘close-placed’ sources, all played out to the same hectic weekly schedule.
I might be forgiven for supposing that the famous have the emotional maturity of an eight year old and suffer from borderline personality disorder.
Of course they’re not. This is what sells. It’s managed at editorial level. Editors need a new scandal every week. And the pressure any editor comes under with any periodical is intense – I know; I wrote a fortnightly newspaper column in the 1990s and for a few years edited a fortnightly periodical.
Lest we mistake these things for anything but product, they’re also copy-edited for style – typically, the right adverbs. People don’t eat meals, they have to eat ‘nourishing meals’. Ordinary events become ‘shocking developments’ or ‘surprise announcements’. We are told, every time, what the verb means. It’s not subtle.
What’s more, as a society we’ve been conditioned into this vicariousness. Back in the 1920s studio heads began deliberately selling their stars’ private lives – manufacturing an image of movie star life for plebians to gawp at, as a marketing tool for the films. And it was, deliberately, manufactured. Today’s is so much a part of the industry we don’t give it a second thought; and it’s spread to all celebrities.
The disturbing part, for me, is what this really tells us about our society. Is western culture that shallow, that easily entertained? I doubt it. But I wonder. There is a dissonance. Individually we’re smart – and yet, en masse, things slip. As individuals, we are cynical about these magazines – and yet, they sell. It’s the old story of individual vs mass. Part of the human condition? Of course.
I have readers of this blog from Australia to South Africa, UK, the Netherlands, the US and Canada – I know it’s going to be pretty much the same over there.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013