Question Celebrity

Sunday, June 3, 2007

AS I FILE MY LAST QUESTION CELEBRITY COLUMN, Paris Hilton faces jail time for driving on a suspended license, and the world is briefly tantalized by even the notion of her force-dressed into a baggy orange jumpsuit, no hair extensions or bronzer, bereft of privilege -- and not as a publicity stunt. There is some underlying sentiment that she must pay for the crime of having brought us to this saturation point in the celebrification of Western culture. For her, the situation is all a misunderstanding. For me, and perhaps for you, it's a good time to look away.

Question Celebrity, which got its start in January 2004, began with such topics as Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at her Super Bowl concert. (Ancient history, yes?) The early months were sustained by excellent -- often hilarious -- questions submitted by readers, to whom I am grateful. (There was other mail, too: The kind that would ask what Justine Bateman is up to these days, or sought a phone number for Lynda Carter or "help" getting Beyonce and/or Jay-Z to come to an elementary school graduation in Southeast Washington the next week.) All along, one type of e-mail kept recurring, usually angry in tone, which went a little sumpin' like this: Why are you wasting my time with this inane pap? I don't care about celebrities! Why would a serious newspaper blah, blah, war in Iraq, blah, blah, Mrs. Graham, blah, blah, etc., etc.

We tried to create here a reasoned and cynical response to what seemed like an unprecedented preoccupation with celebrities in everyday life. Everyone increasingly considers himself or herself famous, in some way. Nobodies demand star treatment, broadcasting their thinly artistic declarations of self. A crush of celebrity-related Web sites, gotcha columns, blogs and TV shows has quickened the speed with which a star can be hounded, exposed, embarrassed and shamed into public apology and/or rehab. Question celebrity? Boy, do we ever.

But I've started to feel a fatigue that I think must grip some sports fans, who, tired of the folderol that surrounds professional athletics, give up watching the actual games. The mind starts to disregard new players and new stats. Wanly flipping through what I hope is my last Us Weekly for a while, it occurs to me that I don't really know who Hayden Panettiere is, except that she's blond and on a show called "Heroes." Worse, it occurs to me I don't care who she is. I'm certain that, as her star rises, she'll date the wrong hunk, or suffer some legal or personal calamity, but she'll have to do it without my attention. By her indistinguishableness alone, Hayden Panettiere did me in. I wish her -- and Paris Hilton, and the rest of us -- all the dumb luck in the world.

Next week, look for Editor's Note:, a new column in this space.

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