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But Enough About Cairo . . .

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 5, 2009; 9:35 AM

President Obama's Egyptian address took place about an hour before the network morning shows started yesterday, giving them a natural lead story.

Within half an hour, though, they were all talking about Jon and Kate. Jon, it seems, had given an interview to People in which he was asked about his deteriorating marriage and said it was a "private matter." (A private matter, from a guy who puts his relationship and his eight kids on display for the reality-show cameras?)

Now I get that morning shows are a mixture of news and entertainment. Ten million people watched this cheesy TLC show last week, and Us Weekly just did its sixth straight cover story on the subject. I talked about it on my program last Sunday, roughly two weeks after I first learned who Jon and Kate Gosselin were.

But there is something striking about a president's first speech to the Muslim world and chatter about allegedly unfaithful reality-show spouses both being elements on a news program. It reflects, I suppose, our Web-surfing mentality, as we skip from Sonia Sotomayor to "Angelina Named World's Most Powerful Celebrity," from GM's bankruptcy to "Mom Accused of Duct-Taping Daughter's Boyfriend." (These are headlines from yesterday's Huffington Post, which has also been running photo spreads on "Guess the Celebrity Breast Implants.")

There have always been serious news outlets and those that traffic in entertainment and gossip. The difference now is that so many are in mashup mode, sprinkling their nutritious fare with gooey treats, lest readers and viewers change the channel or click away in search of sweeter stuff.

They roll into our lives, these previously anonymous people -- from Nadia Suleman to Carrie Prejean to Susan Boyle -- and, in the blink of an eye, fade into the obscurity from whence they came.

Maybe, in this time of war and recession, of automakers in bankruptcy and a doctor being killed in church, we need a healthy dose of comic relief. But Jon and Kate aren't even famous -- or weren't, until a dumb reality show transformed their lives, and even then not until there were allegations of infidelity. Their fame was created, in other words, by the same media machine that covers the White House and Wall Street. It will undoubtedly be fleeting, but there is always something to take its place -- particularly if that Bravo show "Real Housewives of D.C." gets off the ground.

In Salon, Heather Havrilesky has some intriguing thoughts on the nature of modern celebrity:

"These last few weeks may go down in history as the tipping point when ordinary people replaced celebrities at the pop cultural whipping post. First sextuplet parents and reality stars Jon and Kate Gosselin fell to pieces before our eyes, then Kate's brother, Kevin Kreider, made a teary-eyed appearance on 'The Early Show' to decry the fact that his nieces and nephews were being exploited and 'viewed as a commodity.'

"On Sunday night, awkward cat lady and overnight star Susan Boyle was taken to the hospital to be treated for 'exhaustion' after her loss to dance group Diversity on 'Britain's Got Talent.' Then early this week, reality dilettantes Heidi and Spencer Pratt quit 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here' (twice), but allegedly called the whole thing a 'mental fake-out to mess with the competitors' -- see also, yet another publicity stunt the likes of which formed the two-headed monster Speidi from the molten ashes of two unexceptional humans in the first place.

"But who are the victims: us or them? The digital age has allowed a ravenous worldwide mob to devour everyday folks -- stalking them with cameras, revealing their secrets -- and then spitting out their bones. Octo-Mom was a stripper! Kate Gosselin kept Jon on a $5 a day allowance! Each accidental uncelebrity wanders into our cross hairs and we treat them to the kind of scrutiny once reserved for Supreme Court justice nominees and the girlfriends of philandering politicians. While fame in the age of YouTube looks so easy and accessible that few lonely souls wish to remain anonymous, its spoils are often overlooked . . .

"Sadly, these insipid stories trickle up from the gutter to so-called legitimate news sources. Chasing diminished ad revenue, uncelebrity pap is born at Radar Online or TMZ.com, then gets picked up by the San Jose Mercury News, L.A. Times or CBS in the hopes of capturing enough page views to keep these relatively serious (and therefore doomed) news outlets afloat for another day."


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