Q: Is it possible to be interested in celebrity without being as superficial and trivial as most celebrities themselves?

Jonathan Auerbach, Cheverly

A: You mean, is it possible to talk smart about the phenomenon of celebrity, and engage in intellectual discourse about fleeting fame, without seeming inanely shallow, like one of those hyper-ironic yammerheads on VH1's "Best Week Ever"? Without seeming to hang on the very latest reports on J.Lo-Anthony's rumored pregnancy and whatever designer handbag she was seen carrying into a WeHo Starbucks?

Gosh, I certainly hope it's possible. (This column presumes so.) But apologizing for superficiality is nothing new to those of us who are sometimes transfixed -- and smartly so -- by the weird machinations of the celebrity-industrial complex. Many of us have been chastised for paying attention to such trivial things (usually by men who can recite box scores or who write entire books about the "meaning" of Michael Jordan's basketball talent); or have been snubbed by people who proudly tell us, with superior sneers, that they "never pay attention to celebrities." (The same people who "don't really watch much television" and yet go bonkers-wonkers over Chris Matthews.)

But enough about my Washington cocktail conversations. The trick is healthy detachment; if you're worried about superficiality, then read only the most trenchant, highbrow dispatches from Hollywood, and skip the plastic-surgery/teen-idol/makeover shows. We live in the Celebrity Era, for better or (likely) worse. To not engage in a healthy dissection and analysis of its impact, folly, art and all-around strangeness is to miss out on a key characteristic of the early 21st century. Overexposure, hubris, scandal, tragedy, faith, despair, economy -- it's all there in Us Weekly. You just have to know which pages to skip, and which pages to really ponder.

Have a question about the world of celebrity? Send it, and your daytime phone number, to celebrity@washpost.com.