Suburban Ethnography 1: Entertainment News
As a former city dweller who is now immersed in suburban life, I have a few observations for anyone who might wonder at the strange interests and practices of non-urban culture. First installment: Entertainment News.
Celebrity-worship in the suburbs is a pre-packaged spectator sport rather than the full-contact experience you find in Manhattan. It plays out in glitterati gossip rags, gushy fake news shows, and women“™s magazines; each repeating the other in an endlessly self-adoring orgy of media covering media.
Since moving to the hinterlands, I“™ve found myself, quite against my will, much more cognizant of the sordid indiscretions and simmering grudges that are the bread and butter of this spectacle-based celebrity economy. How does this happen? Why me? I believe that this affliction has been transmitted along three vectors.
SHOPPING. The check-out line in the city takes five minutes. You stand in line with your two cans of tuna while the person in front of you buys his two cans of tuna. You might get a chance to glance at the cover of the New Yorker or the Times, but then it“™s your turn to pay so the guy behind you can get on with his life, too. When you shop in the suburbs, it“™s a different story. You have a hundred dollars worth of groceries, and the person in front of you has a hundred dollar“™s worth of groceries. You have about fifteen minutes to kill and there are ten different tabloids in the rack in front of you. Even if you just skim them, they each have all the same headlines, so the repetition is enough to make the stories stick. Finally, it“™s your turn at the register, with a handful of coupons and a head full of PR releases.
TELEVISION. I know, it“™s the same television they show in the city; but it“™s on more. A lot more. Without the drama of 14th Street right outside the window (with its attendant murder sprees, protests, and the occasional psycho-ninja hostage taker), TV is actually a primary source of entertainment. Once that door is open, celebrity culture cannot be kept out.
DEPRAVATION. So far I have described passive exposure to the lives of those-who-are too-wealthy-for-me-to-feel-even-one-ounce-of-pity-for-them-even-in-their-darkest-hour (OK, what“™s the German word for that?). The question remains: what is it that makes the suburbanite vulnerable to this unsubtle siren song? This is where the real character of suburban life is exposed. The reader may be aware that the suburbs are boring, but they may not appreciate the dramatic effect of this sensory depravation. Really; there“™s nothing out here. The streets are empty. I go days without seeing another human being. This creates a vulnerability to anything shiny or melodramatic or with vulgar cleavage. The brain is starving for lack of sensation, and it will gorge even on this tripe.
City life already has celebrities and glamour: clubbers staggering home at 10 AM, unaffordable flagship stores on Madison Avenue, parades of students and junkies with nothing better to do than to wear the unwearable. City life is so crammed with stimulation that the notion of caring about what happens on a red carpet a thousand miles away (or even ten blocks) seems ridiculous. But in the black hole of White Plains…