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FIRST-PERSON: Why is this news?


ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–“The world’s culture is changing, adapting,” wrote American journalist Georgie Anne Geyer. “People are keeping what’s good in culture, and sweeping out the rest.” We can only hope that Ms. Geyer’s observation is correct, otherwise the United States is destined for the dust bin of irrelevancy.

While there are many indications that American society is less than healthy, one of the most compelling symptoms has to be popular culture’s obsession with tawdry trivia. And the most recent example of this morbid interest in the insignificant is in Americans’ fixation with the sordid story of Anna Nicole Smith and the continuing misadventures of Britney Spears.

For the past few weeks Smith and Spears have dominated not only the news cycle, but they have also been the topic of discussion on radio and television talk shows. And, unless you have been snowshoeing in Outer Mongolia, you know by now that Smith took center stage because she died suddenly. Spears is in the news because of unseemly and erratic behavior.

Why are so many interested in Smith and Spears? What is it about them that has commanded so much attention? I have to be honest and admit that I really have no idea.

I do not understand celebrity worship. I cannot fathom how someone can find meaning and/or pleasure in following the lives of the rich and famous.

There is only one reason that Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and other news organizations are providing so much coverage to Smith and Spears, and that is ratings. That the networks will so completely cater to audience preference is a sad commentary on what passes for news these days.


Consider why Smith and Spears are famous. Smith began her “career” as a stripper in Houston. After plastic surgery enhanced her popularity, she caught the eye of an 89-year-old patron named J. Harold Marshall. He was a billionaire. “Love” was in the air and some time later the pair married.

Later Smith hit it “big” by appearing in Playboy and being named the publication’s Playmate of the year. She also became the lead model for Guess jeans and appeared in a few films. Recently, Smith was featured in her own reality show and was the spokesmodel for diet aid TrimSpa.

Just months before her death, Smith gave birth to a daughter. Currently, no less than five men are claiming to be the father.

Spears began innocently enough as a regular on “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Later she became famous as a pop singer. As time progressed, innocence gave way to raunchiness, as her performances featured fewer clothes and more sexually suggestive gyrations.

Spears made headlines when she “married” a childhood friend, only to have it annulled hours later. Later, she hooked up with one of her show’s dancers. Kevin Federline left his girlfriend — with whom he fathered two children (the second one was on the way at the time) — to marry Spears.

Spears has had two children with Federline, but in the past year the pair split up. In recent months, Spears has made headlines by partying hardy with the likes of Paris Hilton. And, thanks to the ever-diligent media, it was reported she did so a few times without undergarments.

Recently, Spears has been in the news for having shaved her head and for checking herself in and out of rehab facilities.

And I ask you, why are these women considered famous?

In another era Smith and Spears would be nothing more than fodder for gossip, personalities fit only for the most titillating of tabloids. Today, they’re considered subjects of serious news. Sadly, in present day America, these two women enjoy an almost ubiquitous presence in the media.

The only contributions to society Smith and Spears have made are vivid illustrations of how not to live life. They are prime examples of the universal truth of sowing and reaping. What a person sows is what a person will reap.

If you want to know one reason why radical Islamists hate us, just look at the news cycle for the past week. The media has given constant attention to women most Muslim societies would, at least, shun.

Instead, a significant number of Americans find Smith and Spears newsworthy and entertaining. And the media, incredibly, is ready, willing and able to give them what they want.

“Culture is not just an ornament,” observed American author Somerset Maugham, “it is the expression of a nation’s character.” If Maugham is correct, America’s current character is in trouble.
Kelly Boggs, whose column appears Fridays in Baptist Press, is editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, online at www.baptistmessage.com.