Sunday, November 30, 2014

Why you shouldn't punch a celebrity

Just now, I was listening to the normally excellent Tim Ferriss podcast. His guest a math-guy turned business-guy named Nick Ganju, seemed great as well. Tim asked one of his stock questions where he asks the guest who is the first person that comes to mind when he says "punchable". Ganju, a seemingly well spoken and thoughtful guy, said that he would like to punch the people who are famous for being famous. He contrasted those people with the people who are famous for creating something great.

The statement hit me like a bolt. I immediately stopped what I was doing (stretching and movement exercises, if you must know) and started writing this blog post.

I think interest in celebrity culture is one of the most ubiquitous negative influence among most stable societies. This is a bold claim (hence the bold), and I will return to it shortly.

To be sure, celebrity culture is generally not seen to be one of society's greatest ills. It is not generally in the same conversation as governmental tyranny, violence against children or the elderly, corruption and embezzlement, or poverty. It is generally thought to be a mindless and harmless diversion. Perhaps at worst it is thought of as a silly distraction for silly people.

But I truly hate celebrity culture. I find it shocking that so many people are interested in the lives of people who are famous. That there is so much time spent thinking about what celebrities (actors, singers, professional athletes etc.) are doing and saying outside of their respective realms of expertise is honestly unfathomable to me. I would have guessed that there is some small group of the population that would have so little going on in their lives that they care about the lives of complete strangers, but it continues to baffle me that so many copies of People magazine and similar garbage are sold. On Facebook I get to block the offenders, but any time I am on an airplane, I am assaulted by seemingly normal people who are interested in this nonsense.

For as much as people are fascinated by celebrities, there is also a backlash against them. I am not actually sure what it is that Kim Kardashian recently did that has upset so many people -- and I will make no effort to find out -- but I do know that there are a tremendous number of people on Facebook/Twitter/blogs/print magazines who were upset by it recently. They will probably be similarly upset the next time someone famous does something they do not approve of. Why they have not stopped to consider why it is they care what Kim Kardashian or any other celebrity would do, I do not know.

This brings us back to the statement made by Nick Ganju who would like to punch people who are "famous for being famous"; the Kim Kardashians, Paris Hiltons, and others of the world.

As much as I hate the celebrity culture, I cannot fathom why it is the celebrities who are the ones who should be punched. I have no beef with Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton; nothing that they have done has ever caused me harm, at least not directly. Surely they are not to blame for the fact that a gigantic mass of total strangers pay a disproportionate amount of attention to their actions. If their presence bothers me, the problem is surely mine. If I am encountering news about their lives on an overly frequent basis, it likely means that it is my fault, not theirs, for hanging around the wrong people, following the wrong people on Twitter, and not defriending people quickly enough on Facebook.

I have no venom for Kardashian, Hilton, Bieber, Clooney, or the others. I am not bothered by the actions of any of the Hollywood actors, singers, or pro athletes who make the headlines for sleeping with a given person, having an eating disorder, or wearing an unfashionable outfit. In truth, most of them are doing what any rational actor would do: finding a way to monetize society's idiotic worship of them.

So why do I think so poorly of those who follow celebrities? Quite simply, it is because I am convinced that their lives must necessarily be empty. I do not believe that it is possible to live a fulfilled life and be interested in celebrities.

Why? Think about most peoples' social circles. Most people have an immediate family; spouses, parents, siblings, children. They also have an extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and such whom they may or may not be close to. But even if they are not close to them, they likely have some close friends and confidants. Even those without a "best friend" or even close friends have someone in their social network that could reach out and talk to. If a person chooses to immerse himself in the goings-on of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt rather than send an e-mail to an old friend (even if one hasn't spoken with that friend in years), then their lives must truly be devoid of social meaning.

One might argue that being interested in Angelina and Brad does not preclude keeping up with family or friends. Is that likely true, though? Social networks are so vast and wide (I have 900+ Facebook friends, and I don't accept requests from strangers) that most busy people are likely never going to be able to keep in contact with most of those people. So these people are actively choosing to engage in the lives of Angelina, Brad, Paris and Kim instead of people they actually know and can contact.

To be sure, celebrities live lives that are far more interesting than the average person who just goes to work, runs errands, raises the kids, and so on. To that end, they are surely more interesting than cousin Jane, or Bob the accountant. But most gossip magazines do not talk about the fascinating things that celebrities get to do -- those items are well-hidden from the prying eyes of the media. If you look at these magazines, the emphasis is on what these people are wearing, where they're vacationing, what they're eating, or whom they're fucking. Well, everyone wears clothes, goes on vacations, eats things, and fucks other people. In fact, if you were to interview cousin Jane or accountant Bob, you're likely to get a lot more access to detail about their activities, if that's what interests you. And who knows, perhaps Bob quit accounting and is now a professional surfer in Bali. Maybe Jane just started a company, and you happen to know someone who would be a great fit for her team.

And that is why I think there is a true cost to celebrity culture. I'd say it's a bigger problem than say, growing wealth inequality (and that's not because I'm a cold-hearted libertarian). Because I think about what we could do, what things we could accomplish, if instead of focusing on strangers who happen to be famous, we focused on creating great things and the bonds we have with people we actually know.

In closing, Mr. Ganju, don't punch a celebrity. Punch the people who follow them.


  1. Not sure if my previous comment is pending review or if it got lost by the Internet, so just in case...

    Do you think there is any significant difference in these activities in terms of how unworthy they are as a use of two hours?

    Watching Wendy Williams/reading People
    Playing Tomb Raider
    Watching a baseball game
    Watching a James Bond movie
    Reading a John Grisham novel

    If so, what is the difference? If not, why is celebrity-watching worthy pointing out specifically vs. mindless entertainments in general? Are you just concerned that Kim Kardashian gets too much hate?

    1. When you watch a movie or a baseball game or read a book, you enjoy them for their own sake; their own intrinsic value. (Whether you're any good at picking books or movies or sports is not the point of discussion.) But when you indulge in celebrity gossip, you are living vicariously through someone else.

  2. Mostly agree, though celebrities should get some of the blame for perpetuating the system. I feel the same way about republican politicians and republican voters.