John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Who cares about Ashton Kutcher?
The appetite for this sort of thing used to be sated by supermarket tabloids and People, but now Baltimoresun.com has a “Celebrity News” category on its main page, and CNN.com goes in for such breathless bulletins as “Britney Spears dating her agent.” (Media commentator Steve Yelvington tweeted today: “CNN Headline News has devolved into a video National Enquirer. Beware: The next level is alien abductions.”) One of my dearest former colleagues is responsible for editing celebrity coverage at a publication that I think I will not name. This cannot be wholesome.
Please, please do not think that I am scorning gossip. Gossip, which I think an anthropologist would attest is virtually universal in human societies, serves an invaluable function in establishing and solidifying communal values, all the while brightening our drab, dreary, featureless, forgettable little lives. My mother, the late Marian Early McIntyre, for a quarter-century the postmaster of Elizaville, Kentucky, spent a goodly portion of the workday monitoring the comings and goings of the citizenry and reporting on her findings. And in large organizations, such as newspapers, run by managers comically incapable of communicating effectively, gossip is just about the only means to find out what is going on.
Moreover, when we’re able to talk about a governor of New York carrying on in extravagant assignations with hookers, or the governor of New Jersey conducting a homosexual liaison with a subordinate, we can witness a wholesome leveling-down of the great and the mighty.
But Angelina and Brad and Jen?* Paris Hilton? The aforementioned Mr. Kutcher? It cannot say something very pleasant to contemplate about ourselves that we should devote so much attention to figures of such slender substance. We lack the gossip worthy of a great nation.
*Actually, Angelina Jolie, whatever her manifold personal eccentricities, is an actress of some power, and Brad Pitt has had some agreeable roles. But I have never fathomed the appeal of Jennifer Aniston, who came to notice in a TV series that a friend described one night at dinner as “you know, that show with half a dozen people living together, with each one dumber than the last.”