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America's celebrity obsession: Can't live with it or without it

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(Read caption) The Heene family is pictured in this undated publicity photograph from the ABC reality series 'Wife Swap.'

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A supportive reader recently applauded the Monitor for its “low celebrity factor.” Thanks. It would be nice to be celebrity-free. It would be an affirmation of the “not who but what” ideal of America, of merit over notoriety; achievement over personality; real news and solid citizenship over fluff, flamboyance, and scandal.

Nice – but probably not possible.

Fascination with fame permeates the media and occupies the daydreams of millions. So in that sense it is news, although gossip and celebrity do seem to be building into a bubble of irrational exuberance. How else to explain the incessant output of “Entertainment Tonight,” Perez Hilton, TMZ, Gawker, Nikki Finke, Page Six of the New York Post, and a thousand other celebrity news outlets?

What other than the yearning for fame drove Richard Heene, who had a minor star turn in a forgotten reality show and went on to concoct the October “balloon boy” hoax in an apparent attempt to secure another 15 minutes in the media spotlight? Or Levi Johnston, the wayward father of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby (still following?) who, as Ms. Palin told Barbara Walters recently, went all “Ricky Hollywood” right during Palin’s “Going Rogue” book tour and who seems not to have yet made a significant mark in life other than in high school hockey? Or Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who breached White House security and attended a Nov. 24 state dinner for the Indian prime minister. Or the many women who are now going public and saying they had a relationship with golfer Tiger Woods?

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