Edge

Book Review: ‘Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America’s Favorite Addiction’

The fact that on any given day more people read “People” magazine than “Newsweek” shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we live in a time in which everything from blogs to books is informing us of our supposedly insatiable obsession with Hollywood and celebrity.

“Fame Junkies” is the latest book to join the ranks. Author Jake Halpern begins his expose on “the hidden truths behind America’s favorite addiction” with an admission of his possible bias. “The mere act of observing and commenting on fame can turn into a vehicle for making yourself famous,” he said, adding that he’d be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the attention he’s received from his book.

I’d be lying if I said Halpern’s not-so-discreet confession didn’t make me suspicious of his motives, especially since several parts of his book hint at sensationalism. Yes, millions of Americans consume media based on fame. To be sure, ratings for “American Idol” are higher than that of all three network evening news broadcasts combined.

But how does popularity of entertainment-oriented media warrant Halpern to call it “America’s Favorite Addiction?” While a photo of Britney Spears baring her female anatomy might make us shell out three bucks for the latest “Us Weekly,” more than likely the only people experiencing severe trauma from Spears’ underwear-phobia are the starlet’s mother and managers.

If the reader can move beyond the sensationalized title and outrageous anecdotes from whacky sources, then perhaps “Fame Junkies” can enlighten one with its cited theories and findings from research studies on fame.

Take, for instance, the anthropological theory that celebrity originates from the beginning of humankind, when people observed and idolized the best hunters in order to hunt successfully. Today, we buy our food, making Donald Trump and other wealthy celebrities our modern day hunters.

While “Fame Junkies” doesn’t give one clear-cut explanation for our evolving love affair with fame, it does provide the reader with a good reason to control one’s consumption of celebrity-centered media: it could foster a sense of entitlement to fame and resulting wealth among youth.

Indeed, as Halpern writes, “According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation/Harvard University survey conducted in 2005, 31 percent of American teenagers think they will become famous one day.” In all seriousness, the unknown consequences of such rampant confidence could evolve and become much more detrimental to society than a bunch of teenagers emulating Britney and posting crotch-shots on MySpace.

Nick Maslow can be contacted at n.maslow@umiami.edu.

February 6, 2007

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