Saturday, March 17, 2007

Our Tabloid Society

I typically do not have a difficult time organizing my thoughts and putting them to paper. However, the topic of this blog is one that has stirred me so greatly that I’ve had trouble organizing my thoughts about it. I’m still sorting through the reasons it has affected me as deeply as it has, and writing is usually part of that journey for me.

The tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith has affected me in a way I could not have anticipated. Although aware of Ms. Smith, I never considered myself a fan. However, the media spectacle and constant conjecture surrounding her life has stirred my heart and challenged me to take a closer look at myself and the culture in which I live.

Since her sudden passing, I’ve heard many people (in the media, in conversation, in the blogosphere) say things like “What a wasted life” in regards to Anna Nicole Smith. The constant media scrutiny of the situation has also given many the opportunity to make other judgments about her life, i.e. “She married her husband only for money”, “She did too many drugs and partied too hard”, or even that she was a “hedonist”. And, while I will agree that anytime a life ends, it is sad and sometimes tragic, I wonder who we are to make the judgment that it was also a waste. In addition, I wonder who we are to make a judgment on the heart of a person. I wonder how many of these people knew Ms. Smith personally and had intimate access to the things of which they speak. Many only knew what they witnessed on her show, in the news media, or in the tabloid press. As far as I can see, we, as a general society, do not have enough genuine information to make any judgment calls on the life and times of Anna Nicole Smith. What makes us think that we do? What makes us think that we have the right to sit in judgment over the actions of strangers?

This has made me truly ponder our “tabloid society”. We find it so intriguing and exciting to catch juicy pieces of gossip from the lives of celebrities. We take sides in divorces or become obsessed with the next painful detail to emerge. How often do we truly step back and realize that celebrities are just people? Do we ever stop and recognize their pain and what it would feel like to have that pain so publicly explored? Just because we pay them to entertain us, does that give us the right to demand that they also live their lives on display? I don’t think so. My heart goes out to those who are forced to live heartbreaking experiences on the front page. How devastating it must be to have details you desperately want to keep private splashed across the grocery checkout lines for millions to see and debate.

Of all the buzz surrounding the Anna Nicole Smith tragedy, what has pained me most has been the continual comparisons made to Britney Spears. There is no doubt, from what has been seen, that Ms. Spears is in a tumultuous time in her life. Anyone who has children so close together and is also in the midst of a divorce must feel a bit overwhelmed at times. Many in the media have expressed concern over the direction her life is taking, and I have often heard it said that she could likely be the “next Anna Nicole”. How dreadful. What must that be like to hear? How unsettling it must be to have the thought of your death so freely bantered about daily in the media. If the concern were genuine, wouldn’t a large dose of privacy be in order to allow her to heal from whatever wounds she is facing? Instead, her every choice, her every mistake, is plastered all over the media for her to continually re-live.

I find that I can also get caught up in the buzz. At times I’ve had conversations with friends about “Tom and Katie” or “Brad, Angi, and Jen” as if they were people that I knew or with whom I was friends. Inevitable one of us points out the absurdity of the moment and we laugh and move on to something else. But, I find it interesting how we are drawn to the details of the lives of strangers. I can only assume it is because they seem to live lives beyond our comprehension and we want a glimpse behind that curtain. But, how is it that we forget that they are people too? How do we objectify them in such drastic measure?

I just finished reading a book by Christian artist Sandi Patty entitled “Broken on the Back Row”. In this book, she pours her heart out as she shares her journey to and through a painful divorce many years ago. In 1992, when news of her divorce hit headlines, the Christian community responded with outrage. There were rumors glibly tossed about as to the reason for the split. And, Ms. Patty’s career took an enormous hit. Yes, she had placed herself in the public eye with a specific message. She claimed the name of Christ and professed to be one of His followers, and she made a terrible mistake. The Lord has taken her down a path of grace and reconciliation. His followers, however, in many cases haven’t been so kind. Why do we withhold grace from those in public positions? We often hold them to a higher standard as they have placed their life on display in the public arena. But, especially as the Christian community, should we not have welcomed our wounded sister with open arms and helped her heal? In her book, Ms. Patty painfully outlines the process she went through with her pastor, her ex-husband’s pastor, her church elders, her church body, and all of those her actions affected. She took responsibility and humbled herself before all of those in her life. With a poignant and sweet vulnerability, she worked through a very difficult period in her life. Hers is a story of grace and redemption.

What will our story be? As a society as a whole, and specifically as the Church within this society what will history say of us? Why must someone sacrifice all that they hold dear in order to chase their dreams? It breaks my heart to see the trade off of fame and celebrity. Why isn’t it enough to allow entertainers to simply entertain us and then enjoy their life without interruption? What is this phenomenon and what does it say of our humanity? As I walk through the grocery store check-out lines, or see the latest Entertainment news on my computer screen, I will make a conscious effort to remember that real people stand behind the glossy prints. Their divorces are painful, their loves – private. And, I will try to have more respect for those who have given up so much to chase a dream and entertain us.

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