Our Celebrity Culture

I found out about Michael Jackson’s cardiac arrest  just after coming home from work at the Thomasville Times (which has a new Web site). Soon after, I heard that the artist had died. The frenzy that followed in the coming days and even weeks made me think of a question asked by kram on my first post – Why do people care about celebrity gossip? Why do we obsess over those who are famous? Once again, it’s been a long time, but I decided to try to keep this blog alive and post about this. 🙂

Human history is full of tales of larger-than-life figures. In Greek mythology, the word “hero” often refers to a half-god, half-human, someone whose very nature places them above other people. Ancient heroes typically were known for their grand conquests or incredible feats. According to “Media and the Rise of Celebrity Culture,” published in the OAH Magazine of History, early American heroes were first exemplary “gentlemen, scholars, and patriots,” followed by those that dared to challenge these outdated figures and move society into a new era. As much as I don’t like blaming the mass media, though, it was this industry’s growth that created today’s concept of celebrity as entertainment.

[I]n the years from 1901-1914, 74 percent of the subjects came from traditional fields such as politics, business, and the professions.  But after 1922 over half came from the world of entertainment: sports figures like Joe Louis and Babe Ruth, and movie stars such as Gloria Swanson and Charlie Chaplin.  The machinery providing mass information—the new broker network and the  flourishing print,  broadcasting, recording, and film industries—created a ravenous market for celebrity culture.  Media-generated fame became a raging popular vogue.

fameHow many of us feel such a connection with someone famous that we think that if only we met them, they would want to be our friend? Before meeting George Clooney last year, I spent hours trying to think of the right words to say in that brief moment that would make him remember and like me.  When he finally walked past the crowd, all I managed to do was say “thank you” when he signed my poster and ask for a picture that he declined. 😛 I was disappointed, but why? I know plenty of admirable people who I could pose for photographs and have long conversations with, but Clooney just seemed to have a certain glow that I wanted to share in, if only for a moment. To help us feel that connection, celebrity magazines love to show us how the stars shop for groceries, play with their kids and walk their dogs – “just like us!” Reality shows recently have given us another level of voyeurism – a way to feel like we know celebrities personally because we witness intimate details of their lives.

For as long as humanity has been fascinated with heroes, it also has been drawn in by the lure of juicy gossip. We prop up celebrities as shining examples of everything we lack – flawless looks, poise, charisma and talent. It’s fun to admire these figures, but they’re really just cardboard cutouts of the real, flesh-and-blood humans they represent. When the cutouts are toppled over, we delight in it, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. I might envy Lindsay Lohan’s beauty or even her acting talent, but I can tell myself that at least I don’t do drugs or drink and drive. O.J. Simpson’s athletic ability may be admirable, but many of his other actions decidedly are not. We gossip about celebrities for the same reason we gossip about our neighbors, only intensified – not only does it make for a good story, but we can think to ourselves, “he’s not so great after all” or “at least I’m not like her.”

All of these forces were at work in the life and death of Michael Jackson. He was a larger-than-life personality whose talent and innovation were seen by many as unmatched, and people desperately wanted to witness the magic he seemed to perform. As his life began to unravel, Americans watched with increasingly critical eyes, taking in the dramatic story of his troubled childhood and watching his inappropriate and disturbing behavior as an adult. Unconfirmed accusations of child molestation would be readily accepted by some as proof of his depravity, and wholly rejected by others who refused to believe the worst of their hero.

Jackson was a polarizing, fascinating figure, and the excess of media coverage surrounding his death forced our society to examine itself and its obsession with fame. It was way too much, said nearly 2/3 of Americans in a Pew Research Center poll, to focus on one deeply flawed man when there were so many important events going on in the world. This brief glance in the mirror probably won’t permanently change our celebrity culture, but it at least has made us stop and think about where our priorities really lie.

Why do you think people obsess over famous people and care about celebrity gossip? Are there ways that this aspect of our culture can be a positive one? What do you think about the media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death?

Media and the Rise  of Celebrity Culture



Filed under Entertainment, News, Personal

Can Christians believe in ghosts?

I know it’s been months, but as soon as I posted those first two entries, I found some work that kept me busy. Also, as of Oct. 20, I am employed! 🙂 I’m a full-time reporter at the Thomasville Times in Thomasville, N.C. Even though this leaves me with even less free time than before, I’ve been wanting to pick this blog back up for a while now. I figure that, if nothing else, I can start working through the questions my lovely readers have asked of me!

In response to my first entry, Adam asked (a bit sarcastically, maybe) if a belief in ghosts is compatible with a faith in Jesus Christ. I thought this would be a good issue to explore for Halloween.

Christianity allows for – and even requires – a good bit of faith in the supernatural, beyond God Himself. Angels, fallen angels a.k.a. demons (including Satan), possessions, visions of the future, horrible plagues, wonderful miracles, and even communication with and resurrection of the dead are all mentioned in the Bible.  If Christians believe in all of that, are ghosts really that much of a stretch?

A Christian view of the afterlife usually consists of heaven and hell, though there are other terms in the Bible that may refer to other places where the dead reside. The Catholic concept of purgatory must also be considered – a place where some souls go after death to be purified. This is the reason that Catholics believe in praying for the dead, while Protestants generally do not.

Jesus seems to acknowledge the existence of ghosts, or at least the idea of them (Luke 24:36-40). There are also instances of the disciples and others thinking that they had seen a ghost, but it’s never written that they actually saw one.

I have found an interesting Web page on GotQuestions.org that attempts to answer this question from the Bible called “What does the Bible say about ghosts/hauntings?” It doesn’t give a direct answer, and I don’t either, but it does explore more aspects of the topic than I can here.

No mainstream Christian conception of the afterlife that I can find presents spirits of the dead that wander the Earth and disturb the living.  As shown in the Bible, spirits of the dead and even demons are ultimately under God’s command. I’m no theologian, though, so if anyone reading this has some insights on this, feel free to comment and share! I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to these things, but I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss other people’s experiences.

The Bible does warn against getting involved activities like witchcraft, sorcery, divination, consultation of the dead, etc., outside of God’s direction and power (Deuteronomy 18:9-11). This is probably because if God and angels aren’t involved, it’s believed that Satan and demons are.

Some Christians think that ghost sightings and similar encounters are real but demonic, and they have a strong negative reaction to anything claiming to involve these occurrences. Others reject the paranormal entirely. A recent study by Baylor University actually found that Christians are significantly less likely to believe in “superstition” or “pseudoscience” than atheists are.

Of course, this leads into today’s Halloween festivities. The holiday has both Christian and pagan roots. According to a Web page by American Catholic called “Halloween and Its Christian Roots”, it is thought to originate partially from the Celtic festival called Samhain which celebrated the end of the harvest and the start of the new year.

The night before the new year, they celebrated the festival of Samhain, Lord of the Dead. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins and witches—returned to mingle with the living. In order to scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires.

All Hallows’ Eve takes place the day before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day. “Hallowed” means holy, blessed or sanctified – think “hallowed be thy name” from the Lord’s Prayer – and “Hallows” can refer to saints or sacred objects. In Catholicism, All Saints’ Day is a holy day to honor the saints, especially those who don’t have a festival of their own.

Interestingly, this means that churches who host or sponsor “Harvest Festivals” are being more true to the pagan origins of the holiday than if they just called it Halloween! 😛

I believe that Christianity and Halloween celebrations are compatible, as long as the Christian isn’t carelessly delving into the paranormal. People don’t have to celebrate the demonic in order to observe this holiday. Children – and even adults – can dress up in costumes, eat candy, and enjoy Halloween activities without doing anything forbidden by the Bible. Even some “spooky” costumes and traditions can be seen as a celebration of Jesus Christ’s victory over death and God’s inevitable victory over evil (1 Corinthians 15:54-55 and Romans 8:38-39).

Christians can also observe All Hallows’ Eve as a time of preparation for All Saints’ Day, according to American Catholic.

The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds us that the Church is not bound by space or time.

What do you think? Is a belief in ghosts compatible with a belief in Jesus Christ? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have any good ghost stories to tell this Halloween?


Filed under Personal, Religion

Is there a future for newspapers?

There were some good ideas posted on my first entry. Thanks! 🙂 I’ll start on those soon, but there’s something I want to write about first.

McClatchy, a major newspaper company, cut 10 percent of its workforce yesterday. That’s about 1400 jobs, 123 of them in Charlotte. (I first found out by following The Charlotte Observer on Twitter, so I guess it’s turning out to be useful after all. I’m going to try del.icio.us next.) My second thought was of all the people who would suddenly find themselves out of work. Would that number include anyone from the bureau where I worked as an intern? What about the employees that I met through college? :/ My first thought, though, was a bit more selfish. How could I expect to be hired at a newspaper in the face of such widespread layoffs? Was this just a problem with McClatchy, or evidence of a more widespread trend?

I keep reading things about how print journalism is in decline. It was even in my college textbooks, though tinged with what could be seen as either hope or denial. If jobs aren’t being cut, pay often is. I feel like the starving artist — following my passion even when I know the chances of making much money from it are slim. 😛 Everyone seems to agree that what used to work for newspapers doesn’t work anymore, but no-one seems to know where to go from here.

Newspapers only make a fraction of their earnings from subscriber fees and newsstand sales. The real money comes from advertisers. But advertisers do take a look at circulation numbers,  and if the figures drop too low, they may decide that their money is better spent somewhere else. Magazines are more targeted than newspapers, so the advertising is more likely to reach its intended audience. Online ads are cheaper to take out than print ads, and they’re likely to be seen by more people.  And there’s always TV and radio, two forms of media that are still doing quite well.

But who am I to say anything about this? I don’t subscribe to any newspapers. (Actually, I just subscribed to the local daily, but only because someone at K-Mart gave me the hard sell. I might cancel.) I’m a little ashamed to admit that, as an aspiring print journalist. I do have electronic versions of a few papers e-mailed to a certain account, though.  There’s not much incentive for me to pay for the physical paper when I can get most of the content online for free.

Not only is online news free, it’s also fast, customized, and interactive. I can get only the news I want, when I want it, in practically any format. I remember reading an article on Slate a while ago called “Chronicle of the newspaper death foretold.” Jack Shafer makes the case that the newspaper industry was in trouble long before the Internet ever came around, but still identifies the Internet as its primary challenge. He also compares buying a newspaper to buying a roll of film or a physical CD — consumers must pay for what they don’t want in order to get what they do want. But now we only print the pictures from our digital camera that we choose to print, and we can choose which songs from a particular album we want to buy. It’s no wonder that we want our news the same way.

It’s not that the complete gestalt of local, state, national, and international news plus sports, comics, classified, opinion, and hints on fashion, home, entertainment, and food isn’t still useful. It is. But given a choice, and the economic means to make a choice, many buyers prefer to make an unbundled purchase. Unbundling the news they want from the news they don’t want is what the Web allows readers to do now.

Can the newspaper industry adapt enough to offer this kind of product? They’re already trying — most papers have set up Web sites where readers can pick and choose the content they want to see. Will newspaper subscriptions be more customizable in the future? Will it be possible, for example, to only subscribe to the sports, business, or lifestyle section?

I recently read a long article at the New Yorker’s Web site called “Out of Print: The death and life of the American newspaper.” Eric Alterman makes his points much more eloquently than I ever could in a summary, but there was one speculation that stood out to me — we may see the return of ultra-partisan publications, like this nation’s first newspapers. This is already happening online, on TV, and on the radio, so why not in print? This doesn’t sit quite right with me (neither the section-specific subscriptions nor the ultra-partisanship). I believe that sometimes what we want to know doesn’t always match perfectly with what we need to know, and a good news source should deliver both.

Also, newspapers could just take their operations completely online, if they learn how to make it profitable. I’m up for developing my computer and Internet skills in order to become an online-only journalist. But we’ll see where the industry goes… I’m trying to be optimistic.

So where are your favorite places to get the news? From TV, radio, certain Web sites, or the actual newspaper? What do you like about those places, and what do you dislike about others?


Filed under News, Personal


Hi everyone! 🙂 If you don’t know me, my name is Karissa, and I’m a writer who just graduated from college. If you do know me, then yep, I’m back on WordPress. This isn’t going to be a personal journal, though I might write about what’s going on in my life every now and then. I created this blog for two reasons:

  1. I needed somewhere to organize samples of my writing for potential employers and freelance clients. The easiest way to do that was to set up my own Web site (writing it like that is AP style, by the way — the stylebook also insisted “teenager” was hyphenated for a while before it finally caught up). Also, I’m part of Generation Y, and we’re supposed to be all over Web 2.0. I signed up for Twitter recently, too, but I’m not sure what I’ll ever write there. 😛
  2. I want to keep writing for myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t want this blog to be interesting and informative for others. It just means that now that I’m looking to get paid for doing what I love, I don’t want to lose my enjoyment of it by writing only what I’m told to write. Writing continuously would also help me break through writers’ block. For me, getting started is the hardest part of any project. It’ll be easier for the words to flow if I never let them stop for long.

There are some handy links to the right where you can subscribe via e-mail or an RSS reader, so please click on them if you want to keep up with me.

As I’ve been looking for freelance opportunities, I’ve noticed that it pays to specialize. The common wisdom for professional bloggers is to find a “niche” — a small, concentrated area of focus. Other freelance writers become experts in a field and then write about it for magazines and Web sites. But I’m a generalist, not a specialist. I’m interested in music, movies, TV, photography, religion, politics, computers, video games, philosophy and current events — just to name a few broad topics. I love to learn a lot about all kinds of things, but I’ve never really immersed myself in one of them. Writing may be the only exception, and lately I’ve been applying that to a field I highly respect — journalism. At least there’s still a need for general assignment reporters!

If I start naturally gravitating toward a few topics, I’ll try to delve into them further, and I may gain some expertise and find a specialty. But for now, I just want to explore.

I have a question for you, whether you know me or not: What should I write about? Is there a certain topic you think I should look into? Something interesting you saw in the news? A weird question I could research? Comments are always welcome – discussion is more interesting than monologue, and it also makes me look good. 😉 I’m still free to choose what I want to write, so this doesn’t go against my second purpose above. I’d just love some ideas!


Filed under Personal