Celebrities and the rest of Us

By Kenneth Aliaga

Some of you might be familiar with the publication Us, a magazine that celebrates the lifestyle, fashion decisions, eating habits, exercise regimes, and relationships of A-list, B-list, C-list, and D-list celebrities. Situated at the very bottom of this list is Kelly Clarkson, who exudes as much charisma as a slice of crustless wheat toast. My apologies to those of you who idolize her and have constructed a shrine to her in the interiors of your closets. Inside the pages of the magazine one is likely to find diet tips from genetically fortunate or surgically enhanced celebrities like Rose McGowan, who swears by eating a spoonful of peanut butter a day. She claims it produces the same results as an off-the-market appetite suppressant, pacifying her appetite’s selfish demand for sustenance. I regrettably took the Charmed star’s advice and ended up consuming a whole jar of extra-crunchy JIF with a fork in the span of 15 minutes. At 130 calories from fat per serving, and made up of partially hydrogenated oils, this snack caused me to grossly exceed my recommended fat intake by 125 percent. Plus, I’m now likely to perish from heart disease.

Nevertheless, sparing you the details on the exponential growth of my ass, I will move on to other things Us. A feature in the Faces & Places section of the magazine is patronizingly titled–brace yourselves–“Stars, They’re Just Like Us!” Hopefully this claim did not transport anyone into a state of lucidity. It is typical for captions to be imbued with the same degree of absurdity, like, “They Tie Their Shoelaces!” and “They Haul Their Own Luggage!”–note the exclamation marks. Underneath the caption is a picture of indie fave and every mature woman’s quintessentially ideal extra-martial affair Jake Gyllenhaal leisurely rolling a compartment size tote from the NYC Four Season Hotel. I profoundly apologize to the Us editors for naively believing that Jake and I belong to the same species; under their evolutionary reasoning I’m less evolved than Jake because I have yet to master the stylishly calculated bedhead hairstyle, appear in an overrated movie (The Good Girl), and suck face with Kirsten Dunst.

This could easily become a critique on popular culture and the modes in which it stratifies society beyond the basic categories of age, gender, class, and race into such minutely contrived categories like “Whose cuticles do yours resemble–Heather Graham’s or Penelope Cruz’s?” all while deceptively professing to function as an adhesive for social divisions. I believe that this particular Us magazine subsection contains a tiny spark of positive idealist reasoning that a lot of us write off as consumer capitalism and fanatical celebrity adulation rearing its botox-injected face. I believe most students at this campus would meet an issue of Us magazine with the same level of repulsion they would meet a visual manifestation of George W. Bush’s response to the question “Boxers or Briefs?” The stigma following Us magazine is so acrimonious that I regularly look over my shoulder while reading “10 Ways That J. Lo Keeps It Real” in fear that a group of visually impaired students will jump out of the bushes and beat me to death with rolled-up back issues of The Economist.

While Us should hardly be celebrated for implicitly insinuating a social difference between celebrities and us common folk, its effort to identify a common link between all of us should be appreciated. In reducing everyone to their most mundane idiosyncrasies, it creates a common ground that we are all willing to digest, albeit for a few seconds, before tearing it apart. It’s a sad reflection on our society when only a popular culture magazine can get away with such an egalitarian project. Can anyone fathom Time magazine running a section titled “Politicians, They’re Just Like Us!” with a caption reading “They Deliberately Instigate Wars!” or “They Go Against the Collective Good!” (note the exclamation marks)? The reason that Time does not include such a section is not because it considers itself above it, but because it realizes that there are too few political figures that citizens are readily willing to identify with. Thus we are left to identify with Colin Farrell, who “Dates Britney Spears, Just Like Us!” Sometimes, perhaps because of the guilt eating away at their conscious or downing one too many diet pills, the Us editors allow us all to identify with celebrity X who “Shows a Human Emotion (anger, happiness, sadness, does it really matter?), Just Like Us!” Have things truly devolved to the point where the mass media believes that we need a celebrity as an intermediary to identify with another human being? And to what extent are we guilty for allowing it and being thankful for it?