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American Royalty

Mary Squillace | Tuesday, May 2, 2006

In some countries, Kings and Queens still exist and reign, not as political leaders, but as figureheads – glamorous representations of the country’s culture. Here in the states, on the other hand, we like to remember how we spiritedly defied the blue-blooded grip of the British monarchy during the Revolutionary War. However, while our current governing body is free from royalty, our culture certainly is not.

Reigning from their estates in the high hills of Hollywood, the Kings and Queens of our culture are celebrities. In addition to informing us of the latest trends and keeping us entertained while we wait in line at the grocery market, the celebrities of today represent American ideals with their seemingly flawless looks and flagrant displays of wealth. While celebrities possess no substantial power over government (sorry, Martin Sheen) their latest films, songs and scandals act as virtual ambassadors of our culture, communicating to other nations what it means to be American.

Like royalty they are worshipped. Their touch is of King Midas’ caliber as they turn everything they endorse to gold. Thirteen-year-old girls construct shrines in their bedrooms as a tribute to their favorite boy bands and hunky young stars. We are humbled as the Prince and Princesses of Hollywood condescend to sign autographs, and with the appetite of paupers, we hungrily devour any scrap of celebrity gossip we can get our hands on.

However, America’s kings and queens deviate from the rest of the world’s most regal in various ways. For instance, in many cases royalty is called nobility, but we don’t make that mistake with our royal family.

Instead of destroying celebrity careers, stints in rehab, scandalous pregnancies, affairs and mental meltdowns seem to be just the ticket, especially if they garner an exclusive interview with Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey. Sadly, celebrities are presently marked more by mediocrity and lucky breaks than any shred of nobility.

Britney Spears epitomizes this new, essential feature to maintaining fame. After all, despite not having released any albums recently, she continues to bask in the limelight created by her marriage to wife-beater-clad Kevin Federline and her recent pregnancies. Then again, given the consistent quality of the music she does produce, perhaps we should be thanking Kevin for keeping Britney otherwise occupied.

Additionally, it has become more lucrative to be a pseudo-celebrity than to become famous by displaying any merit. Less and less talent is required to achieve stardom. Where talent once led to fame which led to fortune, today heiresses like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie work backwards, transforming their inherited fortune into fame. Fortunately, they have yet to prove that talent can be bought.

The explosion of reality television has also created a new breed of pseudo-celebrity. Reality stars have effectively prolonged their 15 minutes parlaying their small, often humiliating stints into lifetime visibility – if not entire careers – these stars now pepper television programs and C-list movies.

Working against natural selection, reality television has also provided opportunities for otherwise washed-up or terminally second-tier celebrities. It used to be that after a star had outlived her moment in the spotlight and was outshone by more vivacious starlets, she would quietly retire to her mansion, placated by royalties. Unfortunately, survival of the fittest seems to be wilting in the presence of reality television shows that specifically feature has-beens and never-quite-have-been stars, reviving and jumpstarting their careers.

Sure there are no tea taxes involved, but all this considered, I can’t help but feel a little like the Colonial Americans must have when they decided to break with King George.

Perhaps, our current culture calls for us to revolt against today’s reigning royalty with a good old-fashioned coup-d’etat. Alternatively, we could simply stop elevating talent-less figureheads, who have very little to contribute to us, to fame – after all they’re just people. Otherwise, in a few years we might find ourselves sorry to see this ridiculous cycle of over-glorification continue.

With all of the stars that stand on the brink of insanity today, I shudder to think what we will be subjected to once their careers inevitably crumble. It’s probably only a matter of time before we’re watching Kasey Kasem, some guy from “The Amazing Race”, and Lindsay Lohan shack up together in “The Surreal Life: 20” while Tom Cruise hosts “Cooking with Cruise: 50 Ways to Prepare the Placenta”.

Then again, it could be worse. After all, without our country’s colorful court of celebrities, standing in line at the supermarket would be awfully boring.

Contact Mary Squillace at

msquilla@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.