This decade may well go down as the decade of a special club called "The 15-Minute of Famers." From Levi Johnston to Rod Blagojevich to the party-crashing Salahis, all the way to "the other women" -- confirmed mistresses of John Edwards (Rielle Hunter) and Tiger Woods (Joslyn James). All have had or are having their infamous 15 minutes and then some. Some relish it and others, (Mr. Edwards and Mr. Woods) don't. They didn't willingly come forward to snag the infamous spotlight, they were simply caught. But whether wanted or not, each person mentioned is a member of the club. And guess what? You and I actually fund this club and we do a damned good job of it. We pay well for scandals, mishaps and mistakes.
We have, like it or not, become a society of voyeurs. Why do you think there's such a plethora of reality shows? Everything from "Survivor" to "American Idol" to all the "Housewives" to the speculated reality series on the Octomom, and anything in between. We love it all and the grittier, dirtier and more scandalous the better. Like a kid in school who sees another student get in trouble, it somehow feeds the curious beast within us. Someone else's embarrassment, extremely bad behavior, or shame takes the spotlight off us and makes us feel that our lives are not so bad after all.
Maybe that's the reason; it makes us feel better. If you and your husband fight over a trivial matter, you're secretly thankful that he isn't a Tiger Woods type. The ego-driven nastiness of the "Housewives" series makes you and your friends look well-mannered and normal. Paying a fine in court for a driving infraction is nothing compared to what the former governor of Illinois is facing.
Supporting and giving credence to people who use their bad behavior as a stepping stone to fame sends a message that what they did or are doing is perfectly fine and it isn't. The problem is that they know there will always be network shows who be only too happy to showcase their scandalous and immature actions and people who will watch them.
For the infamous themselves, the rush they get from being in the spotlight is almost drug-like and as with any drug, they want more. The 'high' from being a household name isn't necessarily a bad thing; actors and sports figures experience it all the time and we benefit from their magnificent performances. However their fame and time in the limelight is justified because they are talented and working at what they do best.
But the people who try to claim the public's interest through scandalous and immoral behavior have no such talent unless we count taking off your clothes in public or having sex with another woman's husband, or even having the audacity to crash a state affair at the White House in order to get on a reality show, as real, honest-to-goodness talent. Those aren't talents or gifts, they are just plain wrong. Yet people do it simply because they know that we will pay for the guilty pleasure of seeing what they've done.
Scandals and the misfortunes of others have always been of interest to society. Perhaps it is a new kind of form of schadenfreude, a German word meaning "a malicious joy in the misfortunes of others." Whatever it is, we are the ones financing the 15-minute famers and we are doing it very well. For them it is a very lucrative business at our expense.
Then again, maybe we need the 15-minute famers; they do seem to serve a purpose. After all throughout history, every village had its idiot to entertain the inhabitants. Why shouldn't we?
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Copyright 2010 Kristen Houghton
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