OPINION: Stop paying so much damn attention to celebrities


As you have probably already heard, the Emmy Awards were Sunday night. This actor beat out these other actors for best acting, and your favorite show lost out to your other favorite show. Famous people that have spent time in your TV box at home wore clothing, and reporters asked them about that clothing.

I personally didn’t watch for reasons that I’ll get in to, but according to Vulture, 11.9 million viewers did tune in. According to their article published Monday, “Last Night’s Emmys Were the Least-Watched Ever,” this year’s Emmy ratings fell “below the previous record-low viewership of 12.2 million in 2008.”

The article reasoned that “No doubt hurting tune-in: The Emmys had to battle both a prime-time football game on NBC and a new episode of AMC’s nascent hit Fear the Walking Dead. Both those factors drove viewership down nearly 4 million viewers from last summer, when 15.6 million caught the TV kudos on NBC.”

But I, for one, hope that there is more to it than that. I sincerely hope that this is part of a larger trend. A revolutionary trend of paying (and I know this is shocking) less attention to celebrities.

Right now, they dominate our cultural landscape. Actors, actresses, musicians, comedians and even surely-famous-for-something people like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian all suck up huge swaths of our collective attention and energy. I’ve never quite understood why. Every trip to the grocery store I still see tabloid magazines and candid pictures of celebrities walking down the street with a yogurt and sweat pants. And we buy these. To find out what kind of berry flavor they look for in their yogurt, or maybe if they’re carrying a second, we can gossip about potential relationships.

A 2013 study from Rasmussen Reports found that 81 percent of U.S. adults “think their fellow Americans pay too much attention to celebrity news and not enough attention to news that has real impact on their lives.” Encouragingly though, they also noted that this percentage is down from 87 percent in July 2010 and 86 percent in March 2011. Does this indicate a significant national trend? Am I just seeing what I want to see?

Anthropologists, observers of human behavior, have even ventured to study this obsession of ours. In the BBC June 26, 2013 article “Viewpoint: Did our brains evolve to foolishly follow celebrities?” the idea of celebrity’s prestige status is proposed. The article said of celebrity culture that it “is rooted in much more basic human instincts, which have played a key role in our acquisition of culture and have been crucial to the evolutionary success of our species.”

The article argues that while other social hierarchies in primates are based on dominance, our hierarchies have evolved to be largely designed around prestige instead. “The modern world is very different from the one in which our brains evolved, and I believe that the originally adaptive bias for imitating successful people has today morphed into an unhealthy obsession with celebrities, who we give far more attention to than they deserve.”

Many of you might have also tuned in to Stephen Colbert’s introduction to Late Night the past few weeks. He’s had his fair share of actors and actresses, but he’s also featured politicians Joe Biden, Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders. He’s had innovators like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors and Travis Kalanick of Uber, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Colbert said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in August that “I love artists, whether they’re actors or musicians. I want to have politicians of all stripes on the show. … But if somebody is not famous and they’ve got something to say and they can present themselves on camera, I think that would be a perfect guest to have.”

Could this be a marking of a shift in the public’s attention? How might our society change if we paid less attention to our superficial indulgences and more to our substantial society-builders? What if we gave our scientists and our teachers the chance to charm us and serve as our role models?

I’m not saying that actors and actresses don’t contribute a great deal to society – they produce beautiful art and wonderful entertainment, and I’m not trying to take away from that. All I’m saying is maybe a bigger share of our attention should go to some other societal contributors that could really put it to good use.

Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.