Travels in the “Heartland” Part 1

I’m on vacation this week, and getting a chance to experience life outside the Silicon Valley bubble.  I use the term “heartland” with a certain irony, since for our vacation, life outside the Silicon Valley bubble consists of visiting Los Angeles (my ancestral home) and the suburbs of Orlando (where Alisha’s family now lives)–both of which might qualify for among the most artificial places on earth outside of Asia.  Nonetheless, they are very different from Silicon Valley.

One thing I found astounding was the omnipresence of celebrity culture in LA.  Not surprising, given Tinseltown’s status as the American dream factory, but still striking.

When I was young, I was an avid and daily watcher of “Entertainment Tonight,” a daily half-hour show that covered movies and television.  Back in the glory days of Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh (John Tesh!), ET covered actual entertainment news.  To appear on the show, you had to be a movie or TV star.

This vacation, I caught an episode of ET’s spiritual descendent, “Extra” (starring Mario Lopez from “Saved by the Bell”) and was hard pressed to find any actual TV or movie news.  Instead, there was endless coverage of reality television “stars” and a recurring segment in which alleged matchmaker Steven Ward (who was the star of some reality TV program called “Tough Love“) considers a newly single celebrity and then recommends which other celebrity he or she should date.

As this segment kept playing, each time with different celebrities, I became increasingly incensed.  It’s one thing to cover TV and movies–frivolous as they might be, they are an important cultural product.  It’s another to cover “reality” TV, which panders to the basest of human instincts.  But it’s a sign of the apocalypse when a national TV show dedicates about 1/4 of its running time to a self-appointed celebrity matchmaker who presents hypothetical celebrity couples (though I assume that this is actually how Taylor Swift decides whom to date next. Instant rimshot.)

I’m fond of reminding people that every generation thinks that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and thus far, we have avoided both.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to watch a celebrity matchmaker pontificate on whom “Katie” (Holmes, that is) should date now that she’s over “Tom” (Cruise, that is) without wondering when the gates of Hell will open to swallow us all.

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