When Stars & Lives Collide

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Her glare burned through the sleepless fog that blanketed my head. "How did we miss this?" my former managing editor asked, waving a newspaper at me.

My mind raced, still exhausted from working the late shift the previous day. Did something big happen just after the midnight deadline? I had checked out the competing papers that morning for any missed scoops, as was my habit in my early years of reporting. There were none. Whatever she was mad about was literally news to me.

"Why isn't there a story about Jason Priestley's car accident on the front page?" she asked. "Or at least a teaser!"

As my coffee went to work, I vaguely remembered a spot on CNN about the former Beverly Hills 90210 actor crashing his car into a wall at the Kentucky Speedway. That was why she was angry with me?

"Because it's not news," I replied, earning myself an even worse death glare.

I'm reminded of this exchange every few years, when a big celebrity news story breaks. One of the best examples was May 27, 2006, when the birth of Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt (the daughter of actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) preempted news about an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people in Indonesia.

In one case, a child entered the world in the African country of Namibia. In the other, a 6.2-magnitude quake killed thousands, injured tens of thousands more, damaged more than a hundred thousand homes and left at least a million people homeless. Which story affected more lives? Which one do you think was more widely discussed?

If Internet statistics are any indication, Shiloh won, hands down. Celebrities once again peppered Yahoo's annual list of the top overall Web searches for 2007. Pop star Britney Spears was the most searched for "item" on the Internet, with socialite Paris Hilton taking third place, singer Beyoncé in fifth and actress Lindsay Lohan finishing sixth (techcrunch.com/2007/12/03/yahoo-top-searches-2007-please-people-stop-typing-britney-spears-into-search-boxes/).

It's so easy to get wrapped up in the celebrity culture because it's everywhere—on television, on the Internet, on the radio—says Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and emeritus psychology professor at California State University, in a phone interview with Vertical Thought.

Young people are especially vulnerable because they are still shoring up their self-esteem, developing their identity and finding common ground with their peers, according to Dr. Fischoff. Since celebrity news is everywhere, it's an easy way to relate to others. And because it's so readily available, it often leads us to misplace our priorities.

"The trouble with the celebrity culture is that it seduces people from thinking about stuff that's really important," Dr. Fischoff says.

When we are distracted from things that are important to us—our relationships, our aspirations, our religion—we don't learn to solve problems and we don't mature, explains Dr. Fischoff. In some cases, celebrity worship can become like a substance abuse problem—we immerse ourselves in knowledge and conversations about our favorite star rather than deal with the real concerns in our lives.

Dr. Fischoff says: "It is easier to talk about these superficial things than to deal with the real issues. But the superficial things are not the things that stab you in the back."

The Bible also warns against focusing our time and energy on the wrong things, telling us to make wise use of our time in seeking first God's Kingdom and right ways, setting our focus on things of God above and meditating on the positive aspects of life (Ephesians 5:11-17; Matthew 6:33; Colossians 3:1-10; Philippians 4:8). In other words, think vertically—what this magazine is all about.

In Mark 13:33, Jesus warns His disciples to watch world events so they are not caught off guard when the end of this age comes. Earlier in the chapter, He mentions some of the signs that the time is near: wars, famines and earthquakes. Not surprisingly, Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy is not mentioned!

That's not to say that we can't learn anything from celebrities, Dr. Fischoff points out. Some have rags-to-riches success stories that can inspire us to work hard for our own goals. Others, including Brad Pitt and U2's Bono, use their celebrity status to promote social causes in which they believe. But if we look to stars like these, Dr. Fischoff warns, it must be as examples for our lives in these positive respects, not the focal point of our lives.

As for baby Shiloh, news of her will probably be impossible to avoid during coming years. Some wonder if her parents picked a name with messianic overtones (Shiloh means "His gift" in Hebrew) in part to poke fun at the media firestorm her birth would create.

Let's be sure to keep our eyes on our true Messiah and heed the advice He gave us in Matthew 6:33–to seek His Kingdom first. VT