Star shortage

Feb 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Shakespeare wrote-and Edward R. Murrow quoted the line while assailing Joe McCarthy-“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.” Yeah, well, easy for him to say. Today the fault may well be in our stars after all. Our stars tend to suck; we may as well face it and face it in the vernacular of the hoi polloi. Or is it the lumpen proletariat? Whatever-the stars are pretty lumpen too.
It is fun, up to a point, to watch that little sex pixie Britney Spears gyrate and jiggle and give the appearance of singing. And yet somehow Princess Pepsi lacks certain essential elements for longtime stardom, even when “longtime” means one year. No, not talent-it’s hardly necessary, but she doesn’t appear to lack it anyway. There is a certain talent there, don’t you think?
As part of a massive Spears blitz, the perky little flirt recently hosted “Saturday Night Live”-her second romp in this particular playground. She was the musical guest as well as the host. Remember how old you felt when you stopped recognizing the names of the musical guests on “SNL”? You know … had absolutely no idea who they were?
Keep sliding
And then comes the next plateau on the downward slope: You realize you’ve never heard of next week’s fabulous celebrity host, either. And they show a picture and you think, “I’ve seen him somewhere-but where???” And you don’t know if he was bagging groceries at the Safeway or staring out from a photo on a post-office wall. And you don’t care.
Anyway, since the host of “Saturday Night Live” traditionally introduces the musical guest, and always by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, P. Diddy,” or whatever, one had to wonder who’d introduce Ms. Spears-and then of course one realized it was a commercial inevitability: The honor would fall to Britney’s current boyfriend Justin Timberlake, the Harpo-topped hunk of ‘N Sync.
But what impressed me as I stood near the stage from which Britney would do her bumps and grinds and hip twitches was that Timberlake’s introductory line had been written for him on a cue card, held as is traditional just beneath the camera lens. And he wasn’t taking chances, either: He read it. “Ladies and gentlemen, Britney Spears.”
You see what I mean about our stars lacking a certain something?
Lapsed synapses
Of course if this were 1951, say, and Errol Flynn were introducing Marilyn Monroe on some “live” TV spectacular, Errol would probably need a cue card too. But only because he was a drunk, not because he was dumb as a stump.
I’m lucky if I can identify, say, six out of any nine square-squatters on the retooled version of “The Hollywood Squares.” (I’m even luckier if I manage to avoid that seedy-sad cluckfest altogether.) Who are these people, and where do the producers find them? Of course, the announcer tries to give a clue in his introductions: “From the hit sitcom `Sitting Around Drinking Coffee’-Lars Farfel!” Or, “From the HBO drama `Conversations With My Clitoris’-Jewel Diamond!” And still the synapses don’t spark.
The critical star shortage means that the timing couldn’t be better for Dick Ebersol’s Winter Olympic Games from Salt Lake City, just under way on NBC. There are bound to be plenty of tear-jerking tales about hardships faced by this or that athlete as they fought their way up from clumsiness and obscurity to superduper lugery or parallel-bar prowess or whatever other sport they’ve wasted their entire lives mastering. Well, not completely wasted-because they now provide fodder for the melodrama-hungry Olympics producers.
This really is one of the important functions of the Games. Critics love to complain about the corniness of the athlete profiles and the producers’ fixations on illness, hardship, family trauma, a mother with an irregular heartbeat or a sister with a syndrome-a zit, a fit, chronic constipation, frequent flatulence, the heartbreak of psoriasis, anything that adds to the sense of overcoming obstacles and emerging triumphant-but it’s amazing how resilient and durable this formula is. And it gives us new heroes and heroines, new stars to root for and cheer on and undress with our eyes.
We’re a celebrity culture, not that that’s a hot flash. A nation founded on the rejection of royalty can’t get enough of manufactured dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, pop potentates who rule fiefdoms filled with fawning fiefs. It’s not unhealthy, it’s not healthy; it’s not a sad commentary or a happy one. It’s just the way things are. There’s something about it that is very basic and human. But addiction to television and to TV’s cult of fast fads and fleeting fame (the old short-attention-span virus) requires a steady infusion of new stars-bright, shiny faces and tight, buffed bods. Perhaps as an offshoot of the recession or the low morale of post-9/11 America, the flow’s been interrupted. Stars just aren’t blooming in sufficient profusion.
15 fickle minutes
It was assumed that Mark Burnett and his dire-straits adventure shows, chiefly “Survivor” of course, would be gold mines and wellsprings of sparkling celebs hot off the tube. But in fact few of even the victors in these contests have really captured the public’s fickle fancy. CBS’s “Amazing Race” started out promisingly and with so many potential new hotsy-totsies in the cast, but many a bright light failed, and some of the personalities who were initially endearing turned insufferable as weeks wore on.
Stars can cheer us up, they brighten up the landscape, they offer odd encouragement. But when the stars seem ungrateful or, even worse, unworthy, then it’s depressing, even demoralizing. At MTV, where stars rise and fall daily, there’s a show in which recording “artists” show off their luxurious “cribs,” followed around as they tour their homes by someone with a hand-held camera that tilts, swivels, swoops and swoons. The other night, some hip-hoppy dude pointed with pride at the gallery of gadgetry in his media room-big-screen TVs and techno toys and all manner of amazing amenities. In a burst of candor, he estimated the worth of the room at $3 million.
Oops. That was more than I wanted to know. That popped the bubble. That stepped over the line. That made me sick to my stomach. Suddenly it seemed we had no shortage of stars after all. Indeed, there was at least one too many: this preening creep who spent 3 million bucks on stereo equipment and stood there bragging about it. And yet even here one sensed a silver lining: The house will probably be on the market within a year or two and the star either in rehab or jail.