“From Qaddafi to Castro, the celebrities Barbara Walters has interviewed throughout her career are an encyclopedia of our time.” So we are told on the table of contents page of the current issue of Vanity Fair .
There are many ways to answer this rather breathtaking assertion, but it is probably best to keep it simple for the benefit of those unfortunates whose brains have been damaged by the twin disablers of irony and fame-worship.
In referring to Col. Muammar Qaddafi and Fidel Castro as “celebrities,” the Vanity Fair caption writer has accorded two repressive and ruthless dictators a status usually associated with pop singers, movie stars, professional athletes and the occasional overambitious slick-magazine writer. Those in the know will argue that this is a distinction without a difference. But everyday readers, not privy to the behavior of singers, movie stars, athletes and overambitious writers but fairly informed on the ways and means of dictators, might well wonder exactly when those cutthroats (Colonel Qaddafi and Mr. Castro, that is) were given a pass into that secular heaven known as celebrity.
The answer, of course, is that the arbiters of fame long ago gave up making distinctions, choosing instead to celebrate fame for its own sake. It no longer matters very much how you became famous, as long as you are and remain that way. The Nazis were among the most famous political organizations in the 20th century, noted for the slaughter of 6 million Jews during a world war that killed millions more. They wore some nifty uniforms in the course of their work, so when the nonjudgmental types at British GQ put together a list of fashionable people in the 20th century, they included the Nazis. And when the nation’s gossip pages across the nation picked up on the ensuing outcry, well, there was Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s name, printed in boldface more than a half-century after his suicide!
It is very noble and so very generous of fame’s arbiters to be as inclusive as possible, to put aside personal biases (a distaste for mass murderers, a prejudice against tyrants) when deciding who shall be raised above mere mortals. And it is quite useful and indeed admirable that these noble and generous people have emptied their brains of any knowledge of history (except, perhaps, to recall famous events in the history of fame-the death of a princess in a car crash, the debut of a pop album, the day Titanic opened in theaters) and have purged their souls of anything resembling, dare one say it, morality.
Take, for example, the description of Colonel Qaddafi and Mr. Castro as “celebrities.”
Colonel Qaddafi is the dictator of the desert nation of Libya, which is located in North Africa, which is where Field Marshal Erwin Rommel won his claim to fame. (Fame and celebrity come full circle!) Africa is the continent at the southern end of the Mediterranean Sea. Alas, it cannot be seen from the best nightspots, casinos and beaches along the northern coast of the Mediterranean, but it is, in fact, there. And from this desert nation, Colonel Qaddafi has carried out a policy that has become known as state-sponsored terrorism, which sometimes ends in the deaths of innocent civilians (the victims usually are not very famous, which may account for the lack of outrage in certain precincts). It was generally believed that Libya had something to do with the bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, a city in Lebanon, in 1983. The bomb killed more than 250 Marines (none of them celebrities). And, at the moment, Colonel Qaddafi is refusing to allow two Libyans accused of hideous terrorism to be brought to justice. The Libyans are thought to have planted a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Scotland, killing nearly 300 people. (Nobody famous was on board.)
The preceding paragraph does little justice to Colonel Qaddafi, for he could claim responsibility for many other atrocities against the not-very-famous. But in the eyes of the slick-magazine world, he is just another celebrity-actually, more than just another celebrity. He is a celebrity who has been interviewed by Barbara Walters!
As for Mr. Castro, well, where to begin? He has censored the press, oppressed political opposition, banned the practice of religion, given safe haven to terrorists, fomented Communist revolutions in Latin America and refused to submit to genuine democracy. He has become famous for these acts, and therefore he is a-celebrity! Hurray!
This sort of thing could happen only in the upper echelons of baby-boomer-controlled media, where those who take anything seriously are considered suspect. Boomers in high-end media jobs tend to be disillusioned liberals turned nihilists, who now believe in nothing save fame and fortune. And it is they who are instructing a new generation.
It is just a matter of time before we see the names of Hitler, Stalin and Mao popping up in the gossip pages or striking a pose in a fashion magazine. Why not? Are they not famous?