Dan Olds from Beaverton, Oregon has characterized those of us who are interested in popular culture as “slack-jawed yokels” in a recent interview with Sharon Gaudin of Computerworld. Olds’ characterization was based on the fact that, in 2010, eight of the top 10 searches on Yahoo! were about celebrities or “pseudo celebs” such as Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Megan Fox, Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian. Only two of the top 10 searches were about other news, namely the BP oil spill and the World Cup.
Mr. Olds concluded that the internet is not a serious tool for information dissemination because the Yahoo! top 10 list did not include searches about the global economic crisis, the earthquake in Haiti or the mid-term elections in the U.S. Could it be that us yokels simply get our “hard news” from going directly to sites that specialize in this information (e.g. CNN, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Economist, etc.?) rather than using search engines to find it?
The phenomenon of celebrity has been shown by Prof. Graeme Turner, Director of the Center for Cultural & Critical Studies, University of Queensland, to perform important social functions:
Hamish Pringle, in his book Celebrity Sells, further explains “…that the role celebrities play in people’s lives goes beyond a voyeuristic form of entertainment, but actually fulfills an extremely important research and development function for them as individuals and for society at large. People use celebrities as role models and guides.”
By analyzing 12 case studies between 1938 and 1992, Prof. Barron Lerner has shown how celebrities have influenced public attitudes toward diseases and their treatments. He describes how celebrity cases can educate the public, create advocates for research and patient care on behalf of other people with the same disease, and have even influenced aspects of the professional training of physicians.
An intriguing aspect of Dr. Lerner’s work is the important observation that the public increased their knowledge of medical topics and conditions, not because they were seeking health information but rather as a consequence of their primary interest in celebrities’ lives.
Photo: Cletus Delroy Spuckler character from The Simpsons