This is good. Very, very good. Scientists recently reported that Celebrity Worship Syndrome, or CWS, is a new ailment apparently afflicting one person out of three. (I assume the scientists mean one in three in the Western world, as I don’t believe too many Iraqis right now are worried about Jennifer Lopez’s ample derriere and whether in outline, dimensions, and mobility it is more or less attractive than that of the Australian chanteuse Kylie Minogue.) The experts warn that following the twists and turns of, say, Britney Spears, increases the likelihood of psychological disorders. And I thought the poor Liberians had it bad. Using the Celebrity Attitude Scale, two profs, Lunn McCutcheon and James Houran, devised a test to measure interest in the stars, thus making us understand what celebrity worship is all about. (Give these two a Nobel Prize!) Reporting their findings, New Scientist magazine says the implications are that “if you can’t keep your nose out of Vanity Fair magazine, you could be headed for big trouble.”
And it gets better. The scientists warn that the syndrome is on the increase and that it affects people of all ages and both sexes. The condition appears harmless at the start—as in David Frum’s celebrity worship of Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol’s of Rupert Murdoch—but it carries the danger of escalating into an unhealthy obsession. The next stage, which affects one in 10, is developing “intense personal” attitudes towards a star, such as a belief in a special bond with the celebrity—as in Sid Blumenthal’s feelings towards Bill and Hillary Clinton. Finally, at its most intense, CWS turns “borderline pathological,” which includes those prepared to harm themselves or others in the name of their idol—as in Donald Rumsfeld’s intense efforts to impress Napoleon Bonaparte. In primitive societies, early human beings would have watched and copied the best hunters. Then came the Greeks, who tried to copy excellence. Now we have fame and fortune as the only indicators of success, so we turn to celebrities. Mind you, it was the Greeks who started it, with Alexander the Great. He was the first beautiful person, the first world celebrity, the god-king who exploited his fame throughout the known world, a world he had conquered (He is due for a revival and is set to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Colin Farrell in two Hollywood blockbusters.) Well, I am sure Leonardo and Colin cannot do worse than the recent television mini-series about the Trojan War. The screenwriter was one Ronni Kern, a woman so obviously disturbed, she decided to improve Homer’s script with a bit of new-age guruism and holistic ambience. Helen of Troy is presented as a woman whose mother committed suicide after being raped by Zeus. When Helen finds out, she has a nervous breakdown and takes off with Theseus to Athens. (No, the Minotaur does not get involved in a threesome because PETA would have boycotted the movie.) Hanky-panky with Paris begins in Athens, but then she’s forced to marry King Menelaus … you get the picture. Once the javelin throwing between Greeks and Trojans begins in earnest, Kern goes ape. Achilles is portrayed as a bald, camp, steroid-juiced, muscle-bound queen. Agamemnon rapes Helen in front of Menelaus to teach her a lesson after Troy has been sacked. It is so grotesque one feels like learning Greek and reading the Iliad in the original.But back to celebrity worship and a writer by the name of Michael Wolff. Wolff covers the media in New York magazine, a weekly that covers restaurants, the Hamptons, best buys, and, of course, celebrities. It is read by those Biancas of the Bronx who yearn to learn what’s hot in the Big Bagel. It is as unreadable as it is snide in its coverage of celebrity wannabes like Lizzie Grubman, whose claim to fame consists of running down 16 people in her SUV after being denied a parking place at a nightclub. Wolff is also snide, but he takes himself seriously as a media wonk and occasionally generates publicity by asking embarrassing questions about Iraq during press conferences. (It’s the oldest trick in the book and the easiest way of making the evening news.) Last month Wolff wrote glowingly about the liberal power elite (his words) he hobnobbed with at the Aspen Institute conference, i.e., overachieving CEOs, various U.S. governors and members of Congress, assorted journalists, and … Bill Clinton.
Here’s our man Wolff: “The opening panel at the first evening’s dinner featured several estimables, including Madeleine Albright, a Singaporean diplomat, and a token (not too bright) member of the Bush administration … And Wesley Clark. The vibe was as powerful in the room as if you had a panel of B-listers and then, say, J.Lopez. The intensity was of one mind. Clark was the romantic figure here. He held the collective crush.” See what I mean about CWS affecting our boy? The reference to J.Lo. and B-listers? This man belongs in Hollywood. “He was precise and clear and overarching as a panelist … the victor of Kosovo.” (Some victor from 15,000 feet.) Wolffie soon after goes weak at the knees, reminding me of the bobbysoxers I used to see during my youth fainting over Frank Sinatra: “The psychic heart of the conference was Bill Clinton. He was interviewed on the second day by Walter Isaacson, who began by telling a story about how when he was a Rhodes scholar he’d done a paper that his Oxford professor had said was not at all in the same league as a similar paper written by a certain Rhodes scholar from Arkansas a few years before. This was one of those overachievement-upon-overachievement stories that was bound to subdue anyone.”
Although it’s supposed to be a media column, this sounds a bit like Vanity Fair meeting Hugh Grant, n’est pas? Wolfie goes on: “Clinton had lost weight and
—with a great collection of just-out-of-the-wrapper pastel-colored polo shirts on view throughout the conference—seemed in fabulous form. … Clinton was not just the beloved former president, but he had become some sort of sassy oracle.” Now I don’t wish to be rude about Wolff, a man I’ve never met and have read only sparingly. He could be making fun, but I don’t think so. He is suffering from CWS in its mildest form, but it’s still CWS. Wolff is a liberal who has every right to kiss Clinton’s derriere, but it’s Clinton as a celebrity whom he worships.
I wonder what he will write when this Boudin woman goes on the lecture circuit? About her clothes? Her hairstyle? Her prison chic? Katherine Boudin—a graduate of Bryn Mawr, as the papers never grew tired of repeating—was freed after serving 22 years in prison for taking part in an armed robbery that led to the killing of two police officers and one security guard. Nine children were orphaned, yet the Yale faculty urged granting parole, citing her commitment to education. One thing is for sure: Sirhan Sirhan, still in prison after 35 years for the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, will not be getting any testimonials from the Yalies any time soon.
Boudin has been a minor celebrity throughout her grotesque life. Her old man is described as a Left-leaning lawyer but was in fact a member of the Communist Party. Her grandfather, Louis Boudin, helped found the U.S. Communist Party. Nothing wrong with that, except that lefties and celebrities go hand in hand. HIV/AIDS, women’s health programs, adult-literacy programs, Hollywood, Jennifer Lopez, Robert Redford, Kathy Boudin, Bernardine Dohrn, the Yale faculty … they all somehow go together. And, of course, the biggest celebrity is the phoniest of them all, William Jefferson Clinton. Our love affair with fame is very bad for our health, and now science has proved it.