Jul 162007

Friendship might be defined as a state of more-or-less mutual attention paying. From little acts of attention, including times when you just are together, talking, walking, or engaging in some joint activity your minds get into sync so that you can align easily (that is pay attention)  to what the other is saying or doing, feeling or thinking. Long friendship makes attention all that much easier and full.

No wonder people clamor for friends, and even for claiming friendship in crude ways. For example, the social networking site Facebook makes it easy for people to try to establish a somewhat ersatz friendship with you when all they may know of you is your presence on the public friends list of someone who is indeed your friend.  And that can quickly accelerate to claming friends with even more degrees separation. Friend of friend makes some sense, of course. If someone is genuinely friends with both of you, you can align with the second –degree friend in part by however the two of you both align with the one you have in common.

What you know about your friends includes funny little things, little admissions, some somewhat scandalous pieces of action on their parts, their little annoying habits, as well as their pleasant enjoyable ones, and it all helps make them real, making it easier  for you to align with them.

Take this one step further. What you don’t happen to know about a friend of yours you will eagerly want to learn from some other friend, and in so learning, you not only can feel a surge of guilt over stumbling upon a secret, but a new sense of connection both with the friend you are gossiping about, and the friend (or would-be friend) who passes on the gossip to you.
And now one more step. Suppose you don’t personally know the object of the gossip, but are familiar with them as a star. It could be Paris Hilton, David Letterman, Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama, Venus Williams or even a dead celebrity like Jean-Paul Sartre or Sylvia Plath. You have occasionally aligned with this person in listening to them on radio, or seeing them on TV, reading their words, in hearing of their performance, in repeating a joke they have told, and so forth. They have or had no knowledge of your existence, but they act or acted, in some way, like a friend. Anything that will add to this sense of familiarity will only make it easier for you to pay more attention to them, because the more real and human they seem the easier it is to align with them.

That is why we soak up memoirs, biographies, interviews and other less formal kinds of connection, such as gossip, about stars. The better it feels as if we know them, the more easily alignment becomes. That’s true even as we cluck over some scandal that might comport with some behavior we might dare not engage in ourselves, but still find in some degree enticing. And its equally true if they are caught in a behavior considered scandalous that we ourselves or those actually near us have engaged in many times.
Some celebrities may hate being gossiped about, being followed by paparazzi and all the rest, though often they also realize that gossip only helps build fan interest, gaining them more attention of a completely desirable type.

For a fan, even a mild one, gossip about the appropriate celebrities is an avenue to getting attention from other fans of the same stars, in the same way that gossip about close friends is.  We must be careful in easily accepting part of Paul Salomone’s response to my previous post : “I know of plenty of folks who waste hours a day charting the obscure maneuvers of far-off celebrities, whilst their personal lives are in high disarray. Were they actually to put some energy into their local communities, paying attention to local causes rather than watching Access Hollywood and collecting memorabilia, we’d all be better off.”

Unfortunately Salomone seems to ignore how the Attention Economy (or Attention Society) generally works and the real value that many people find in such gossip.  Attention equality is certainly in some ways a desirable end, but it is also hard to achieve, and not without some significant costs. For example, a  purely local outlook would still leave us blind to many issues in the global system we inhabit. If Angelina Jolie, for instance, tries to acquaint us with suffering in Africa, that would still less than it does if she could not get massive attention.

(In my next post, I will address the issue of what concerns are “important,” in response to other lines in Salomone’s comment.)

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