I have been following Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's marriage closely. Not because I care about the state of that particular union, but because I have little choice. At the newsstand where I buy my newspapers, the celebrity magazines are displayed right next to the register, and I can't avoid the blaring headlines about the fortunes of the two reality-TV stars, who occasionally also sing. Star magazine asks on its latest cover, "Nick & Jess: Over by Xmas?" By now, I know to expect next week's cover line to be "Jess & Nick: Back Together by New Year's?"
As an exercise in sociological inquiry, I bought the whole rack of the latest issues. People magazine was the pioneer in the genre. But now a host of competing publications have sprung up that are so lowbrow they make People — because it has occasional blocks of relatively uninterrupted text — look like The Paris Review or The New Yorker.
They all chronicle the ongoing sagas of Tom & Katie and Brad & Jennifer (scratch that — I mean Angelina) and Paris and Britney and Justin & Cameron and Charlie & Denise. All the people belonging to these first names are famous for something or other. If it used to be an insult to say that a celebrity was "famous for being famous," now it's almost as if no one is famous for anything else. These magazines have a favorite punctuation mark; and it's not the semicolon. It's the exclamation point, used nearly as often as the rest of us use the period.
I still have much to learn. The cover of Celebrity Living Weekly declares "Kirsten & Jake ready to wed!" All I can think is: OK, great! Who are Kirsten & Jake? As far as I can tell, celebrities are always either ecstatically happy or desperately anguished, about to break up or get together, gaining weight or losing dangerous amounts of it. They apparently have time for little else.
Tom & Katie, for instance, are about to get together, at least until such time as they break up. People magazine has a report on "How Tom Proposed," including "details of a Scientology wedding" (readings of L. Ron Hubbard are optional) and a romantic sidebar on "Tom's past weddings." But wait! According to Star, "Katie's Friends Plead: Don't Marry Tom!" And it trumpets a worrisome sign that this relationship will never work: "Even Oprah's Upset With Tom." Worse, according to US Weekly, "Rosie Turns on Tom." Oprah, Rosie — can Barbara or Star be far behind?
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