I’ll be taking the GRE (Graduate Record Examination – the SAT for grad school) next Monday, and I’ve mostly focused on the verbal and quantitative sections this past month; practicing for the essays has been an afterthought. Here’s my first stab at writing a 45 minute Issue essay:
Topic: “A country’s obsession with celebrity always increases when its citizens need a distraction from the harsh realities of war and economic strife.”
Economic depression and armed conflict both make life feel more difficult to the public. To escape the difficulties of everyday life, they may seek comfort with family, drink, or entertainment. Today, this entertainment often comes from television, music, movies and sports, with celebrity individuals often at the center of these areas.
The recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are an excellent example of how celebrity pop culture can overwhelm other news events in mass media. The attacks on 9/11, the economic slowdown that followed, and the invasion of Iraq were all newsworthy items at the time they took place, and they all received much airtime. However, much of the reporting about the war in Iraq has scaled back in its presence, especially on television. Today, reports and documentaries do occasionally show, but much more airtime is dedicated to entertainment, music, sports, and other sources of celebrity. The fact that Americans are fighting and dying in a foreign land is known to most of us, but it isn’t forefront in our minds and thoughts, unlike the recent drama we watched or the last concert we attended.
The use of celebrity during times of war and strife isn’t isolated to modern society. We can look at ancient Rome and the use of gladiators for sport. The exploits of gladiators in the Coliseum were followed closely by the public, even though they were essentially slaves. Many Roman emperors sponsored gladiatorial matches, knowing that they raised morale among the populace, even when the Roman poor lacked food or were taxed heavily.
The public’s love of celebrity can even be harnessed by the state in order to furnish support for war or other public projects. During World War II, many famous actors, musicians, and athletes joined the various services, which were often publicized. Others performed for troops overseas to raise morale, and performed at home to raise funds from the home population. In both cases, celebrity was used to inspire patriotism among the population, so that they would continue to support a hard, grueling war.
In our modern age, celebrity has focused on entertainers instead of the political and religious figures of past eras. Yet the role of celebrity in keeping the public from thinking about hard times hasn’t changed.
UGH. Make the pain stop…