victims of oppressions in countries whose names we can hardlyrnpronounce. Here the media have to accept some of the blamernfor the worsening American character.rnI made this point, obiter dictum, some vears ago, and it isrnworth going into again. For se’eral decades the primary pointrnof the arious “media” has been the arousal of strong feelings inrntheir audiences. These feelings are not directed toward familiarrnobjects—a reader’s mother, girlfriend, child, or neighbor—rnbut toward complete strangers.rnThe passion most commonly appealed to is sexual desire.rnThe attempt to arouse desire or stimulate passion for strangersrnby use of words and images goes by the name of pornography,rnhi origin, pornographia means the depiction of prostitutes andrnprostitution, and pornography is the esthetic or imaginative dimensionrnof prostitution, a business devoted to promoting thernillusion that one human being is having an erotic relationshiprnwith another.rnThe reality of the “relationship” is simpler: a cash transactionrnwithout emotional or moral attachment. Money “can’t buy mernlove,” but the man who hires a prostitute can buy the illusion ofrnlove or passion or innocence, and it is this illusion that men arernwilling to pay for, not the mere act of fornication. If a dischargernof surplus erotic energy were the only point, a man might findrnsafer and less costly alternatives. No, what he is paying for inrnhiring a prostitute is the illusion of attachment, and, on a lowerrnlevel, the purchaser of pornography is pursuing the samernfantasy.rnThere are other desires, other interests, other passions: pity,rnfear, anger, and hatred, to name only a few. Aristotle believedrnthat the object of tragedy was the purgation or discharge of pityrnand fear from those who participated as observers in the experience.rnHowever, the object of pornography and of the “trash”rnjournalism produced by the television networks and the greatrnnewspapers is not purgation but merely stimulation, and whilernthe news stories may be as fictional as the tale of the witch whornmurders her rial and her own children in order to punish herrnlover, we read and watch these fables as if they were real eventsrnwhose participants are known to us. Someone else’s child,rntrapped in a well, monopolizes the attention of millions ofrnAmericans who neglect their children or entrust them to therncare of strangers, and an airline disaster is celebrated as a majorrnnews event, even though the 200 people killed represent only arntiny fraction of the people who die, from various causes, everyrnday throughout the world. This is information only in thernsense that an exact count of the pop bottles found on JonesrnBeach in a given day is information.rnA concern for distant strangers is, for the most part, an entirelyrnfutile exercise in cheap compassion. There is, after all, littlernthat we can do to assist earthquake victims in Japan or to relievernthe sufferings of the Christian women and childrenrnbrutalized by Islamic fundamentalists in the Balkans War.rnWhere we can do something we know to be helpful, such charityrnis meritorious—although such occasions are less frequentrnthan we think. But weeping over the images of starving childrenrncan have the effect of blinding us to the problems of thernlady down the block nursing a dying husband.rnThe interest that we Americans take in the misfortunes ofrncomplete strangers is among the most bizarre characteristics ofrnmodern life. Of course, this moral plague did not break out recently.rnEver since the creation of the yellow press, motion pictures,rnand television, the less rooted elements of our populationrnhave driveled after celebrity actors and sports heroes, beggingrnfor autographs, joining fan clubs, reading magazines. Therernwas a recent stor of some poor Australian working man whorncame all the way to Indiana to visit the boyhood shrine of hisrnhero, James Dean.rnBut it is not just uneducated workers and lonely housewivesrnwho lust after celebrities. Read the memoirs of famous politiciansrnand journalists and note how many of them boast ofrnknowing actors, singers, and athletes—as if it were not somethingrnto be ashamed of. American Presidents eagerly cultivaternrelations with Jane Fonda or the Beach Boys, and it is remarkablernto see how willingly the great and powerful reduce themselvesrnto the level of “the rich and famous.” What is the differencernbetween Bill Clinton—or his predecessors—and RegisrnPhilbinorTaki?rnAn interest in celebrities is, in most cases, a sign of personalrnemptiness, of a life evacuated of meaning. It is natural to respectrnheroes and re’ere saints, but when a man collects celebrities,rnwhether in the lower form of autographs and “fanzines” orrnin the higher form of premeditated name-dropping, he is confessingrnto the inadequacy of his private life. This is particularlvrntouching, since so many celebrities—politicians and starsrnalike—are two-dimensional cutouts, devoid of an inner life.rnGeorge Garrett tells Christie Brinkley in Poison Pen that it isrnridiculous to complain that she is not the same person as therngirl on the magazine covers. Nobody cares, he insists, apartrnfrom her “family and kinfolks, ‘our few true friends and maybernyour husband Billy Joel.” Scratch the last.rnOur capacity for love and concern is finite, so is our ability torntake an interest in something. Few of us can, simultaneously,rnstudy Japanese, Hebrew, and Slovenian. Make this argument,rnand someone will be sure to say that most people only use arnsmall fraction of their brains. This is a cherished piece of whiternurban folklore—something akin to the black nationalist fantas}’rnthat AIDS was created by the CIA. Of course we do not use ourrnbrain to its full capacity, any more than we employ all the powerrnof our computer in writmg an cssa. Some of the memory isrntied up in installation programs, dictionary and thesaurus, modemrnsoftware, and a host of operations I cannot begin to imagine.rnWhile it is true that few of us give our brains the daihrnworkout they deserve, we could do only marginally better, evenrnif we invested half the day in studying the calculus.rnWatching Oprah and reading T-‘ Guide are not only emptvrnexercises for anyone who is not a satirist; they not only do nothingrnfor us, but they actually deflect us from our proper dutiesrnand concerns. Celebrity journalism does not mereh waste ourrntime; it wastes ourselves. The more we concern ourselves withrnDavid Lctterman, the less interest we take in our own li’es. Everyrnday, we become less real, less authentic. Lost in the electronicrncrowd of adoration, we may forget how to find our wa)rnback to ourselves, and we arc only happy when we can find arnconnection with the mystical world of stardom. In Walker Percy’srnfirst novel, the moviegoing hero, Binx Boiling, catches sightrnof a pair of newlyweds on the streets of New Odeans. The realitvrnof their “drab little lives” is graced momentarily bv the sightrnof William Holden, who smiles a blessing on their union.rnIn everv earlier phase of our natiorral intoxication, a new technologyrnwas sure to be offered as a remedy for empowerment:rneducational television, cable TV and VCR’s, PC’s and satellitesrn—all have been sold as tools of reempowerment by the currentrngeneration of lightening-rod salesmen. If I had been writingrna few years ago, I should have speculated, at this point, onrnlO/CHRONICLESrnrnrn