Recently, the New York Times ran an article that described, at some length, California’s latest tourist attraction, a “theme park and dinner theater” called Tinseltown Studios. Located, appropriately, just a stone’s throw from Disneyland, Tinseltown is a $15 million complex that exists for the purpose of “simulating fame.” Purchase your $45 ticket (“designed to look like exclusive gala invitations”), and the following encounter with simulated fame awaits: You “walk to a large grated door, which opens to reveal a red carpet and banks of klieg lights.” A throng of teenagers descends on you waving autograph pads, followed by paparazzi setting off flash bulbs in your face, reporters brandishing note pads, and television crews stopping you for interviews.

And that’s only the beginning. At dinner (choice of steak or salmon entree, drinks extra), you will watch a video reprise of your “red carpet interview,” see yourself magically edited into a famous movie such as Psycho (in this context, a quite appropriate choice), then participate in the event’s climax: a “faux awards show” honoring the evening’s best “actor” and “actress,” an honor that you, having paid $45 for faux fame, are in reality (if that concept has any meaning here) dearly hoping to simulate.

The New York Times described Tinseltown as a vehicle for “fame at its most basic: being recognized and appreciated by a roomful of people you don’t know.” Except, of course—and this is a mere technicality—it’s all fake. As the wife of an entrepreneur, I have respect for both the market system and the desires of consumers, and I think Tinseltown is a near genius example of niche marketing. As an observer of our shared culture, however, I believe it’s about as depressing as things get. How have we reached the point where 700 adults a night will drop half a C-note each to pretend publicly, and in the company of other pretenders, that they are movie stars?

We know the list of possible answers. There is the influence of Jerry Springer and trash TV, where guests are more than willing to be degraded in order to be noticed. There is the Oprah factor in the evolution of our confessional society, in which feelings of pain in the course of life—a universal experience—are transformed into evidence of uniqueness. And there is the mainstream media, whose find-the-drama coverage of human tragedy has come to make even grieving parents aware that they owe the cameras something on the order of a performance.

The list continues, but I won’t. As far as I’m concerned, the single most direct and powerful influence on the creation of Tinseltown was the election of Bill Clinton, the man who legitimized neediness as a form of charisma. What Clinton wanted from the presidency was exactly what the New York Times described as elemental fame: “to be recognized and appreciated” by a roomful (or a countryful) of people he didn’t know. A roomful of strangers, for instance, was where Bill Clinton found himself when he heard the question, “Boxers or briefs?” And “recognition and appreciation”—as opposed to dignity—were what he sought when he basked in the focus the question generated, hesitating just long enough before responding to intensify that focus, finally succumbing in his answer to the temptation to give a cheap thrill in order to get one. That moment has been repeated in other forums a thousand times since.

The reason Bill Clinton and Hollywood celebrities have such an affinity for one another (aside from a shared sense of moral relativism) is that they are the only people in the country with the perceived status to function as each other’s groupies. So great is the maw of Clinton’s need that an infinite number of very small people can find their way in. He reflects the office of the presidency in the same way General Hospital reflects the world of medicine, which is to say, as melodrama. His tenure as President has been played out not to a nation but to an audience, and the resultant spectacle has been appropriately vulgar, including his affectations of machismo, the soap opera that is his marriage, and the baseness of his chosen physical gratifications.

After six years of Bill Clinton and cheap thrills galore, we have arrived at Tinseltown Studios in Anaheim, California. Lest von doubt the connection between the election of Clinton and the creation of Tinseltown, I refer you one last time to the New York Times, whose article on the new theme park noted that the “dream of being famous” is alive among the common folk, despite their awareness of the “endless intrusions into the private lives of celebrities from Dennis Rodman to Bill Clinton.” If the New York Times, the “newspaper of record,” sees fit to describe the President of the United States first and only as a “celebrity,” and further sees fit to put him in the same celebrity company as a piece of work like Dennis Rodman, how will we ever find our way back? Open a Tinseltown in every mall in America—we might as well live there.

Actually, there is a better idea, one just as logical as Tinseltown and probably just as lucrative. Let’s call it Presidential Town. Buy a ticket and you can take a virtual reality ride on Air Force One, make a fake State of the Union address, choose interns for “counseling,” lie your head off, and cry in public. While surrounded by ill-treated Secret Service agents, an angry wife, and an undisciplined dog, you can make mistakes and then blame them on others. You can even bomb Iraq and Serbia. And every so often you can pretend to be sorry for your failings. (If you’re really into Clinton-style simulated fame, that will require you to pretend to pretend to be sorry. Things get tricky fast in Presidential Town.)

The one thing you won’t find in Presidential Town is Bill Clinton. With his inclinations, he’s sure to be over in Tinseltown, walking the red carpet, giving interviews about his feelings, and accepting his best actor award. I’ll never watch Psycho again.