Friday, December 9, 2011

Snark and release

Last night, over a week into a month that feels foreshortened because the 25th is a major finish line unto itself, my wife and I finally got around to bringing out the Elf on a Shelf, which is either a slightly creepy-looking toy, an adorable holiday family tradition, or a merciless tool by which parents can terrorize their children into good behavior through constant threat of Santa-employed snitch-pixies. Or all three! Yes, it’s time to really, seriously start getting serious, for reals, about Christmas. Which means I should be opening my heart to peace and goodwill, and I’m totally going to … I just gotta get this out of my system first. (Even though elves are watching … everywhere.)

Yesterday I was walking through the Underground and I passed by a bank lobby with big glass walls, and I could see one of the big flatscreens where they ran their in-house ads and news-ish factoids to alleviate the boredom of customers waiting in line. The item on-screen as I happened to glance at it was under the heading of Entertainment and announced that the divorce of Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson had been finalized.

Does this news qualify in and of itself as “entertainment”? I’m sure for some people it does, but I’m not one of them and I might even go so far as to say it probably shouldn’t be classified that way by anyone doing anything approaching official categorization. Divorce sucks, it’s an awful thing to go through, exponentially moreso if there are kids involved (as there are for the celebrities in question) and the only good thing about divorce is when it puts an end to something which is even worse and allows for the possibilities of better days ahead. But the notion of a marriage’s dissolution being entertaining, that’s pretty screwed up.

OK, so obviously I’m being unfair and whoever copies-and-pastes together the third-hand Newz-Nibblez on the bank’s lobby feed didn’t mean to imply the divorce was an entertaining spectacle when they slapped an “Entertainment” banner on it. They were just acknowledging that Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz are, themselves, entertainers … and then reinforcing the cultural assumption that anything and everything that happens to people who derive some degree of fame from working in entertainment, no matter how personal or painful, is newsworthy to the rest of us. Which is super-irritating. It’s not like the 72-day trainwreck of a Kardashian wedding or any other implosion of two attention-whores who couldn’t sustain their combined critical mass. If it weren’t for the fact that Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson were famous, the fact that they were married for nearly three years and split up due to irreconcilable differences wouldn’t merit a mention at all. Neither of the two of them, as far as I know, has done anything egregious enough to hold them up as a cautionary tale (assuming you don’t count naming their child Bronx Mowgli Wentz but hey, man, the kid’s parents are getting divorced, so cut him some slack).

(I have to admit that the ungenerous parts of my heart/soul/brain complex feel that even the presumably intended connection between this divorce announcement and the “Entertainment” category is tenuous at best because … are Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz actually entertainers? Do they entertain anyone now, seeing as neither has put out an album in a few years? Did they ever? I have only ever found Ashlee Simpson annoying, and I say that not as someone who is vaguely aware of her existence but ignorant of her oeuvre, as I had plenty of its excrescence rammed down my earholes when I used to belong to a gym and was subjected to their pop music playlist whenever I worked out. The closest Pete Wentz ever came to entertaining me was when there was a viral video floating around some time in 2005 where someone had set the song “Sugar, We’re Going Down” to some crude MS Paint animations that mocked how indecipherable the emo lyrics were and also made a lot of gratuitous dick jokes. My point being if you are reading this thinking “Who the hell are Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson?” believe me I am right there with you only moreso.)

I’m not outraged or disillusioned by this, it’s really just a tiny sliver of gristle stuck in the teeth of my mind. I suppose I’m also fixated on it because of other things I’ve been reading lately, various internet columns where people do what I’m kind of doing here: taking large and faceless entities to task for misusing terminology or mangling concepts. Of course I would also posit that there’s a crucial difference. When I read something bemoaning the fact that Starbucks has a holiday campaign going which leans on the phrase “Let’s merry” and the author sniffs that “merry” is not a verb, the part of speech clearly required by the “let us [X]” construction, I find myself siding with Starbucks. That is not a situation where you should find yourself wondering “Did a human being even bother to think about that before putting it out for the world to see?” because of course someone did, someone consciously violated the rules of grammar in an attempt to do something memorable in its newness and whimsical enough to create positive associations because THAT’s WHAT AD CAMPAIGNS ARE FOR. You can call it transparent and hokey and declare it a failure for trying too hard, but to peer down your nose as you whip out the prescriptivist snobbery and say “Perhaps you cretins don’t realize this but adjectives are not something one can be advised to do” strikes me as particularly pointless. Whereas inquiring “Did a human being even bother to think about whether or not the final divorce decree of a couple of minor, forgettable pop music blips was Entertainment headline worthy ?” might, arguably, get near the heart of something worth thinking about.

OK, venting accomplished. Life is good and the world keeps spinning and it’s the most wonderful rant-free time of the year … starting now.

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