Anna Nicole Smith’s departure from earth and pop singer Britney Spears’ descent into madness riveted a good chunk of the nation. Smith’s only real talent was in her chest, and, by all appearances, she was at least mildly retarded. Spears, who took a room at a rehab facility after shaving her head, is probably equally dull, but she is reputed to be capable of counting to ten and doing it on key.
Both women are—or, in Smith’s case, were—perfect celebrities for our age: untalented, unintelligent, unhinged, and totally beloved and admired by legions of our countrymen. We know this, because FOX News devoted many hours of coverage to the Smith-Spears sagas, and no news organization has a better feel for what the morons in America are clamoring for than FOX.
Certainly, some civic-minded scolds probably fired off disapproving e-mails to the cable- and network-news shows, but those news producers who call the shots know that the masses like their celebrity news. Jake Halpern tours the world of fame-addled America and declares that many celebrities “have little of real value to teach.” Halpern makes this rather obvious observation about halfway through his book. It is a rare editorial comment from him, one he makes after reporting on a theory offered by two evolutionary anthropologists from Emory University.
Called Prestige Theory, it presumes...