Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? The knowledge we have lost in information?

You know what I resent?

Knowing who the Kardashians are.

Well, strictly speaking, I don’t really know who they are, because I’ve never watched that thing they’re on or listened (knowingly) to anything they’ve sung (one of them sings, right?). I think there’s a sex tape somewhere — in fact, now that I think about it, isn’t the sex tape the reason anyone knows who these people are? I think it was Kim’s? I know her sisters’ names also start with K. They all seem to be getting pregnant and/or losing-the-baby-fat all the time, which may (come to think of it) also have something to do with the sex tape. Or, at least, the having of sex. One presumes.

Why do I know this?!

Why do I know this? Because I can read, that’s why. Because even as my eyes skip across their pictures on websites I frequent, or glance from cart to cashier as I unload my groceries, English-language letters assault my vision, and my brain arranges those letters into words, and another part of my brain assimilates those words into knowledge, and then BAM! I know that some woman with the initials KK is leaving or getting back together with some man with whom I am apparently supposed to be acquainted on a first-name basis. Jesse? No. That’s the guy who was so awful to Sandra Bullock.

I truly hate this. Largely because it’s none of my damn business.

I know that the Kardashians signed up for this kind of public scrutiny when they jumped on the reality TV bandwagon, but I do wonder if the reality TV folks get into the biz and then at some point go “holy fuck, I didn’t mean for that to be discussed at Dunkin’ Donuts!” I mean, it’s totally a genie, bottle, out type of situation, and I genuinely believe that no one has a clear vision of what it’s going to mean until they’re in it. Plus which, even if they don’t care if I know about their couplings and de-couplings? Still none of my business.

And then, of course, there are the Sandra Bullocks (and Angelina Jolies and Brad Pitts and George Clooneys) of the world, who did not, in fact, sign up for it. If memory serves, they signed up to act, not to serve as cash-generating cogs in a chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out machine. Why do I even know Bullock’s (estranged, cheating, Nazi-saluting) husband’s name — much less that they’re estranged, he’s a cheater, and that there’s a really unfortunate picture of him floating around in which he’s sieg heiling it up?

I don’t want to know these things.

And yet. At the same time, I am the first to buy a magazine featuring an interview with some actor or singer who I admire. I recently brought home Rolling Stone because Robert Downey, Jr. was on the cover, and GQ because of Jake Gyllenhaal (I also tend to prefer magazines that aren’t geared to my supposed demographic, but that’s material for an entirely different post, I suspect), and I was a little tickled to read of the former’s need to hash something out with his wife, and the latter’s love for his sister. I want to know them. I want them to know me (and like me, of course) but that’s not going to happen, so I will accept this sort of long-distance peek into who they are and feel cheered by it.

And also: Like any well-educated member of my socio-economic class, I am well-acquainted with people who take a certain pride in really and truly knowing nothing about pop culture. I remember a boss who didn’t know who the Simpsons were, and didn’t seem the least horrified by it. I mean: Dude! The Simpsons!

So, as per usual, my skills at self-contradiction are on full display: I don’t want to know what’s none of my business, unless I want to know it. I don’t want the vulture-like media to feast on people’s still breathing lives, unless it’s someone I like. I don’t want to know stuff that I don’t want to know, but I don’t give any props to those who take pride in not knowing.

Could I just pick and choose? Please? Could the Kardashians of the world be put behind a rope at the supermarket, or something? I mean honestly, there is only so much space in this head of mine, and if I unwillingly fill it with bits and bobs of information that couldn’t possibly matter to me less, how will I fit in what does?

Like, for instance: When is Anderson Cooper going to come out already? Inquiring minds want to know.

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” from T.S. Eliot’s “Choruses from the Rock.” And no I didn’t know that, I had to look it up, because my brain is filled with Jake Gyllenhaal and the freaking Kardashians.

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6 Comments

  1. Lise

     /  June 9, 2010

    The two months I worked at a birth center in Jamaica had the oddest effect – when I returned to the States, I didn’t know the tabloid gossip. I didn’t know what movies were in the theaters. I didn’t recognize the commercials on TV. That all lasted about two days of course, but it was the strangest feeling. Like you (wonder why?) I don’t deliberately keep up with stuff in the popular culture, but it washes over my brain just by being here.

  2. dmf

     /  June 10, 2010

    mmm, perhaps this is why i hear twit and not little birdies when people say twitter, most of what passes as critique/reflection in this country (usa) is just gossip, no matter the seriousness of the topic, not sure how we got to the place where being in a democracy meant that all opinions, no matter the depth of relevant knowledge, are to be spoken and expected to be heard/respected but here we are.
    http://www.theshallowsbook.com/nicholascarr/excerpt.html

  3. The modern cult of personality is simply an outgrowth of the royal court, where reputation and innuendo and titles were the name of the game. People were always trying to become the talk of the court, and it’s quite possible that more people knew the names of poseurs at the court than those who represented them in government.

    The “famous” are fired at us broadside, and we cannot successfully dodge all the shrapnel. Movies, television, magazines, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia — to be known is apparently more important in the Information Age, than to be accomplished. History is taught in school; fame is taught every day.

    The intellectual, the learned, the accomplished, the philosophers and scientists, they will never be famous, unless they dip into the sphere of the famous and well-heeled. People scoffed at Carl Sagan, proclaiming him a “pop” scientist, but he was an accomplished researcher and theoretician, who chose to take his message to the popular forums of his day in order to disseminate the word of knowledge and being forth a world with a populace better steeped in science and understanding of the world. Isaac Asimov, famed science fiction author, largely abandoned science fiction for science writing, because he saw a need to teach people the rudiments of science, reason, and logic, because it was apparent even in the 60’s and 70’s that we were drifting away from the certain and the sure, looking for escapism and the quick road to happiness.

    Right now, we don’t have anyone of a stature to counteract the cult of fame, someone to reach through the Internet, the TV, and say “Here is the world, and here is what you must know to survive.” Until we do, the road ahead is fraught with ignorance and peril.

  4. I think, in part, the latter is info that is usually gleaned in interviews with the subjects–therefore, they are controlling the material disseminated. The former is just pablum for the masses. I don’t pride myself on being ignorant of pop culture, but I will say that I don’t have much use for most of it–including reality television. To me, Survivor would have only been reality television if the contestants were dropped off on the island, and the lone survivor won.

    I love Alan Rickman, as you may know. If there is an article about him, I will read it. If he does an interview, I will read it. However, one thing I truly appreciate about him is that he keeps his private life separate. He has been with the same woman since he was 19, and yet, he never talks about her in interviews.

    As for Sandra Bullock’s husband, the reason you know more about him than you normally would is because he is the star of American Chopper, a motorcycle TV reality show. Or something like that.

  5. When I accidentally spout knowledge of these things, I always have to qualify with “and this is why I’ll never win the Nobel Peace prize, because my brain cells are clogged with that.”
    I don’t believe any of the Kardashians sing, though Kim looks a lot like the lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, which is why the mistake is often made.
    You do have to take a step back and admire the business savvy of the woman though. This was not a girl who came from mad money like Paris Hilton. She was a solidly middle class girl, the kind that live around the fringes of hollywood feeding into and off of the industry. She was someone who would have spent her life applying makeup to famous people and fetching their coffees to make her monthly bills if it hadn’t been for one sex tape. She took that sex tape, something that has largely been forgotten, and her 3minutes of fame and parlayed it into a multi million dollar industry that supports her entire family. Even the aforementioned Hilton couldn’t sustain a business off of it the way this girl has. Whether or not you approve of her choices, what she’s managed to build for herself is actually pretty impressive.

    • LALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.

      And yes, you’re right, there is certainly something to be said for her savvy and what is likely a genuine, sharp intelligence.

      But now you’ve filled up even more of my brain cells with information about this woman (and for the record, I think you’re right on the Pussycat Dolls thing – good call!) and for that I kind of hate you. Just a little teeny tiny squidgey-bit, but yeah…. I know so much about this stranger that I even noted that her soon-to-be-ex-husband has a name that starts with K and the question “I wonder if that’s what drew her to him?” formed in my mind before I could shut it up.

      FINGERS BACK IN EARS NAO.