America's Tabloid Coliseum

In our celebrity obsessed-culture we don't need to go to the coliseum to watch people battling to their deaths.  We can just head to the supermarket checkout lines, grab the tabloids, and watch celebrities pay the price for their own self-destructive behavior.

It's highly profitable for people willing to exploit the demise of others.   

During the January 30 broadcast of CBS' The Early Show, national correspondent Tracy Smith reported on a Portfolio magazine feature that found Britney Spears generates nearly $120 million dollars a year for other people.  Duff McDonald, contributing editor of Portfolio, told CBS that this amount is the, “equivalent of a company.  The revenues of a company that employs several thousand people.” 

Spears is not on tour these days and for over a year now, her personal drama has overshadowed any talent the pop princess has. Yet she “has banked $125 million” during her career and still pulls in an annual profit of roughly $9 million.  So who is actually profiting?

    Kevin Federline, Spears' ex-husband, receives $34,000 a month in child support and alimony and can command $30,000 per appearance, all which roughly equals $1 million a year. Jive Records and other corporations like Elizabeth Arden, which sells Spears' perfume line, earn $30 to $40 million.  The paparazzi rake in $4 million on pictures of Spears, and The media make $75 million. 

But Smith inadvertently hit on a much larger issue -- the public's role in the Spears' money machine -- when she noted that, “between January 2006 to July 2007 sales of mags with Brit on the cover totaled 360 million dollars.”   McDonald also stated that the “paparazzi make about $4 million a year” off Spears. 

Paparazzi and magazines go hand-in-hand.  If it weren't for the pictures paparazzi take, magazines wouldn't have much to offer.  And if the magazines didn't buy the pictures, the paparazzi would be out of luck.    

But who is buying those magazines and allowing publishers to exploit the personal problems of celebrities for hundreds of millions of dollars in profits?

It's the public. 

What does it say about the character of our nation when people are willing to shell out $360 million to read about others' problems?  Or that Spears has been number one in the annual Yahoo search rankings in four of the nearly five years America has been at war?  Do Americans really care more about stupid celebrity tricks than the security of our nation? 

According to sales reports and profits, we seem to care more about celebrities than anything else. 

And that's sad. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center