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Sometimes you can’t see the news for the ‘news’

As many are aware, some decisions made this week by the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to foster some huge changes in the way Americans go about their everyday lives. Same sex marriage, affirmative action…these are big-ticket items that, whether you agree with the court’s opinions or not, will have profound effects on American life for decades to come.

Or maybe you didn’t get the news. Maybe, instead, you had access to the “news.”

For instance, you probably heard that Kim Kardashian had her baby. The offspring of Miss Kardashian, who of course is one of those people who is famous simply for being famous, and rapper Kanye West made big news not just because they are celebrities, but because they named the child North. Paired with dad’s last name, the child’s moniker will be North West.

The child’s birth is obviously big news because sometimes celebrities have babies. Never mind that most women have babies at one time or another in their lives.

Or maybe your news outlets were clogged with news about the death of actor James Gandolfini. While it’s true that Gandolfini was a nearly-universally-acclaimed actor, famous for his role as the primary character in “The Sopranos,” among others, and it’s also true that at 51, he was pretty young to have died of an apparent heart attack, once again the role of a celebrity is elevated above the hundreds of thousands of other perfectly good and kind people who also died over the last few weeks.

Or maybe you’ve gotten your news fix from a constant barrage of derision and/or support for Paula Deen. The drawling southern celebrity cook apparently used some racial slurs in the past, though it’s uncertain how far in the past it was and whether she went beyond words and into actions in discriminating against non-white employees. I don’t like and don’t use those kinds of words, but it amazes me that people are so up in arms to learn that a 66-year-old woman from Georgia might have used some politically-incorrect terminology in her life.

My point here is that while there is national and world news that we should be paying attention to, from the “travels” of Edward Snowden, the man who leaked the news that the government has been watching us, to the recent G8 Summit in Ireland, many of us have been too busy reading US Weekly or watching “TMZ” to notice.

Now, I understand that a lot of people like celebrity news. I’m guilty of it, to a certain extent, myself. We have our favorite actors, musicians, writers or whatever, and sometimes we feel like we actually know them—how else to explain the outpouring of grief when Gandolfini died suddenly in Italy? Almost everyone who shed tears for him never met him and probably never would have met him, were he still alive.

And I can’t deny that sometimes, these bits of celebrity news can be used to impart important information. For example, Gandolfini’s death can be used to highlight the health risks that lead to heart trouble. Paula Deen’s troubles might help advance the dialogue on race relations in the U.S. And Kim and Kanye’s baby? Well, I guess we can talk about proper baby-naming procedure.

But these news items, while interesting, shouldn’t be the centerpiece of major media outlets. They’d be good for the ticker along the bottom of the screen in a news broadcast, or for the “gee whiz” column about halfway back in the pages of most big newspapers.

Celebrity news is fine, but it shouldn’t obscure the things that might actually matter.

By Eric Copeland •

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