Currid-Halkett (The Warhol Economy) takes a tasty subject and rehashes it into sawdust in her repetitive study of celebrity. She dissects the “collective fascination with some people over others,” postulating that our preference for watching television and surfing the Internet over actual engagement has created a public “lonelier than ever” but with free, instant access to indulge our “voyeuristic tendencies.” Analyzing the appeal of personalities as disparate as Paris Hilton and Bill Gates, she concludes unremarkably that celebrity has little to do with talent or fame, but with an unquantifiable “light” recognized and exploited by those whose livelihoods depend on star-based revenue, including the media. Having made this point, the remainder of the book is reiteration, supported with diagrams and tables that seem unnecessary in supporting the incontrovertible conclusion that “celebrity ultimately hinges on whether we decide to pay attention or not.” A glimmer of interest flares on the penultimate page of the book, when Currid-Halkett observes that, “on the whole many of us care far more about [Jennifer] Aniston’s latte than the thousands being murdered in Sudan,” a more puzzling phenomenon that could have proved a more promising focus.
Wexler, a staff writer for Allure magazine, spent three years on the road, investigating America’s worship at “the Church of Stuff.” Wexler dives into America’s new normal where bigger is better and our landscape is dominated by starter castles, Barbie boobs, megachurches and megamalls, jumbo engagement rings, mammoth cars, and landfills visible from space. By turns horrified, tempted, incredulous, guilt-ridden, mystified, and captivated by these excesses, Wexler approaches her subject with a compassion born of her own complicity (she’s an SUV driver and enjoys her shopping). Though the book covers increasingly familiar postrecession “the party’s over” territory with the depth of an extended magazine piece, Wexler brings a friendly first-person perspective to her study of surfeit and of the psychology behind our compulsion to consume and squander, why “living large” is defended by some as our “God-given right as Americans” and in other cases, might be downright unavoidable.