The news this week end was sure to include that Christina Applegate was being treated for breast cancer. She’s an Emmy nominated actress who played one of Jennifer Aniston’s character sisters on “Friends”, and given today’s culture, that’s news. Maybe it’s the remnant of my J School training, but I must ask why?
First what makes her, or the list of actresses that have so far been afflicted, more important than anyone else? I’ve had breast cancer, so have many of my friends, Sylvia, Harriett, Bonnie, Deborah… and if I am to include family members, the list could grow long. In fact there isn’t a cancer type a family member hasn’t had, including brain and spinal cancers. My list is far from unique. It’s the norm. Don’t we all have a list of friends and family members who have had cancer? So why single Ms Applegate this week end and whatever actress will next be diagnosed next week or next month? Why does being a celebrity, however small the accompanying fame may be, make one more important than those we care about? It’s not that I ignore what celebrity means, if Elizabeth Taylor, who has been a star my entire life, were to be diagnosed, I’d feel a twinge, but it wouldn’t be like what I felt when my cousin Yolande had a recurrence of breast cancer and then it spread to the lungs and she was given what turned out to be the wrong medication and died within days.
The emotional aspects aside, we are legal equals. But more important we are spiritual equals. What distinguishes us as spiritual beings may revolve around how much love we have but I feel quite confident asserting it would not include being a celebrity. Which all brings me back to my original question, why are we treating a celebrity’s announcement of cancer as news? So many interesting stories go uncovered, so many issues crucial to our understanding the world around us need to be talked about. Why do we settle for the health details of every one in the public eye, and treat them as news?
The news is that People magazine in conjunction with the British Hello! will pay $14 million (yes fourteen millions) for the right to print the first pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s new twins. Previously the source said, the highest sum had been paid for Jennifer Lopez’s twins, $6 million. The magazines are willing to pay such phenomenal sums on the basis that the interest and extra news stands sales the pictures generate will at the very least cover the cost. And of course the pro argument continues. Pitt and Jolie are donating the millions to a foundation they created to help children. Presumably that redeems the excess, the money will therefore serve a good purpose and all should be all right. As I recall $25,000 in Africa can build a nice school. Fourteen million ought to build a long string of them.
But it’s more complex than that. It’s first that it makes us accomplices to this exorbitant sum, because without us, the consumer, to look, scrutinize, peek, comment, coo or criticize, the pictures are worthless. And second is what it says about us, about us as a society and about us as individuals. Many, I would surmise, will feel as I do and yet will go right ahead and look at the pictures, feeling that once the sale is made, there’s nothing we can do. I would venture to say, yes there is, boycott the picture, do not look at them or read the magazine. If we do not bite, then they’ll think twice about paying such sums for pictures of innocent babies whose sole claim on fame is that their parents are movie stars. What’s even more disquieting is what it says about us as a society. More than the majority of us believe the country is on the wrong track. Surely how we use money is related to what’s ailing us, and I don’t think I even need statistics to say that of those who feel that way, more than the majority will agree that the value we place on money is part of the problem. To me that’s another good reason to boycott the picture, to make a point we want better and we deserve better than a society where the price of a baby picture is more than the lifetime earnings of our less fortunate millions.
Giesecke & Devrient is a European company that has been providing Zimbabwe with paper. After pressure from the German government, itself pressured by the threat of protests, it cut off supplies to the African nation. Jura JSP is the Hungarian-Austrian company which supplies the software licenses and design for the banknotes. The program is said to be very technical, and not easily replicated. They too are reported to be withdrawing their contract. Zimbabwe has been printing money at will, which has led to the kind of inflation most of us can’t comprehend. One English pound last week was trading at 1.3 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. Without these two companies it can no longer do so. The UK Guardian newspaper reported that what it called a”knowledgeable source” had said the looming actions by these companies has created an air of panic. Some in the Zimbabwe government are in a panic because without the software they can’t print any money. The government has been paying the military and officials with this printed money. Without it and the purchasing power it gave them, observers wonder whether or not they will mutiny. As it is their income has not kept pace with the cost of living and these same observers suspect that many of these middle and senior ranking government officials have long stopped being enamored of the system.
While the international community debates what to do about Zimbabwe, while several things have been tried, e.g. a UN resolution, and many feel helpless about the human suffering, it could be that a software license may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But more importantly perhaps, given the interconnectedness of the multitude of economic factors that makes up a given country’ economic life, it makes one aware of the fact that little things can bring down governments.
Despite ongoing talks between the two political parties, if–probably when–Mugabe’s government’s falls, there will be many explanations. Still one will be left wondering about that old story about David and Goliath, of how a software license kept a government from running.
I know nothing about Candy Spelling, only what I read in the article announcing her purchase of a 16,000 square feet, $47-million condo in Century City, thereby setting a record for $2848 a square foot. She may be a very generous person, may have contributed to a number of worthwhile causes, may be quite philanthropic. My comments are not directed at her as a person, only using what she represents to me. She is currently living in Los Angeles’ county largest house, a 123 room, 56,000 square feet mansion on six acres–one might argue someone has to own the largest house. But 123 rooms etc. is reminiscent of those palaces and lifestyle that preceded–or is it caused–the French and Russian revolutions. That kind of wealth is not only a historical occurrence, but a global one as well, making one think of sultanates and sheikdoms where opulence is common. Still, historical and global references aside, there is something very telling about the symbol of such a large house in a city which has a growing homeless population, where the differences between rich and poor can ( as they are in many U.S. cities) be a matter of just a few blocks, and often not even that, for I deduce with such a mansion Ms Spelling must employ many. Some of her own employees no doubt have problems coping with rising rent, fuel, food and other costs.
What strikes me most about this, is not the proverbial difference between the haves and have nots, but what would I do were I to be in her shoes? Would I share my wealth, and if so how? How would I justify to myself my having so much when so many have not enough, or nothing at all? Would I entertain such thoughts, or would I be smug and assume that because I give to charities, I am entitled to the rest? Would I feel guilty for living in opulence knowing millions are homeless? Would I be willing to go and see for myself how those who have so little fare? How would I react? Would I have the wisdom and the love to share, to satisfy myself with a fraction of what I would have and try to make a difference with the rest?
Of course I’ll never know for I won’t ever be the recipient of that kind of wealth. I can only hope I would have the courage of my convictions and practice sharing, since sharing in this way has to be a deep form of love.