Media kiss good sense (and taste) goodbye - Clay Wilson

Sometimes it's almost easy for me to see why other countries hate the U.S.

Even in the post-Sept.11 world, we Americans somehow seem to still live in the unreal reality constructed for us by Hollywood and Madison Avenue.

In Iraq on Friday, the major headline was that a car bomb had exploded near a mosque in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Najaf, killing 85 people and wounding scores more.

But here in the States, the big news was that Madonna had kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on the MTV Video Music Awards.

Naturally, the television tabloid shows – "Access Hollywood" and its ilk – played up the titillating tale. "Entertainment Tonight" did what seemed like a 10-minute segment on the incident, complete with Justin Timberlake's opinion of the affair.

But I first heard about it Friday morning, when the "Yahoo" Internet site, where I check the top headlines each morning, felt it was important enough to include along with the mosque bombing.

Some of the nation's major news organizations apparently felt the story was worth more than the overheated conversation of adolescent and 20-something males, or the jaded-yet-still-breathless reaction of the entertainment industry.

Of course, if news is simply stories that are being talked about, then certainly the public display of unnatural affection qualifies.

One of my more Internet-savvy colleagues told me that a picture of Madonna kissing Britney was one of the top-five most e-mailed photos of the day – doubtless thanks to the aforementioned overheated young males.

But was this really news? News that needed to be reported beyond the entertainment industry's own circles?

It doesn't seem that it should really be worthy of headlines anymore that rock stars do things that are just intended to shock the more conventional.

Anyone who watched the MTV Video Music Awards without expecting to see something that would offend a large percentage of Middle America (99.5 percent of the Bible Belt) must have been living under a rock for the last 20 years.

Indeed, one entertainment critic charged that the Madonna-Britney-Christina Show was simply an attempt (and a weak one, at that) to hold up the controversial reputation of the Video Music Awards. Apparently Madonna began this proud tradition in 1984 with a racy performance of her then-hit "Like a Virgin."

But it's been so long since Madonna knew what a virgin feels like that, as another critic noted, people shouldn't really be surprised to see her kiss anyone.

And even if people are still shocked when outrageous performers do something that a majority of the nation still considers taboo, when did it become the media's job to act as the national prudish tattle-tale, pursing its lips, pointing its finger and saying, "Oooooh – look at that!"

Then again, maybe that's what we've always done – at least for the last decade or so. From the O.J. Simpson trial to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal to the Kobe Bryant case, we often seem to bring the nation together around the lowest common denominator.

MTV must be so proud.

Clay Wilson is the education and public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.