Famous last words

By promoting celebrities as potential authors, the publishing industry limits the production of quality writing

AS I WAS driving and listening to the radio one day last spring, a girl called in to 94.3, "the Jersey shore's hit music channel," to exclaim enthusiastically: "I'm going to the mall today to see my girl JWoww!" Jennifer Farley, aka JWoww, is a cast member of the popular MTV reality series "Jersey Shore" and was at the mall in my town that day to sign copies of her book, "The Rules According to JWoww."

Farley is not the only "Jersey Shore" star to have had a book published. Nicole Polizzi, known better as Snooki, is the author of "A Shore Thing," and Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino is the author of "Here's the Situation" - how clever, Mr. Sorrentino. Besides cast members of "Jersey Shore," there are other young celebrities who have decided to enter the field of non-fiction. Nicole Richie's "The Truth About Diamonds" was published when she was 24, and Paris Hilton's "Confessions of an Heiress" hit the shelves when she was 23. In fact, Miley Cyrus published a memoir when she was only 16. As an English major and prospective writer, it pains me to know that such celebrities could land a book deal so early and so easily.

Now, I have not read any of the books by these celebrity authors, but, despite the adage, some pretty strong conclusions can be drawn from looking at their covers. For example, The Situation's work is promoted as "a guide to creeping on chicks," and features a picture of him pulling up his shirt to expose his six-pack abs. JWoww's cover, meanwhile, highlights "secrets" for "landing a mint guy," and features her wearing an outfit that is obviously designed to show as much cleavage as possible. Clearly, there is a sexualized theme being pushed to the forefront of these works.

The topic of Cyrus' "Miles To Go" is perhaps more encouraging, since it is about her experience with bullying, an issue relatable to most teenagers. Nevertheless, bullying is a subject that has been written about countless times before, so why did Miley Cyrus feel the need to write on it? One possibility is that she wanted to make more money. Since much of Miley Cyrus' fan base is among the teen and preteen age cohorts, bullying would be an appropriate topic choice to encourage a large percentage of her admirers to buy copies of her book.

Money also would explain why there is such a prevalent sexual theme advertised in the works of Sorrentino and Farley; in our culture, lest we forget, sex still sells. It is also possible, though, that the true motivation of all these celebrities is to achieve a type of fame that goes beyond just being in the limelight. Authorship is naturally associated with wisdom and insight, so perhaps these celebrities feel the need to prove that not only do they look good on camera, but also that they can teach us something. If this is the case, however, these figures are ignorant to think that putting words between hard covers makes them valuable.

I would rather become famous because I write, not write because I become famous. The current climate of the publication industry, unfortunately, seems to favor the latter circumstance. If readers are now investing in the words of Snooki, The Situation or other famed stars, publishing companies are logically going to print more of such celebrity material rather than offering chances to independent writers. If consumers continue to buy into celebrity drama on the screens and also on the shelves, writers without brand names have dwindling hopes of succeeding by producing material about controversial social issues or intellectual queries. Further, the induction of works about cliché topics and sexual promiscuity into the collection of contemporary writing detracts from the overall quality of books available in modern culture.

Some may see the shifting of readers' attention away from writers and toward celebrities as a petty issue, but I am genuinely concerned. What if the next Charles Dickens or Jane Austen goes undiscovered because a publishing company chooses to print and sell Justin Bieber's autobiography? Or will readers' preoccupation with the lives of celebrities turn once classic, brilliant works of literature into forgotten relics? I fear these tragedies are already occurring.

I sincerely hope people will not lose sight of the fact that words are not meant to be wasted. At the end of the day, celebrities will still be making millions of dollars, but those of us who choose to leave behind the escapades of Snooki in favor of "Pride and Prejudice" or "Great Expectations" will know what we have gained is worth so much more.

Katherine Ripley is a Viewpoint writer for The Cavalier Daily.


Published October 17, 2011 in Opinion

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