January 31, 2014

Examining the philosophical implications of the latest celebrity news


Socrates: boring dead guy or steamy Greek beefcake?

Socrates: boring dead guy or steamy Greek beefcake?

If you are a human being with eyes and ears, and perhaps an Internet connection, you have probably heard about some of this week’s celebrity gossip: Justin Bieber was arrested, Jennifer Lawrence likes Doritos, Lorde is actually a teenager. But have you considered what all of this says about the human condition?

A new site called The Philosophers’ Mail aims to get to the bottom of it. Launched as a companion to (and, one presumes, publicity engine for) Alain de Botton‘s forthcoming book The News: A User’s Manual, the satirical publication examines the philosophical implications of the most superficial of news stories. According to its mission statement, appropriately entitled “Who are we and what do we want?”:

The Philosophers’ Mail makes use of popular starting points – the stories a lot of people like to read and talk about already. It is generous to our natural inclinations: to read celebrity gossip, look at erotic images and read shock stories. It is sympathetic (as a starting point) to popular biases: anxiety about whatever feels foreign, a taste for vengeance, lack of empathy for the very poor, envy of the very rich, resentment of the powerful, suspicion of those who seem clever, dislike of awkward truths…

We start by acknowledging such attitudes: it isn’t strange to be unnerved by a Romanian family begging on a French train; it would be thrilling to have sex with Jennifer Lawrence; one can empathise with the feeling that George Osborne doesn’t quite know what real life is like; it is natural to want to switch off when hearing about trouble in Africa.

Fittingly, early stories feature headlines like Harry Styles‘s new love with Kendall Jenner important to daydream about” and Simon Cowell, on holiday in Barbados, proves that suffering is part of the human condition.” A short comparison of the relatively boring phenomenon of global warming with the more exciting Taylor Swift bears the positively Daily Mail-esque title “Swift’s legs beat arctic melt: ordinary yet perfect, long but not freakish, unbowed by their implausible length, utterly firm yet yielding and soft.”

But lest you get caught up in this spirit of philosophical inquiry, an important reminder: it’s best not to spend too long on all this.


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.