There was a time not too long ago when people – from small children to adults – could look at some celebrities and public figures as role models. Or they could simply be awed by the power, fame, wealth, and talents of various celebrities. Someone like Babe Ruth or The Beatles were, like, not even human. They were gods living on a separate plane of existence above mere mortals. Rock stars, Hollywood icons, powerful elected officials, titans of industry, professional athletes…all of these people formed an elite to which us common people implicitly understood we did not belong. They were special.
Then someone invented Twitter. And now we know exactly how banal, ordinary, and flat-out stupid most of these people are.
Twitter has eliminated the wall between the famous and the ordinary, allowing anyone with an internet connection to broadcast their unfiltered thoughts to anyone interested in reading them. The results are occasionally interesting but more often (and more predictably) a train wreck. Aside from the fact that most of them sound quite shallow and dumb, these social networking tools give us a glimpse of just how boring and unexciting the daily lives of the rich and famous are. Oh, look, LeBron James is tweeting about going shopping. Can you imagine Mickey Mantle going shopping? Mickey Mantle doesn't shop! He's Mickey Fucking Mantle! He hits home runs and does things no mortal can do! He probably fell to Earth during a meteor shower or something!
Of course the lives of Mr. Mantle and his fellow celebrities were every bit as dull then as they are today. The only difference is that fifty years ago you didn't hear, read about, or see Mickey Mantle going to a grocery store. You didn't get hourly updates from John Wayne as he waited around in airports. You didn't realize that Greta Garbo was a horrible person who bitched all day about how much her domestic servants suck. An individual could plausibly make these celebrities seem special, unique, and exciting. It allowed us to make role models or idols out of lousy people. I doubt that's a good thing, but there is something lamentable about the fact that Twitter has ruined the idea of the aloof, glamorous celebrity. It was nice when people could choose to pretend, if so inclined, that their favorite athletes and movie stars were special people or role models. Now we are constantly smacked in the face, 140 characters at a time, with the undeniable realization that they're mostly dolts with remarkably mundane lives who write at approximately a 4th grade proficiency level.
Without making a positive value judgment on the concept of celebrity, I don't think this is a positive. Suffice it to say that many of you who were young in the 1960s would probably have felt differently about The Beatles if, like today's musicians, they posted 15 daily updates for public consumption about how they're chilling in the studio and playing some PS3. Maybe there is some minute value in preventing reality from intruding on everything.
(PS: this site has a running gallery of ridiculous things that famous people tweet and the delightfully smart-assed responses.)