In hard times, frothy news sells

The Depression had Shirley Temple. This recession has … Kim Kardashian?

Maybe every downturn gets the distraction it deserves.

This has to be filed under the good news/bad news category: New figures are out showing that advertising has picked up at many magazines, among the industries hit hard by the recession, after steep declines in the past couple of years.

But it's not all magazines. While newsstand mainstays like Newsweek and Forbes continued to struggle, particularly big jumps in ad pages came in the category of celebrity mags, those breathless trackers of the stars in all their dating, divorcing, drunken-driving glory. Coming up particularly big, for example, was Life & Style, whose current cover touts "Hot New Body. Kim's Revenge: It's War!"

Advertisers pay for eyeballs, so there is apparently quite a market for Kim and her diet secrets, particularly when the real news is such a downer, the way a nation of breadlines once turned to Shirley Temple movies as escape.

And yet somehow, Kim Kardashian making her ex feel bad by flaunting a bikini'd, gravity-defying bod isn't making me feel all that good.

C'mon, celebrities, we're in the midst of a terrible, perhaps double-dipping recession here! You're going to have to start doing a better job to make us forget about the intractable unemployment rate and the continuing foreclosure crisis.

For one thing, have you noticed that the whole concept of celebrity has depreciated even faster than your house? There are all sorts of these not-movie stars, not-royalty, not-rock stars who nonetheless have grabbed the public's imagination, or at least the imagination of the editors deciding who goes on the cover of In Touch or People.

Now, I try to keep up with the celebs as much as anyone — anyone, that is, who sneak-reads those magazines in the grocery store line. I admit I'm curious enough about who has sprouted cellulite or what's going on with Jen's ticking ovaries, but not so curious that I'll actually pay to find out.

But lately, even as they grace the covers of celeb mags week after week, I'm not quite clear who these people are, or rather, why their every date and diet is news: Vienna? Ali? Kendra? And, of course, Kim and her krazy-named sibs Kourtney and Khloe? A little Googling reveals that they're reality TV stars, and, from what I can gather, at any point in time someone somewhere is cheating on, betraying or otherwise being mean to one or another of them.

It's too late to wonder why these people are even famous to begin with — they just are. But for all the tracking of their mating and dating, what they're wearing and with whom they're catfighting, I can't help but think they're just placeholders, filling out the magazine pages until a blockbuster celeb — I'm talking the level of Princess Di, or at least Brangelina — comes along.

At least they're crowding out much news about, say, Mel Gibson. Maybe People will even strip him of his one-time Sexiest Man title. In a week when tapes of his sickening tirades against his ex-girlfriend were released, you had to search hard to find something about him on most of the celebrity magazine websites. It's too depressing.

Instead, they're otherwise consumed with the cotton candy of Carrie's wedding, Penelope's wedding and, of course, the upcoming nuptials of Bristol Palin and her baby daddy — two such zeitgeist figures that they announced their on-again engagement on the cover of US Weekly. And promptly received the blessings, however passive-aggressive, from her very own Mama Grizzly through a statement released to the "Today" show.

All of which, the celeb media are speculating, is simply prelude to the ultimate wedding present: their very own reality show.

My breath is officially bated. How, after all, could any reality show top the real reality of a teen mom who became a spokeswoman for abstinence? And who dumped and then reconnected with the fiance who spent the interim posing for Playgirl and trashing his now future mother-in-law?

I'm starting to understand the whole allure of reality TV.

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