Entertainment Forever

The robot mother of all celebrity shows soldiers on--with a Hollywood smile

Or listen to this probing interview with Cher, who also has, surprise, a hit single and a hot album. Cher on Madonna: "We have somewhat the same ideas. She's really strong. I'm really strong. We're both unique." Given that foundational shallowness, every installment can easily cover all the (un)necessary territory: established star's comeback, newcomer's breakthrough, movie premiere. Then there's the sex quotient, which can vary wildly, from Playboy's Playmate of the Year in a bubble bath to Roma Downey in sleeveless shirts with cardigans--or even the occasional hot guy or three. But here, too, every story comes with an equal dose of cheer. "Roma Downey has a bit of a devilish side!" Hef gave the Playmate of the Year a motorcycle! And she did a Little Red Riding Hood video wearing only a cape!

At its core, then, ET is both aseptic and amoral. Stars star, and that's good. You could be a faithful postmodernist and appreciate the show's cultivation of surface qua surface; you could surf its triviality, groove on its mouthing of PR and teen discourse and the way its ultimate term of approbation is "hot." Watching it consistently feels as empty and overstimulating as reading the collected works of Mark Leyner, and without the irony. Do whatever you want with it, ET won't get in your way. The only thing you can't do is ask for more from the show, because you won't get it. ET admits no secrets, tells no truths.

And ultimately, theorizing ways to like this show is the worst kind of intellectual perversity. I can't bring myself to enjoy ET, and I'm not sure anyone else can, either. Do its anchors ever think to themselves, "Boy, that was a good show tonight"? Do viewers eagerly await 7:30 to see where Heather Locklear will be going after Melrose Place? I doubt it.

ET simply appears, unbidden, what my wife (who tunes it in with alarming frequency) calls "an enema for your brain." This show is peerless at what it does, yet at base its achievement is faintly horrifying: The most popular and longest-running commercial in our history, it pioneered the bleeding of info- into -tainment so seamlessly that no one can tell the difference anymore. Protesting it feels pointless but somehow necessary. Does celebrity culture hold us so much in its spell?

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