Those of us who found this past week's international news too depressing could focus on a different kind of horrifying story: "Gumgate."
A man with a dubious background was auctioning off a piece of bubblegum that he claimed Arizona Diamondbacks star, Luis Gonzalez had chewed and spit out during spring training. Unfortunately, the "auctioneer," Jason Gabbert, couldn't demonstrate any connection to Gonzales or to the charity that he claimed the money would go to.
By the time this was discovered, bids for the saliva-soaked wad had exceeded $3,000. $3,000 for a used piece of gum! P.T. Barnum is famous for the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute." But that was before fertility drugs. Now I'd revise that to more like a few suckers every second.
The bids for the questionable gum were withdrawn, and then Gonzalez himself stepped in to resolve the controversy. He chewed a new piece in front of witnesses so it could be auctioned off for charity. It went for $10,000, making both P.T. Barnum and me seem quite knowledgeable.
The most disturbing part of this story is not that someone would try to make money from something that had been in somebody else's mouth. It's that Gabbert knew that there would definitely be a market for the discarded Bazooka. In today's celebrity-worshiping culture, anything remotely attached to anyone famous or slightly famous has value. Many people seem so unhappy with their own identities that they have a need to try to buy into somebody else's.
Some people still want O.J.'s autograph. There are women who marry famous convicted serial killers. I wouldn't be surprised to find some of Fidel Castro's beard shavings on e-Bay. And how much could they get for the bra that Gwyneth Paltrow decided not to wear, or for Robert Downey Jr.'s used drug-testing cup? How about the "Cliff's Notes" used by George Bush at Yale? Pamela Anderson's former implants would be big sellers. And their value would increase if she signed one of them and her plastic surgeon signed the other.
Here in Los Angeles, celebrity-worship has been elevated to an art form. Years ago, when my wife and I were looking for a house, the realtor referred to the broken down shack she was showing us as "the Edward G. Robinson house." We were unimpressed. We were a lot more concerned with whether the plumbing worked than with who had used the plumbing. Evidently, we're in the minority, because every day we hear things like, "Our home has the same floor plan as the Olsen twins' place" or "I live right down the street from that guy who was on 'Cheers' for just the first year."
The other day as I turned on the radio in my car, a talk show host was discussing a news story she read online in which a Texas man had become a local celebrity. He was despondent because he had a brain tumor, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head, but he miraculously shot out the tumor and recovered. The talk show host went on to say that she was appalled because now the man was auctioning off the tumor.
After checking it out, I found, not surprisingly, that the story was a hoax. However, after contacting the radio host, I learned that she was unaware that it was a hoax. To her, and presumably to her audience, the story was credible. And why not? It was a story about somebody who supposedly had a little bit of fame because of his extraordinary experience, so he was selling part of himself. That kind of thing is perfectly believable today.
There's nothing wrong with being interested in famous people. It's fun to be a fan. But there are limits. Our lives aren't so empty that we need to look to celebrities to fill them out. It's time for us to become less obsessed with things like autographs, memorabilia, and celebrities. It really is.
A limited number of autographed copies of this column can be obtained by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver