Is the celebrity media machine turning women's brains to mush?
Recent studies underscore the alarming impact our celebrity-obsessed culture has on young women. A quarter, according to cable television network Oxygen Media, would rather win "America's Next Top Model" than the Nobel Peace Prize. Half would rather get hit by a bus than get fat, according to USA Today. And 51 percent, according to the Pew Research Center, say that becoming famous is their number one or number two goal in life.
And a recent book called "Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World" by CBS News Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom finds that, while most American women can name at least one Kardashian sister, the majority can't name a single branch of the federal government.
In a recent question and answer session with several women, "Early Show" Contributor Taryn Winter
Brill wanted to find out for herself. She discovered not one woman surveyed could name the city where more than a hundred
people were killed in a deadly tornado last month. The answer they didn't know?
Dr. Catherine Birndorf, author of "Nine Rooms of Happiness," told CBS News, "It really astounds me. It makes me feel like we've really lost our balance here as a society -- that we are focusing on the wrong things."
Brill noted hat, at the newsstand, supply is driven by demand -- and gossip magazines like US Weekly are thriving. Over the last seven years, the tabloid has more than doubled its circulation, from 800,000 subscribers a week to nearly two million.
Howard Kurtz, Washington Bureau chief of Newsweek, tells CBS News, "It's much more challenging to be a mainstream media outlet, but many of them are also turning more tabloid as they try, in a desperate attempt, to retain viewers and readers."
Those consumers of tabloid media are also flocking to the web, to sites offering up-to-the-minute coverage of their favorite celebrities
HollywoodLife.com's editor in chief, Bonnie Fuller, says her website has more than four million unique visitors per month.
"Close to 90 percent of them are female. ... Young women have always looked to the celebrities of their time as role models," Fuller said. "It used to be that they were primarily interested in them as style and beauty role models, but they're also interested in the lifestyle choices celebrities are making."
Experts worry, however, that this high level of interest is not without consequence
Birndorf said, "It's not creating meaning and allowing us to use our brains in a way that will ultimately make us more happy."
On "The Early Show," Bloom said she wrote "Think" because she wanted to offer a wake-up call to women about the way our culture is dumbing us down.
Bloom said, "I knew that 20 percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the Earth. I saw interviews with young women who couldn't say how many sides a triangle has, what country Mexico City is in. I did some of my own original research and I was shocked to discover that college women could name more Kardashians than wars we are in. So I decided to write the book. The first half is a wake-up call about how bad the problem has become, and the second half is a step-by-step guide to reclaim our brains and get us back on track."
"Early Show" co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis said the level of power women have in the U.S. is something to consider.
Bloom said there are widespread misconceptions in American culture.
"One is we're so far ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to women's rights," she said. "We had Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin in the last election. The bad news is, of course, that they lost, and we've never had a female president or vice president in this country, while many other countries in the world have. Every other continent has had women as heads of state, either presidents or prime ministers Currently, in Australia, a female prime minister, the president of India -- a country with one billion people -- is female. Many countries in Europe and South America have female heads of state. Ireland has had presidents named Mary for the last 20 years."
So how can women get in control of what they consume - and become?
"The most important solution is to reclaim time to think," Bloom said. "We've become so distracted by the tabloid media culture. Twenty times (more) American women read tabloids than real newspapers. What do we do overwhelmingly with our time? I'm as guilty of this as anybody else, online time, 28 hours a month for Americans. ... Other countries spend significantly less time online. ... And by the way, don't tell me you're reading serious news online: Some of the top searches on Yahoo last year were Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian.
Jarvis said, "You're saying basically spend your time differently. Use some of it just a thoughtful pursuit."
Bloom said, "Read real books. Look at real news online. And connect, engage with the world."