According to a story in the in-flight magazine Hemispheres, two New Yorkers have come up with an unusual use for the “long and functionally useless” hallway in the apartment they share. For reasons known only to them, roommates Viviana Olen and Matt Harkins decided to decorate their digs with prints of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
Remember them? The ice-skaters? They were Olympic rivals back in 1994 who became celebrity-famous when Harding’s then-husband decided to eliminate his wife’s competition by hiring a hitman to smash Kerrigan in the legs with a baton.
The two apartment dwellers christened their hallway “The Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan 1994 Museum” and just for a lark made use of an Internet fundraising site to raise funds for their “museum.” Thinking they might get $75 for their effort, they were surprised to have raised $2,000, all of which they poured into an rather extensive and quirky collection of mostly eBay-purchased memorabilia from that media-fueled event.
And what a special event it was. I was reminded as I delved deeper into the details of that drama just how culture-changing that particular spectacle turned out to be.
For one thing, the entire shabby story played out for us on television, radio, magazines and newspapers, not on a computer screen. Yes, kids, as hard as it is to believe, in 1994 there was no Internet as we know it today. Way back in those hardscrabble days, people didn’t carry little devices that could make photos and videos that could record every movement of anybody, anytime, anywhere. (Had there been, you can be sure a video record of the attack would have gone viral.)
Heck, you youngsters might be surprised to learn that most phone calls were made on a landline, and the phones were attached to a cord. What’s a landline? Why a cord? Go ask your parents.
Even without iPhones, iPads and iWatches, people back then followed the story with a irresistible passion. The interest in the story was worldwide.
Some maintain that this scandal began a change in the way news media operate, that this was one of the pivotal events that turned news outlets from reporting “serious” news to providing entertainment.
Olympic gold medalist and television commentator Scott Hamilton remembers the press box at Lillehammer, Norway, during a skating practice: “I saw the Washington Post, People magazine, The New York Times, the National Enquirer. And they were all equals. This may have changed skating a little, but it changed media forever.”
The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan story along with the O.J. Simpson drama a few months later were arguably the beginnings of today’s all-pervasive tabloid mentality that infuses so much of our modern media content. We dress it up and call it “pop culture,” and it is everywhere and almost impossible to avoid.
Even if you don’t care one whit about the doings of these celebrities, their names and faces infect your mind, and the images are pervasive. How can I not see Caitlyn Jenner’s magazine cover, or not know the buzz about Kim and Kanye’s name for their new baby? How can I not have heard of this month’s latest flavor in music, movies and TV?
What strikes me as most worrisome is this: When my mind is filled with celebrity fluff, it is not focused on important things. I am not thinking about the real questions, the fundamental issues of life.
It make me wonder: Are the media merely giving us what we ask for, or do we consume such titillating tabloid trash because that is what the media insists on feeding us? Does the ubiquitous existence of digital devices and the resulting need for content contribute to the current state of affairs?
Good questions, I think. Probably, though, I won’t find the answers on TMZ or Facebook or People.com.