the pulse

Britney & Anna Nicole linked on tabloid loop

Do you, like me, sense in the past 10 days or so that we reached some sort of tipping point in our tabloid culture with the late Anna Nicole Smith and late-night Britney Spears shenanigans? It used to be you had to wait a week for your fix with the new editions of the National Enquirer and the Globe. Now, you needn't sit tight for even an hour before events move from topsy to turvy and then back to topsy again.

The Internet afforded us all a front-row seat to the freak show. First, there was the courtroom drama with those who survive Anna Nicole arguing over what to do with her as the fate of her unburied, decomposing corpse hung in the balance. It fought for racy supremacy with Spears' she's in/she's out/she's in/she's out/she's in misadventures in (and out of) rehab, the shaving of her hair, her tattooing and the suspicion she is in active marble-losing meltdown.

War in Iraq and nukes in Iran can't come close to commanding the kind of blow-by-blow attention accorded a couple of misbehaving, malcontented mommies. It's a wonder we can get any work done at all, what with all of the breaking news: "Britney not suicidal, reveals her manager"; "Anna Nicole's body goes to her daughter's guardian"; "Britney not bald, merely 'folicly challenged,' spokesman claims."

Is this any way for a superpower's media to pander to the citizenry?

If you aren't yet ashamed for what we've collectively become, you simply aren't paying attention. And the hypersaturation coverage of these recent bimbo eruptions demonstrates that we are officially now a nation of clinically jaded voyeurs hamstrung by lives of relentless boredom.

Leading this parade is, which has upped the ante of tabloid overkill by dedicating team coverage to every last permutation of star culture and in the process gives it the illusion of actual news value. It has broken some big stories, like Mel Gibson's Jew-ranting drunk-driving arrest and the Michael Richards comedy club tirade, but at the same time it recklessly diminishes its own scoops in the overzealous way it peers at Hollywood through a "Truman Show"-esque microscope.

If Drew Barrymore goes to the bathroom, it's considered news at TMZ. If she fails to wash her hands afterward, it's bigger news. If she lights up a cigarette with those unwashed hands on the way out of the ladies room, it's through the roof.

And what is the point, after all, in studying as if it were a doctoral dissertation the quirks and calamities of a couple of women bolstered by modest talent (at best) and charisma that might best be described as rumor? The storm of publicity that blankets them becomes its own unbridled monster requiring greater and greater fuel to be sated.

The truth is that after a while, the object(s) of such fascination can't help but be exposed as empty vessels unworthy of our mass fixation. In the case of Smith, what we're seeing now is the subject's shift from living train wreck to iconic Hollywood victim. With Spears, it's somewhat the reverse: party-hearty boy toy to flailing, dysfunctional mess.

You know we're trapped in a surrealistic fog when presented with evidence that Kevin Federline is the stable and responsible one.

But beyond that, all of us should be concerned about living in a time of such shameless pimping of the populace, where even the mainstream press appears to have climbed enthusiastically into Pander-a's Box, as it were. It's hard to imagine we're quite this obsessed with scandal no matter how nakedly vulnerable the party. Then again, I neglect to heed this era's new journalistic mantra: If you raze it, they will come.