Over the past couple of days, the tabloid news cycle featured the somewhat odd juxtaposition of three of the most famous (and highly overexposed) U.S. celebrities: Donald Trump, Alex Rodriguez and Kobe Bryant.
On Wednesday, Trump, the self-described real estate mogul (take a bankruptcy or so), TV reality star and all-round media buffoon criticized slumping New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez for his horrendous post-season performance. Indeed, A-Rod has done so poorly, he suffered the indignity of seeing his manager, Joe Girardi, remove his name from the starting lineup.
"I would terminate his contract, personally,” Trump told ESPN radio. “I think George [Steinbrenner] would've done that. I would terminate his contract on the basis that when he signed, he didn't say that he took drugs.”
(Rodriguez admitted that he, like untold numbers of other Major Leaguers of his era, used performance-enhancing drugs when he was employed by the Texas Rangers baseball club in the early 2000s, although many fans and media believe he is lying about the full extent of his drug use).
Then, Trump added insult to injury.
"Since he signed his contract, they found out that he took drugs,” he blustered. “He actually admitted that he took drugs. Now, he's not taking drugs anymore, and, without the drugs, he's a less-than-average player. I don't think he's an asset; I think he's a liability to the Yankees. They're paying him $30 million a year, and he strikes out every time he comes up in a play-off game."
To be fair to Trump, many baseball fans (even those who root for the Yankees) agree with his assessment -- that A-Rod is overpaid and overrated and has underdelivered when it really counts.
Rodriguez has already earned at least a half-billion dollars over his baseball career, and his present gargantuan contract runs for another five years.
However, a day before Trump's broadsides, Rodriguez received support from a most unlikely source -- Kobe Bryant, the superstar NBA guard for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Reacting to his friend A-Rod's removal from the Yankee lineup during their play-off series against the Detroit Tigers, Bryant lamented that such a measure would “hurt” team morale and that he would call Rodriguez to commiserate (which Bryant apparently did).
What struck me about the dramatis personae in this bizarre little saga was how similar the three principal players are. Messrs. Trump, Rodriguez and Bryant share many of the same qualities -- all are fabulously wealthy and insanely egotistical, have their every word and deed covered ravenously by media (both tabloid and serious) and are all largely despised by a wide swath of the American public.
Trump, with his ridiculous hair, fake teeth, bloated pig-like pink face and obnoxious personality, is a narcissistic delusionary clown but highly entertaining as the popularity of his idiotic TV shows attest to.
Bryant, although he is a stupendously gifted athlete and arguably one of the five greatest players in NBA history, is almost universally loathed for his arrogance, ego and selfishness (at least outside of Los Angeles). The sexual assault allegations he faced in 2003 in Colorado also permanently ruined any hope of rehabilitating his already-damaged image.
Compared to the Donald and Bryant, A-Rod's reputation isn't all that bad -- aside from his messy divorce, reports of serial adultery and the fact that his steroid admissions place his entire career in question.
But I wonder: Is this the price of fame, wealth and celebrity? Are we, the public, geared toward hating the people we constantly read about in the papers or watch on TV? Are people like Trump and Bryant really as “bad” as the media makes them out to be? Or is it a game the media plays? That is, by consistently portraying high-profile celebrities in the worst possible light, does it feed a kind of insatiable hunger in the public who can’t get enough of embarrassing details and foibles of the lives of the rich and famous?
I think the larger issue is that certain people who provide dubious value to society earn far too much money and fame -- far beyond what their talents really signify.
Indeed, no one really cares about the anonymous cancer researchers and inner-city doctors who genuinely help mankind (unless, I suppose, if one of them committed a monstrous crime).
This is a direct result of the overwhelming power and influence of mass media in conjunction with an American society where culture, education and moral standards have collapsed to a point where we worship (or at least pay rabid attention) to utterly unimportant people who happen to have skills that are lavishly remunerative.
Bryant is fascinating precisely because he appears to be a miserable, despicable human being; Trump is always on TV or in the papers precisely because he repeatedly makes a fool of himself; and Rodriguez is largely detested, because he makes obscene amounts of money for doing nothing of any value to society.
This kind of hatred simply feeds upon itself. Once the media (and we, the public) get tired of these characters, we will simply move on to the next array of highly compensated celebrities that we will also enjoy hating.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.