I was not even in Paris in 1997 -- but I do read trashy magazines. My husband, BS, claims that, by buying and reading these magazines that rely on paparazzi shots, I am personally responsible for the culture of celebrity stalking that allegedly led to her death, not to mention the steady decline in moral values and loss of respect for the right to privacy that are hallmarks of our age.
I just like the mindlessness, really. US Weekly, Life & Style, and InTouch are my usual choices. I can't get behind Star: to me it'll always be on the level of National Enquirer. (I am a charter subscriber to Entertainment Weekly, too, but that, of course, is highbrow celebriporn.)
I always buy them at the airport, which prompts BS's constant question: "If the plane goes down, is this what you want to be the last thing you read on Earth?" Forgive me, Lord, but I have a hard time believing that You'll make Your final judgment about me based on my mostly-innocent, slightly-prurient interest in the mating lives of famous people. Besides, when one travels with the Munchkin, one needs to pick reading material that can and will be destroyed.
I think about my trash habit when the major awards are announced (like tonight's Pulitzer for fiction, which went to Geraldine Brooks's March -- a book I tried but failed to read) or whenever I read about "literary" authors making a stink about popular books on bestseller lists. The idea that a person can only read "good" literature, or that a person who reads (or writes) popular books (Freakonomics, Blink, etc.) can never truly be considered erudite, strikes me as utter crap. When Shirley Hazzard raised a big stink a few years back about Stephen King's lifetime achievement award at the NBAs, it made me vow not to read any of Shirley Hazzard's books (especially The Great Fire, with that terrible jacket that makes the title unreadable. Eat Fire? Huh?) This, of course, is a petty and small reaction, but I am a petty and small person.
Don't get me wrong: I'm no literary slouch. I wrote my senior thesis on Shakespeare; I've read most of the big-name poets and scribes from the 15th century on. But I resent the implication that my trashy magazine habit (or my Janet Evanovich habit, or my Louise Rennison habit) makes me a literary lightweight.
Pop culture has a vital role in the larger society, by connecting us to strangers through shared experiences and a shared set of cultural touchstones. When I work at the circ desk and a patron comes up with a Sue Grafton novel or one of Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries books, I can make a connection with that person. To me, it's a community service to keep up with the latest pop culture and pop lit. Trashy magazines are just one part of that equation. Since we don't watch a lot of TV in our house, how else can I keep up with pop culture?
(And okay, I do enjoy feeling just a liiiiiittle bit superior to some of the dippier celebrities out there. So sue me.)