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Media’s binge with the fringe

LIKE MOST PEOPLE, in many ways I’m a fan. I hold football tickets for my alma mater, eagerly anticipated the “Batman Begins” premiere and admit to being curious about who Eva Longoria is dating. Hell, I can even sing the lyrics to “Billie Jean.”

The term “fan,” however, is being misused — or at least used too loosely — to mask a kind of pathology, while simultaneously providing cover for a media intent on justifying its bottom-line preoccupation with what’s interesting, as opposed to what’s important.

“Jackson Fans Celebrate,” read the headline on Fox News Channel, as an assembly of raving loons exulted, waved signs and even released doves to herald Monday’s not-guilty verdict.

Sorry, but the people lining up outside court and holding a vigil in Santa Maria aren’t “fans.” As with many that lose perspective on pastimes and hobbies to fill voids in their lives, their situation cries out for a somewhat less benign description.

News outlets aren’t just being polite. These “fans” become bizarre living props, adding color and even a smattering of legitimacy to the latest three-ring circus — to a verdict, as we were told time and again, which “the world was watching.” Was it really?

LOOK, IT’S EASY to see why Michael Jackson is a source of morbid fascination, and I concede that the Daily Variety office pretty much ground to a halt awaiting the final outcome, which normally happens only when someone delivers a basket of cookies. Everyone loves a good freak show.

Yet the plain truth is for most people the momentary blip was just that, meriting no more than a fleeting thought — not that you’d know it from the media chaos that ensued.

Littered amid that coverage were frequent references to Jackson’s fans, who are simply a more overt demonstration of the extreme-fan phenomenon. Many are driven by online communities, such as the current campaign to “save” HBO’s canceled drama “Carnivale.” A visit to the Web site displayed the typical delusional prose, calling the show “intoxicating and addictive to all those who watched it,” ignoring that millions abandoned the frustrating drama after its first season.

IN THE NAME of accuracy, then, I propose the following new classifications for the culture-consuming public’s fringes:

Geekatics: This would apply to anyone who has written multiple letters to a network (particularly Sci Fi Channel) lobbying on behalf of a show, as well as anybody over 25 willing to sleep on the ground more than two days for a movie, concert, etc.

Get-a-lifers: Think those who spend more on memorabilia than basic necessities, especially if they are unable to afford it, have boarded a plane to do so or every one of their closest friends was met via an Internet chat room.

Reality-checkers: Those who presume that watching someone on TV or in movies establishes a personal connection that entitles them to interact with that person at the local deli, dry cleaner or airport. Anything more than that topples over into “restrainers.”

Such people present easy targets, but labeling them “fans” also highlights some of the media’s self-serving laziness — the kind that allows Jackson, the runaway bride and Brad & Jen and Tom & Katie to relegate Iraq to a nightly footnote.

IN THIS RESPECT, the liberals at Air America have actually discovered common ground with their right-wing radio counterparts by ridiculing “the mainstream media” — albeit for indulging in trifles when they should be investigating missing WMDs.

“I blame the media,” host Randi Rhodes told listeners Monday, attributing public ignorance to Jackson and company pushing more serious stories off the air. In broad strokes, it’s one of the few statements upon which Rhodes and Fox News’ Sean Hannity — who followed “Hannity & Colmes'” extensive Jackson coverage by sitting in Vice President Dick Cheney’s lap — could agree.

Conservative hosts, by contrast, have pragmatically wallowed in the Jackson muck, including Tucker Carlson, whose MSNBC program premiered amid the hubbub. Carlson approached the whole affair with a detached bemusement that could wear well if transferred to less unsavory topics.

Please, though, don’t call me a fan.

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