Today is September 7, which means it must be somebody’s birthday. And not just anybody’s birthday — a celebrity’s birthday!
Let’s see … happy birthday, Evan Rachel Wood! And Shannon Elizabeth! And Easy-E, though you’ve been dead since 1995! (That’s OK: It’s also Buddy Holly’s birthday — he would have been 80 — and he’s been dead since 1959.) And Gloria Gaynor! You have survived!
Listen: There’s nothing wrong with birthdays. We all have them, and they’re a wonderful excuse for friends and loved ones to celebrate our entry into this world. Occasionally, as in the case of Google Doodles, they’re also a history lesson and a tribute to notable and often unsung people.
But, as with so many things on the Internet, they’ve gotten out of hand.
Tuesday morning, Facebook Trends included references to Bob Newhart, Raquel Welch and Roger Waters. Each had celebrated a birthday Monday, and not a zero-ended milestone, either: Newhart turned 87, Welch had her 76th and Waters turned 73. More power to them all. And I’m glad the news wasn’t the opposite, that they were trending because they’d just died. (Gene Wilder still had “1M people talking about this” a week after he passed away.)
However, their birthdays have also become another kind of celebration: lazy traffic generators for websites.
What better way to earn some simple clicks than to put together a gallery of Shannon Elizabeth through the years? Or write an outrage-fanning article about Newhart’s five best movies? (“Elf,” “Catch-22,” “Cold Turkey,” “In & Out” and “Hell Is for Heroes.”) Or a 51-frame slideshow of celebrities turning 50? (Bet you can’t click on just one.)
I say, let the celebrities be. I’m sure Bob Newhart got plenty of nice presents. (And deservedly!) No, instead let’s see if we can subvert the celebrity-industrial complex and make some average schmo’s birthday trend. The Facebook tallies show that maybe a few thousand — possibly a few tens of thousands — are “talking about” some famous person’s birthday on any given day. Shouldn’t be hard to pick out one of your loyal and upstanding friends or relatives, wish them a happy birthday, and spread the word to all your friends and relatives. Maybe we can bump a Kardashian off the trending list.
Or maybe check out that Google Doodles page. Google regularly targets Doodles at specific countries, which means they highlight people generally unknown to Americans. Wouldn’t it be interesting to spike interest in wayang golek master Asep Sunandar? All the celebrity media sites would be scrambling, and everybody might learn something.
In the meantime, I’d like to wish a happy 104th birthday to the late David Packard, who showed up late one night to check in at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta with a lone registration clerk — me — manning the desk. Despite the Hewlett-Packard co-founder’s achievements and great wealth, he couldn’t have been nicer. (Didn’t even want an upgrade.) I think he’d appreciate the idea of highlighting an Average Joe or Jane — and forget about hyping the celebrities for once.