Sex Secrets of Britney Spears!

One theme that pops up quite often when success, or the lack of it, enters the discussion, is jealousy. The presumption appears to be that one must always be jealous of another in a similar field who is more popular. But a comparison of two recent columns should demonstrate my take on the situation, which boils down to the point that since most people harbor pedestrian interests, mass popularity usually requires some amount of willingness to pander to the mediocre mean.

For example, in a recent post, I mocked a certain column, the headline of which breathlessly announced the discovery of a dangerous new practice by teenagers. A few days later, I wrote a column on a deceptive stock market practice which is undeniable, yet significant and understood by very few. It also dealt tangentially with what is suggested to be one of the most important long-term initiatives of the current presidential administration.

Interestingly, almost twice as many people opted to read about the dangerous “new” practice even though it has been around for decades and almost certainly has a minimal effect on almost everyone. Now, this doesn’t surprise me, given my generally low regard for the popular tastes of a world in which Britney Spears is one of the most popular “singers” in the world, but it may be contrary to the understanding of some people who believe that those who follow the news are more intelligent and less addicted to pop culture than the norm.

Ultimately, there is a choice. One can either devote oneself to pandering to the popular tastes, or writing about one’s own interests with the full knowledge that many readers simply will not be interested. I have no doubt that a column headlined “Britney’s Sex Secrets” would draw an even bigger readership than decades-late alarmism, but I am also convinced that were Dante to draw up modern circles of Hell, one of them would require damned intellectuals to subsist on a library comprised entirely of People and US magazines.

The genius of the free market is that it gives people what they want. That is also its curse. I don’t think most writers are particularly jealous of a writer who achieves popularity by writing about utter trivialities, any more than most women are jealous of Jenna Jameson. Success always comes at a price, and some prices are simply too high to pay.

April’s on its way

Walter Anderson, a telecommunications entrepreneur who used the pseudonym Mark Roth, was arrested on Saturday at Washington’s Dulles airport after arriving from London. He was charged with evading more than $200m in taxes over five years and faces up to 80 years in prison if found guilty. He reportedly pleaded innocent….

Mark Everson, commissioner of the IRS, on Monday acknowledged that the US tax authority’s efforts to pursue tax evaders had declined in the mid-1990s. But he said Monday’s news was a sign that the IRS was getting back on track. The IRS and Justice Department said they received co-operation from four unidentified countries during its investigation of Mr Anderson but they refused to comment on what prompted the investigation.

Hark, the first sign of spring! The annual IRS show trials.