Last week was a notable one in not-really news. Songstress Susan Boyle continued to make headlines. The former vice presidential candidate's grandbaby daddy, Levi Johnston, went on "Larry King Live" and managed to say and be asked almost nothing. The biggest nonstory of the week, however, was the case of Perez Hilton vs. Carrie Prejean, who represented California in the Miss USA pageant.
Hilton is a blogger and TV personality who made his name by posting snarky comments on photos of tabloid celebrities, outing gay celebrities and calling attention to homophobic actions or remarks made by celebrities. What does one do with credentials like that? Become a judge in the Miss USA pageant, of course! Not just any judge, but an activist judge. "The question I came up with for the interview portion of Miss USA tonight is so good!!" Hilton tweeted to his followers before the event.
That question, which Hilton posed to Prejean after she drew his name out of a fishbowl, was this: "Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex-marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?"
Prejean answered: "Well, I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what, in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there, but that's how I was raised, and that's how I think it should be -- between a man and a woman."
OK, no big points for eloquence or even accuracy (four states with legal or soon-to-be-legal gay marriage do not constitute a "land"). But was it offensive? Hilton thought so. He gave Prejean a low score; she lost to Miss North Carolina, who answered a question about taxpayer bailouts. Later, on his website, Hilton called Prejean various unprintable words.
Never mind that Prejean, a Christian, didn't seem terribly invested in seeing her beliefs legislated. As she stood in the high-wattage, 15-minute glare that illuminates nonstories everywhere, she became the newest poster girl for the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. As for Hilton, in attempting to strike down his enemy, he managed to empower her.
In other words, Prejean came out the winner, even to many who don't share her views. But, in the end, Perez vs. Prejean amounted to little more than a ridiculous way to discuss gay marriage and an embarrassing waste of outrage. So why did we grab on so hard? My guess is that the saga of the blogger and the beauty queen managed to crystallize everything that's irritating about "news" today. It combined pseudo-celebrities, Twitter, political sanctimony, inarticulateness and Internet-enabled vulgarity and dressed it up as the latest battle in the culture wars. We weren't embracing the story; we grabbed on to it to shake it by the shoulders and smack it in the face. Somehow, though, all we managed to do was allow it to rub itself -- repeatedly -- in our faces.
Meghan Daum is an essayist and novelist in Los Angeles. She wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.