Who are these 'famous' people, anyway?

One man flips through the supermarket tabloids – and recognizes none of the celebrities.

So there I am, once again, in the checkout line at the supermarket waiting for the person ahead of me to find two pennies in the bottom of a purse that seems to be filled with an entire box of loose tissues and 14 linty Altoids. I am not impatient. I am not tapping my feet or looking for other foods to go along with my cottage cheese and half pound of turkey-like substance.

Like everyone else in line, I have grabbed a magazine. No, not "The American Scholar" or "The New York Review of Books." Last time I checked neither one had a worst-dressed photo spread. Instead, I am reading – quickly – one of those juicy gossip journals that make waiting such a treat.

Lately, however, I've encountered a problem. Where once I would be fascinated to know that Tom Cruise was either abducted by or was himself an alien, these days I don't have the vaguest idea who the "celebrities" are they're writing about. I have a feeling I would find their films in the remaindered video bin.

Now I am sure that Leighton Meester, Selita Eubanks, Chace Crawford, and Mila Kunis are all wonderful people, kind to their mothers, and willing to pose for a photo with any of their millions of fans. But I ask you in all candor, Who in the world are they?

When exactly did popular culture pass me by? When did I become the present-day version of my parents inquiring about "John, Paul, George, and Rango?" When did I become cold rather than cool?

I can't specify the date, although it probably happened with the rise of cable TV and music downloads. When there became so many opportunities for so many talent-challenged performers to perform and become well-known for being well-known. Or even, in the case of American Idol rejects like William Hung, become famous, and make a good deal of money, for having no talent, a talent in itself.

Recently, a friend told me how her daughter had become a "major" star on TV. As I tend to do with parents extolling the accomplishments of their children, I smiled and said, "I am so happy for you." And then I tried to find the television series that was making her child a household name. Roughly 148 channels later I came across a show devoted to the joys of the kiln. I suppose there are pottery fanatics out there swooning right now at the thought of all that clay-hardening heat, but I'm sorry I can't name one.

Nonetheless, I am sure I will run across this Audrey Hepburn of the pottery wheel gracing the cover of a slick tabloid while I am waiting in a supermarket line. And then, if only for a moment, I will definitely feel, if not be, cool again.

• Chuck Cohen writes from Mill Valley, Calif.

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