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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 October, 2004, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
US 'obsessed' by celeb culture
Graydon Carter
Graydon Carter took over Vanity Fair in 1992
Americans are more "obsessed" than ever by celebrity culture, the editor of magazine Vanity Fair has told the BBC.

Graydon Carter said he believes the interest in the US in the lives of celebrities stems from an unwillingness to engage with the realities of the global situation.

Shortly after 9/11, Carter said that he believed America would become more serious and less "frivolous," declaring it "the end of irony."

But he told BBC World Service's The Interview programme that the prediction had patently not come true.

"That lasted for as long as it took the words to come out of my mouth," he said.

"Americans are by and large obsessed with crummy reality TV, and the lives of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

"That may be just some diversion from the realities of the world, in the way that screwball comedies were in the 1930s. That's the only explanation."

Bush savaging

While Vanity fair is famous for its covers featuring film and other stars, it also covers politics and business, and is known as one of the heavyweight US magazines.

Carter, who has edited the magazine since 1992, declined to say, however, whether he felt such an interest in high-profile stars - particularly screen actors - was a good thing or not.

Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair
Vanity Fair has produced some iconic covers
"It is just here - it's been here since the advent of movies," he said.

"With global culture being what it is, the movie business is in one way the only universal cultural language in the world.

"Movies go all the way around the world. Books don't necessarily travel from country to country, nor do musicians, or political stars or sports stars. But movie stars are known all around the world."

He added that putting a film star on the cover of the magazine makes it much more likely to sell - Vanity Fair is the only magazine to have the same cover worldwide.

Carter said the days of magazines being able to put scientists or politicians on the cover had gone: "They'll sell 14-15,000 copies in a month."

Carter has shot to prominence by writing a book strongly critical of US President George W Bush, arguing that he is taking the country in the wrong direction.

The editor, who describes himself as a "liberal libertarian," said he agreed with one New York Times columnist who had written about the "tyranny of even-handedness" and that he now wanted to make his views known.

"I'm of the opinion that when politicians run for office, they should pretty much say up front what they plan to do during their administration," Carter said.

"The fact is, George Bush ran as a uniter, not a divider - that turned out to be incorrect. The fact that he ran as a compassionate conservative that turned out to be incorrect.

"Granted September 11 changed all the rules after he got into office, but the war in Iraq - which is what really got me going - seemed so unnecessary, so optional, and such the wrong thing to do at that moment, because it took all the resources away from a fight against terrorism from the troops in Afghanistan."

Guest list

He said that as editor, he had traditionally made it a personal policy not to vote, and for similar reasons he does not buy stock in public and trading companies.

However, he said he felt compelled to speak during what he described as a "strange turning point" in American history.

"The Bush administration, even if they've voted out off office in November, will leave behind a trail of time bombs in a way," he added.

Will Smith and Nicole Kidman attend the Vanity Fair party - after Kidman wins the Oscar for The Hours
The Vanity Fair parties are attended by the Oscar winners
"In my book, I go through a number of areas - healthcare, the environment, the judiciary - and show that the Bush administration came into office and immediately, from the very first day, started rolling back."

He argued that 200 environmental protections "that have been built up over 30 years" had been taken away since 2000, when Bush came into office.

"They have walked away on most of our international accords - whether environmental or otherwise - and what they've done is really focused on the federal courts."

He argued that the Federal courts, which hear 30,000 cases a year, have been filled with judges who are "very right-wing... and they're there for life."

Vanity Fair's biggest night, however, is well away from politics - it is Oscars night.

The magazine is famous for giving the parties that the Oscar winners attend, and has a more high-profile guest list than any other.

Carter said that around 700 stars attend, but that the key thing was not who is let in, but who is left out.

"In a strange way it's a business. I look at it as a long, nine-and-a-half hour day at the office - with cocktails," Carter said.

"I'm of the opinion that if the host looks like they're having a good time, everyone else is more inclined to have a good time."

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