Why are people fascinated by celebrities, such as Anna Nicole Smith, and their rise in fame and their inevitable downfall? The leading news story last night was about Anna Nicole Smith’s death at 39, someone who’s significant claim to fame was posing nude and marrying a billionaire. Apparently, individually, each accomplishments is not particularly newsworthy (since women pose nude everyday, and people marry billionaires every week). Put them together, however, and a celebrity is born.

I’m sad whenever someone dies, especially at such a young age. However, many American soldiers die every day in Iraq (as well as countless Iraqis), and that is never the lead news story on your local evening news. Heck, it’s lucky to be even mentioned if another 3 or 4 Americans die in Iraq. But a beautiful woman dies? Stop the presses!

The double standard arises because, I believe, many civilized societies have simply become bored with the humdrum of everyday, suburban, 9-5 life. Even war deaths can become a part of the ordinary. We look for something out of the ordinary to lighten our own personal loads. We look for excitement and entertainment from those who’ve shown some sort of talent, flair, or ability to garner publicity for themselves. “Hey, a public figure did something embarrassing!” It takes the focus, for however short, off of our lives, which may or may not be as fulfilling, emotionally-satisfying or interesting as we’d like.

And for some people, it may harken to something more… A lack of meaning in the person’s life. Some people lead an existence that lacks significant intrinsic meaning. You don’t find intrinsic meaning in your children, your husband or wife, or your job. You can only find such meaning inside yourself. Some people don’t know, don’t care, or haven’t bothered to do this examination, and therefore value other people’s lives in a manner that gives their own short shrift.

So what’s the allure of someone like Anna Nicole Smith? Not much — just another beautiful person who was famous for 15 minutes and then who died young. I feel badly for those she has left behind, but I feel far more badly for the families of American soldiers who were killed while fighting in Iraq.