Jennifer Aniston's dog died. Did Cheryl Cole get a boob job, and how's the romance between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson?
Millions of women read celebrity news daily. They find showbiz gossip and poring over who wore what on the red carpet a harmless way to relax. The American author Lisa Bloom begs to differ, saying that too many smart women are squandering their brains and education on showbiz tittle-tattle.
Celebrity obsession is at a record high, she says, and women are being drowned in a sea of pop culture that is preventing us from leading fuller, richer and more connected lives. Bloom's book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, published this month, says that we have to redress the balance and stop thinking about the things that don't matter and think about those that do.
Bloom, a 49-year-old lawyer based in Los Angeles and a daily fixture on American television as a legal analyst for channels such as CNN and CBS, says that she felt compelled to write the book, her first, when she realised that the dumbing down of women was a "problem hiding in plain sight".
She quotes a recent survey which said that 25% of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize.
"In the same survey, almost all of the women interviewed said they'd rather get hit by a truck than be fat," Bloom says. Young women, she says, are vastly more knowledgeable about the misdeeds of drunken starlets than about what's going on in the wider world.
"Almost no young woman can tell you about the issues that are being put before their local city council, but they can tell you all about Lindsay Lohan's emotional problems," Bloom adds. "They can name at least one Kardashian but they can't name any of the politicians who represent them."
The situation is galling because women have come so far in the past few decades, Bloom says, excelling in education at every level. Similarly, many young childless women are outperforming and outearning their male counterparts, yet they are spending more time and money on their appearance, including having plastic surgery in record numbers.
'We've achieved this historic sea change in laws and values, where non-discrimination is now the expectation, but what are we doing with it?" asks Bloom.
"We've become seduced by celebutainment culture. A little voice in our heads says that somewhere there must be more important issues, but who can remember what they are? We can't find substance when we're being fed a bloated, empty diet of reality shows, 'news' segments on wrinkle fillers and updates on Charlie Sheen."
Why are women so obsessed with celebrity culture? Just as men are distracted by sport, video games and porn, women want a break from their jobs, families and love lives by looking in on other people's so-called glamorous lives.
The problem, Bloom says, is the mirror effect. Many celebrities are more narcissistic than the average person, with reality-TV stars the worst of all. They are, therefore, prone to addiction, extreme vanity, dysfunctional relationships and an outrageous sense of entitlement. Women hooked on celebrity gossip become as narcissistic as celebrities, adopting their arrogance and lack of empathy.
In a culture that also continually rewards beauty over brains, Bloom continues, it's no wonder that many young women believe that it's more important to be 'hot' than smart. Nor are they embarrassed to be seen as stupid.
"I've seen grown-up women giggle into TV cameras that they don't know how many sides a triangle has, nor can they venture a guess as to what country Mexico City might be in," Bloom says. "I don't know which is worse: that we are playing dumb or that we really are that dumb."
Bloom argues that our failure to think has far-reaching consequences. "Our lack of interest in reading, our distraction by tabloid media, our obsessive attention to high-maintenance beauty regimens, our skewed priorities in where we choose to focus our minds, all have profound consequences, not only for our emotional and physical health, but for the fate of our families, our towns, our country and the world," she says. Important issues pass us by.
"While we're reading Who Wore It Better, trying out lash extenders and mopping the floor yet again, our leaders go unchecked by a distracted populace." Many young women do not have even the most rudimentary awareness of some of the crises affecting the world, including wars and famine, she adds.
So what should be done? In the book, Bloom puts forward a 'reclaim your brain' plan. Women lose track of what's going on in the world, she says, because they don't have time to think, and it's easy to read a showbiz rag.
"We're all very busy and tired, so it's understandable that many of us take the lazy route, but engaging your brain daily will help you with all the other issues in your life," she says.
Housework is first in the firing line. Working wives do an extra hour's housework a day compared with a working husband. Bloom's advice is to hire someone to do most of it or insist that chores are more evenly divided. "He who sullies the toilet and uses the dishes has to do his share," she says. Women should go cold turkey for a month -- no buying celebrity magazines or logging on to websites -- and read quality books and serious newspapers before reintroducing celebrity news.
Friends are critical to happiness, so seek out someone intelligent and serious as a long-term confidante. Another ploy is to become chief executive of your own life, which means not depending on "experts" in magazines to tell you about medical issues or money problems. Do your own research and find your own solutions, she says. Rely on your instincts.
Bloom, the daughter of the celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, has been a lawyer for the past 25 years. She describes herself as a women's rights advocate and feminist, and although she still takes legal cases (until recently she was part of a team advising Oksana Grigorieva in her suit against former boyfriend Mel Gibson), most of her work comes from being a legal analyst on TV.
She points out ruefully that although she has covered war crimes tribunals and cases such as the Enron trial, nowadays 95% of her work is celebrity-driven because that is what viewers want to hear. As a single, working mother of two, she says that she tested a lot of material on her daughter and her son. She also interviewed hundreds of college students across the US.
"What is terrific is that every time, girls come up to me and say: 'Oh, my God, I don't want to be this way. I'm going to change.'
A lot of women aren't aware of how much they've let themselves be distracted by celeb stuff and that they've forgotten about the important things, such as politics, education and world affairs."
Bloom says that she wants women who have turned off their brains to start thinking again. It's a question of balance. She quotes the acronym GIGO, "garbage in, garbage out", coined by programmers to explain that a computer's output is only as good as the information it is given.
"It's the same for your mind: if you're feeding crap into it, it's lowering your IQ, convincing you that fluffy stuff matters and damaging your mental health. I'm not saying you should never read a celebrity magazine or watch trashy TV, just don't do it every day or eventually there'll just be mush left."