And afterwards, we, like Briscoe, will be “consumed with shame” for gaping at the unfortunate lives of others. Tabloid City presents this dualism directly and glories in it. Hamill tells us that when we busy ourselves with gawking, we don’t often recognize that we’re all going down together—but that when we snap out of it, we still have the capacity to feel deeply and respond with compassion.

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Jennifer Miller 's debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, will be published by Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt in 2012. You can reach her at www.byjennifermiller.com or @propjen on Twitter.