Saturday, July 25, 2009

How Celebrity Trumped American Politics

Are we a nation of individuals or a great collective worshiping our leaders. That is one of the fundamental questions behind the present day cultural malaise. The America that French General Lafayette fell in love with on his visits here during the 17th and 18th centuries was markedly different from Europe because it was a nation of individuals, a place where the humblest farmer did not defer to the wealthiest man, where class was an economic fact that could and was transcended by hard work.

The 20th century however saw a radical transformation in American culture as media technologies including radio, film, rapid nationwide magazine and book deliveries and eventually television and the internet, reshaped American culture from a local culture to a national one, defined by the subjects of those media titles themselves. In the process Americans went from being individualists to being collectivists.

The media technologies that enabled a single radio talk show to speak to a national audience, a single movie to play in theaters to 50 million Americans, or a magazine to instantly determine what is on the mind of most Americans, created an unprecedented ability from a single point to influence an entire nation. And those who held the microphone, the printing press and the camera, were the ones in the best position to issue their message.

American's individualism was largely due to its localization. The majority of Americans lived in rural areas. Identity was a matter of local communities. People did not for the most part think globally, they thought locally. Their sense of self was rooted in real everyday things. Their dreams were focused on personal accomplishment, rather than intangibles.

As the influence of a collective media voice could sound with the same identical tone from town to town, generations would grow up being shaped in identical ways from town to town. And the shaping would be done by the human gods who would serve as the unifying force of the various mediums, talk show hosts, broadcasters, gossip columnists, movie stars-- in other words, celebrities.

The rise of the cult of celebrity was also the rise of collectivization, a nation in which people increasingly dreamed the same empty dreams, projected their fantasies on unreal images and longed above everything else for fame. The celebrities became the avatars, the personification of impossible longings and dreams of a nation, manipulated, drugged and replaced regularly. Their stories became the leading form of drama of the 20th century, outshining any individual movie. The story of a once proud and free culture destroying itself.

The theater, artists, actors and musicians, had always tended to the bohemian, experimenting and testing cultural limits. But not since the French Revolution had they ever been given the leeway to define a culture, and in the process destroy it. As America turned yearningly to the entertainment industry to be entertained, morals plummeted, radical politics reigned, and the product was continually refined to be ever more centrally controlled and ever more addictive.

Today America's movie, music and publishing industries are in the hands of a small number of very powerful corporations that maintain very tight control over their products, limit competition and put across the same message over and over again. For anyone who laughed at the idea that the entertainment industry could take over America, is probably not laughing after the 2008 election, when politics crossed the fatal line into being entertainment.

But America had been sliding toward that abyss for a long time now, as each Presidential candidate had rock and roll theme songs, campaigned by visiting national talk show hosts, and tried to recruit celebrities to campaign for him. In the 19th century politics had been a compelling national spectacle. Crowds gathered to listen to the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Spirited national conventions were real battlefields. People understood and debated the ideas that would define their lives. Even the tragedy of the Civil War was the product of a nation that was highly interested in politics.

In the 20th century however entertainment trumped politics as the national obsession. People stopped caring about politics. National conventions stopped being battlefields and became carefully scripted pieces of entertainment, no different from Oscar night. Presidents were more likely to be elected based on some form of celebrity name recognition. Image trumped substance and mastery of the media mattered much more than the campaign trail itself. Nixon lost to Kennedy because JFK looked better on television. Observers wondered whether the American public was electing candidates anymore, or television was. The answer by now should be obvious.

Image had trumped substance. Politics became entertainment to compete for the attention of a public that only wanted to be entertained. Serious debates gave way to buzzwords in order to score points with a public that had too short an attention span to follow a serious discussion. It became easy to predict a national election by betting that the more boring candidate would lose.

What the political establishment failed to understand is that the more politics became dumbed down, the less democratic it would be. And the more it became about entertainment than serious issues, the less it would be in the hands of politicians, as opposed to celebrities. When charisma is your only real political requirement, any con man or scoundrel can play. And in such a system, the democracy of a republic, gives way to the lowest common denominator of the mob.

Today America has come full circle, ruled over by a man with no actual qualifications but charisma, completely unfit for the job, and incapable of doing more than giving an endless parade of hollow speeches, full of plagiarized words. Driven by a media frenzy, Americans go mad over the love affairs, weddings, divorces, adulteries and funerals of celebrities-- the way commoners once went mad over the lives and deaths of kings. The way people in third world dictatorships go mad over the deaths of their rulers.

That latter fact alone, especially when combined with the Camelot cult of personality, should have revealed that sooner or later a celebrity would rule over America. The culture of celebrity is a culture of ignorance, a slave culture in which millions long to be famous, ready to humiliate themselves, lie, steal, betray and even kill in order to be famous. The eye of the camera is the gateway to immortality, to joining the pantheon of undead gods, Elvis Presley, Marylin Monroe, John F. Kennedy, James Dean, Charles Manson, John Lennon, Walter Cronkite, Abbie Hoffman... right down to Barack Obama and the latest winner of American Idol.

Names have become totems, and celebrity has become the national currency worth having. The only meaningful experience occurs within the media. And that collective vision has bred the intellectual and moral decline of America into a nation incapable of paying attention to what really matters, to being happy through meaningful self-achievement and functioning as individuals, rather than drones in the great hive of the media experience.

The media experience has spent over a century devouring America's soul, consuming it, digesting it and spitting out a distorted image for everyone to worship and adore. Saving America means reviving individualism and rejecting the collective media culture, because to anyone fed into the media's collective experience, collective solutions will always appeal more than individual responsibility, charisma will always trump decency, and reasoned argument will never be able to compete with buzzwords and catchy slogans.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how to comment on this without writing a book.
The internet is actually having the reverse effect, people are reading & watching the news they ''like'' - that appeals to them ideologically or according to a very specific interest.
Societies are like a deep ocean, with many currents, under-currents, counter-currents. We have many competing identities, modern societies are complex unlike the simpler tribal societies of the ancient past.
At the same time, societies try to impose a more monolithic identity, the worst offenders being totalitarian ideologies such as Islam whose goal is homogenization, 100% conformity.
I would agree that modern America has become a culture of superficial values, an ''entertainment society'' & this may represent a different degree of selfishness which could be equated with individualism gone wild. The average person is not particularly well-informed & makes little effort to become so - their concerns are the little details of their daily life.

Lemon said...

Yes indeed.

Keli Ata said...

The buzzword of the day is "icon." People are using it to describe everyone from Michael Jackson to Walter Cronkite. I can't help but wonder if the people using the word even know what icon means.

To mean it means the same as idol. Roman Catholic churches have statues that people bow and kiss the feet of. Eastern Orthodox churches have icons. Same as statues, same idols pretty much.

The other side of our celebrity culture with its idols, statues, icons are the legends.

Another interesting word which to me means nothing more than myths.

Maybe that's why I haven't fallen under the swoon of Obama and his ilk. I see the icons and the legends for what they really are and want nothing to do with them.

Not to mention the fact that I find Obama incredibly boring.

I've only been to one concert in my entire life and no professional sporting event for a simple reason--crowds going wild over celebrities is a bit unnerving. Mass hysteria in action that could at a moment's notice turn violent.

I see that pack mentality with Obama's fans.

Keli Ata said...

Regarding my last comment--if Obama is a legend then I would suggest giving him the nickname Ichabad from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It means the glory has departed. When Obama was elected the glory of America departed.

Sultan Knish said...

yes the whole mass mob mentality is a big part of it, and it's a disturbing phenomenon

Karmasura said...

Awesome post.. I was thinking of this some time ago.. but couldn't convert it into a post..

Now you have done the honours and saved me the time..

Anonymous said...

Right analysis.I also think this idolatry is connected to money, the actors and media people make an obscene amount of money that the poor Joe Smo can only dream. Couple it with a lack of G-d in Joe's life and voila Obama the messiah is here to save you from your dreary life, he will give and give and give and give (for free!!!), and finally all the rich liberals will be saved from their guilt.

Gordon said...

Well put. You hit the mark greatly. However you have left out glaringly the fact that the media in the US that subversively makes and breaks politicians is a Jewish monopoly (coincedence? I think not). That Americans end up brainwased, and thinking Jewish, with It's political leaders bowing down to AIPAC/Israel to be allowed to keep their jobs. How come you forgot that bit? Gordon.

Sultan Knish said...

Sure Gordon,

you know how the media doesn't repeatedly praise terrorists, treat Arafat as a saint, and condemn Israel for fighting against terrorists.

Oh wait, the media does that non-stop

Here's a typical media story calling for dealing with Hamas and condemning Israel

So much for your imaginary AIPAC monopoly

Gordon said...

The fact remains, that you dont deny (just try to change the subject) Jews own America's media/narrative and thus it's wanting to keep their jobs lacky politicians. A recipy for disaster for Jews I think. Crazy if you ask me, to do this to the very people who saved you from the gas chambers.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Love reading the anaylsis presented daily-food for the head and heart.
From the land of ozero, rahmbo, rezko, jwright-o...pathetic.

Sultan Knish said...


try to change the subject? How, by pointing out that your AIPAC Jewish claims are a load of crap.

The media is biased against Israel. Fact.

Jews don't own America's media narrative. Left wingers of various backgrounds do.

Your neo-nazi garbage ignores reality. Oh and let me know who exactly saved the Jews on the St. Louis from the gas chambers.

Sultan Knish said...


thanks for your kind words

Sultan Knish said...


I have X amount of patience for playing with neo-nazis, and your last comment about another Holocaust, reached X+Y which equals you getting shown the door

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