March 31, 2007


The Celebrity of Celebrity (PAUL HOLLANDER, January 17, 2007, NY Sun)

Why is such ogling, mingling, or rubbing of shoulders with celebrities in person such a source of pleasure and self-fulfillment?

Those who rejoice in rubbing shoulders harbor a hope that temporarily sharing the same physical space will elevate their own social standing. As the St. Moritz article put it, "You can attend their events, eat in their restaurants, walk among them, wear their clothes, sleep on the same luscious sheets."

The real problem is the decline of community and the rise of social isolation. This leads to fantasies of having something in common with the rich and famous. Live celebrity watching expresses and exemplifies false consciousness. It is an attempt to find meaning and fulfillment in the life and the attributes of others far removed from one's own circumstances.

Daniel Boorstin grasped the essentials of the celebrity cult half a century ago: "Our age has produced a new kind of eminence. ... He is the human pseudo-event ... a substitute for the hero who is the celebrity and whose main characteristic is well-knownness ... anyone can become a celebrity if only he can get into the news and stay there. ... The hero was distinguished by his achievement; the celebrity by his image or trademark."

Many highly talented people, such as scientists, are not widely known and are not celebrities. They don't provide entertainment, their skills and accomplishments are hard to emulate, and they are not uniformly good looking. If you are a scientist, but your daughter follows rock stars, you have not succeeded in conveying to her the importance of your work.

The celebrity cult is a form of vicarious gratification, an attempt at identification with those who possess attributes missing from the life of ordinary human beings: fame, wealth, vast amounts of attention, and, quite often, adulation. In today's populist, socially mobile society, though, a growing number of individuals feel that they are entitled to the same privileges celebrities possess. They believe that each individual has limitless potential and that there are no exclusive elites. Like many of us, they want to transcend anonymity.

Becoming a celebrity is also an obvious avenue for enriching personal wealth. This is a motivation we can readily grasp - even if we dissent from the cult. If you are famous enough, sooner or later you will become rich, because fame sells.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 31, 2007 12:20 AM
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