Can celebrity culture be exploited for 'good'?
Did Kim and Kanye FAKE getting engaged on TV?
Skinny Allen! Lily shows off her svelte physique in sexy red shirt and pencil skirt...
Jenson Button and girlfriend Jessica Michibata confirm engagement as she sports a VERY big rock on her wedding finger.
I had not realised that the world was still on about Kim and Kanye's engagement, nor that Lilly Allen had ever really put on weight and I had never heard of Jessica Michibata before. But that is besides the point. The point I'm trying to make is this - we have too many celebrities, and too much news on them. The Mail thrives because it has an audience - us. It's not really clear why we care so much about the lives of celebrities, and yet, it is undeniable that we do care.
Can this power of celebrity to capture our attention be tapped into as a force for good?
"I had signed an invisible contract that required me to enter into a strange echelon of society".
He identifies three rationales for the reverence celebrities are shown in our society - economic, psychological and sociological. This is a simplification and a summary, to avoid repeating Gleeson's speech. The economic argument is that the rise of celebrity as a commodity (entertainment as a product) reflects the West's transformation from a producing society to a consuming society. Psychologically, the argument goes that as a society we seek role models as a matter of an “evolutionary quirk" and sociologically, it appears that these role models tend to be those who have a charisma that Weber's hero-prophets possess. In their publicised identity, then, celebrities possess a certain quasi-charisma in the form of a 'willing domination' over their audience, us. Do watch Gleeson's speech for an elaboration of these arguments.
It could be argued however that the very fact that celebrities are being watched may serve to police the activities of celebrities. The fear of being caught in the act may stop them acting particularly rashly. Indeed, it may give them incentive to act 'virtuously', to gain positive response from their audience.
Alain de Botton makes a version of this argument here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/31/dont-despise-celebrity-culture-angelina-jolie
Alain de Botton does not stop there. He extrapolates his reflections on Angelina Jolie in this manner. Celebrities are role models in society. These 'magnetic' celebrities, Jolie included, could then lend their charismatic personalities to several other important causes such as reading, being kind, forgiving and working towards social justice. If only these things could be sexed up a bit, we'd all be tripping over each other to act to pursue these goals. He goes on to make the claim that imitation founded on admiration is integral to a good life. This cannot be right. There is nothing intrinsically valuable in imitating good. Imitation suggests mindlessly following a trend, and anything that is mindless cannot be integral to a good life. And what happens when trends change and, say, social justice falls out of fashion?
De Botton’s argument makes the same error - at the audience level - that Gleeson claims is occurring at the celebrity level. We are dehumanising ourselves into a gawking audience that celebrities have and end up treating ourselves as a crowd who would unthinkingly follow the lead of a celebrity because a social practice is ‘cool’ or 'sexy'. This treats us as being unintelligent objects who participate in the process of celebrity to be led by those we revere - it commodifies us too in the end, and there cannot be any normative value to such a position.
Perhaps it's best if we all just made up our own minds rather than imitate Jolie, Allen or Kim?