Meaning that celebrity culture continues to gain force because in our nation celebrity counts for a lot, in my opinion (to be heard by very few), there is no good sense reason why it should, unless, that is, it of particular worth in terms of what it has to offer our democratic discussions of how we should, as a society, deal with today and go about fashioning our future. One of the guys who wrote the book Teaching as a Subversive Activity, the late Neil Postman, later wrote a book just as important and as little known in American society titled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The first,co-authored by Charles Weingartner, was published in 1971. Amusing Ourselves came out in 1985 reflecting the fact that schools had not taken seriously the Postman/Weingartner suggestion that schools concentrate on helping students develop real critical thinking abilities, what they called “bullshit detectors.”
Everything aspect of the democratic decision making process has come to be more showbiz than of substance. Americans care far more to be entertained and entertained in mindless ways for that matter as evident in the kind of entertainments now most popular. The purveyors of this kind of entertainment, now, not only deliver incredible amounts of meaningless material to occupy the minds of citizens, they have also come to be respected as legitimate voices for expression of political ideas.
In two previous articles I shared my brooding over the prominence of the stories concerning the dominance over the past few days of stories in the news concerning sports leagues and their players reacting to the president’s ridiculous remarks concerning player protests in response to particular issues of consequence to the public welfare, issues that have been raised before, over and over again but hardly ever with the kind of response the players have managed to create.
Good for them? Yes!
But the important story, as I have tried to explain before, is more about us than them, more about what we as a public accept as legitimate authority, the legitimate authorities we ignore and, in turn, why it is that things are as they are. While celebrities may not intend to steal the light from those who have studied and have thought deeply about the issues, it seems quite evident that they have done just this, their few words having must more suasive value in the society than the many words published by thinkers like Postman or Chomsky, Hillary Clinton or Stephen Hawkins.
I have intentionally included Hilary Clinton in my most absurdly short list because she is an interesting example of how the celebrity as source of wisdom phenomenon can work upon a public such as ours, educated as it is. Hilary Clinton, first and foremost, is an intellectual, one has dedicated a large portion of her life to studying the issues, thinking through what they mean, and then trying to use her knowledge and understanding to inform the public decision making process. One may like the conclusions to which she comes or the policies she supports but, what she has to say, the positions she takes, most of the time, are the result of serious intellectual engagement with the issues at hand.
In order to play the political game as it is presently played, however, celebrity had to become a critical aspect of her existence as a politician, a popular figure more than a sensible one because popularity for whatever reason trumps good sense in this society, the lack of a subversive pedagogy and subversive pedagogues a real cause of our current frivolousness when confronted with matters of real consequence. Of course, Hillary came to be the Hillary who was a candidate by popular demand, because of what the American public demands from those who are to win office now.
Soon, it may happen, that the democrats will have to run Jimmy Kimmel and Whoopi Goldberg as candidates, performers who have been well used to play important supportive roles in the quest for political victory–consider again the number of speakers at the conventions who were famous for things other than their good ideas or political brilliance–will become the new political stars. I remember Sonny Bono. I have seen the power of Bono to deliver persuasion to politicians. I suffered the reign of Ronald Reagan. Someone named Shailene Woodley is considering the possibility of running for Congress. She is an actress I think. And what about Kid Rock? Jack Kemp? Jessy Ventura. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Al Franken. Curt Schilling.
Oh yes, and Donald Trump.
This is not to say that such people should not run for office or to argue that none of them are properly qualified for office. The fact is that many of them are not but have been elected or have a real shot at becoming elected.
Watch out for what Postman predicted because what he predicted is actually here, an unbelievably merger of entertainment and political realities, sports and movie and musical personalities becoming dominating forces in the societal decision making processes of the society, becoming the voice of current day political ideologies, and, if not candidates for office, certainly the most listened to pitch men and women.