Wednesday 15 October 2014

Understanding the culture of celebrity

The cult of celebrity is strange and gets stranger all the time- probably it is best to think of it as an addiction.

'Everyone knows' that celebrity is at best a fake and at worst enables and protects an astonishingly depraved life - Sir Jimmy Savile may have been (I hope he was) the most extreme example of top-level celebrity evil, but is not the only one - and at every level celebrity works in a multi-valently wicked fashion - causing both passive and active evil.

Celebrity in the modern world is on such a vast and intrusive scale, that the human mind is assaulted, bewildered, drawn-in and held in a prison of dissipative nastiness.

Even at its least actively-harmful, millions of man-hours are expended by ordinary people in watching, reading, gossiping and social-networking about celebrities and their doings - not to mention the multi-billion dollar segment of the mass media that is utterly dependent on the celebrity culture.


This is evidence of human boredom, futility and desperation on a scale which is almost impossible to exaggerate. And the fact that so many people are happy, willing, active and aggressive supporters of the celebrity culture - in their spending, their allocation of time and effort and their proselytizing zeal - is conclusive.


There is zero possibility of reforming the culture of celebrity - such attempts merely strengthen the culture by further increasing its size, complexity and ability to defend itself.

We see this all the time - a celebrity whose celebrity is fading will signal 'goodness' by adopting a 'good' cause, by emphasising 'charity', or becoming 'political'. Even when this is transparently self-serving (as is all advertized charity) then the subsequent debate fuels celebrity.


The process has been raised to the power of three by social media and social networking systems - so hundreds of millions of people are now 'celebrities' - most importantly perceive themselves as celebrities - celebrity bloggers, youtubers, facebookers, tweeters... even schoolroom or friendship group celebrities who update their 'fans' on their minute by minute doings (celebrity paid-for each also acting as 'fans' to enable the celebrity of other members of the micro group).

The process resembles 'taking in each-others washing' - but the end result is that almost everybody who wants it (which is apparently almost everybody) has a personal stake in celebrity culture, feel a part of it.


The culture of celebrity is a direct consequence of secular modernity - because without religion Man is un-rooted, life is futile, and becomes ever more alienated, nihilistic and despairing.

The modern situation is that there is nothing more significant for modern people than celebrity - except perhaps sex, but that is anyway almost-wholly absorbed into celebrity. When sex is non-celebrity sex, it either makes no difference and is invisible as if non-existent; or is regarded as despicable.

(After all, what is the point of going on a date, having a sexual encounter, getting married or having kids if you cannot facebook, tweet, snapchat, instagram, or blog about them to your celebrity group?)


Celebrity culture is now so big and so immersive - and so destructive of goodness, reality, religion and the soul - that the situation cannot be ameliorated except via massive mass media collapse; which will happen, and will itself lead to so many problems and so much suffering and death, that the culture of celebrity will be sucked into a black hole.

But if the culture of celebrity is not repented, if the culture of celebrity is looked-back-on as a golden age of happiness (as so many people nowadays look back on the depravities of the nineteen sixties) - then the disappearance of the culture of celebrity will do no good to those who have lost it.


This is the religious significance of the culture of celebrity: that it is itself evil, and by many means blocks any spontaneous tendency to repent the evils of the culture of celebrity.

Given its size, scope, inclusiveness, power...  in and of itself the culture of celebrity is sufficient to establish the modern era as the most evil in human history.

How strange that evil should have such an apparently harmless appearance!

One might have expected torture, human sacrifice, fighting - but it turns-out that evil triumphant is millions upon millions of people (each one some kind of 'local celebrity') gossipping about each other, 24/7, via the mass media amplified-a-thousandfold by social networking...


Bruce B. said...

"We see this all the time - a celebrity whose celebrity is fading will signal 'goodness' by adopting a 'good' cause, by emphasising 'charity', or becoming 'political'."

Worse yet, some of the fading celebrities (at least here in the U.S. and I assume also in England) sucessfully revive their fame by doing illegal, bad and/or self-destructive things.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. I think I agree - but a thought occurred that even in a very small world - say - a medieval village - people bowed and scraped to celebrity and gossiped too. Celebrity was sought out - seeking your fortune, pandering to the Bishops, arse-creeping in various ways all through society. And celebrity (although they were not called that of course) had to bow and scrape to the Kings/Nobles.

So your quote -
"There is zero possibility of reforming the culture of celebrity - such attempts merely strengthen the culture by further increasing its size, complexity and ability to defend itself."
leads me to the thought that "celebrity" is a new word - but the IDEA and practise of it, has been with us for ever.

Humans do it. But nowadays they can show off their celebrity to a vast audience who are as gullible as they always were.

Well, that's just my thought - humbly.

Adam G. said...

Functionally, celebrity culture and its democratized form on social media are hypertrophies (i.e., cancers) of our social instincts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@tfl - As Adam said it is a hypertrophy of a human universal - but size matters; and celebrity culture is about 1000 times larger and more invasive that it was even a generation ago.

jabberwocky said...

As always, an excellent post, but why describe the 60's as font of our present decline? Don't we look back in the same fashion that previous a secular wave viewed the late Victorian/Edwardian period?
What can account for the modern/post-modern sense that the reality of the human condition is now separate from the historically natural world? Without the energy, and technology to harness it, all of this will come crashing down, lets hope with more a whimper than a bang.
As a external observer, it seems to me that the UK may be very close, but this appears to be a global error in judgment of biblical proportion.

Bruce Charlton said...

@j "why describe the 60's as font of our present decline? " But I didn't and don't. The 60s was the inflection point, when the trends became obvious and accelerated.

jabberwocky said...

My error, and misinterpretation. We agree that the post WW2 era marked an acceleration in an ongoing process, if not an inflection point. What was evident to a very few at the time became evident to more, but I would suggest that the trend became obvious only in distant retrospect. I for one, felt something was deeply amiss in the 60's, but could never have described it, nor did I see it as a "trend". Is it not only with the looking back that we see inflection points?

Wm Jas said...

From the movie "Factory Girl" (a horrible film, not recommended at all except for this one little exchange):

Warhol: I think your daughter’s going to be super famous.
Mrs. Sedgwick: And what would be the value in that Mr. Warhol?
Warhol: Well, I think everybody wants to be famous.
Mrs. Sedgwick: Well, I had much higher hopes for Edith.