Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Are Celebrities the New Monarchy?
They're rich, they're famous and they're better than you are. Why? Because they're famous, and that means they're entitled to it.
Meritocracy is the fundamental difference between a functional Democratic Republic and a society of elite classes that don't work, don't accomplish anything useful-- but nevertheless rule. Meritocracy insures a system where those who can do, do. Systems of entitlement insure that those who have no useful skills or abilities tell others what to do, or collect money from them.
The American Revolution threw the dead weight of nobility overboard, stripping away titles and kicking out men with titles, in favor of men with skills.
The reason why the American Revolution succeeded, where so many others failed or turned into homicidal purges, is that the American Revolution was a revolution of skill over ideology. And as much as Jefferson or Paine might have pushed ideology, the Revolution was begun, carried through and completed by men who wanted a free country where their success would be measured by their hard work, rather than be at the mercy of government diktat and a class system.
This continued a process that had begun with Bacon's Rebellion against the imported Cavalier class imposed on the colonies by the British monarchy and that insured the Right to Bear Arms, and that due to the presence of slavery was never actually completed. And that is what we truly mean when we saw "Free Country", not a country without laws, but a country without limits. (A concept now nearly incomprehensible to generations weighed down by a sense of entitlement).
Celebrity however is the democratization of monarchy making it seemingly accessible to everyone. It creates an elite powerful class that has no useful skills, produces nothing but styles and trends, much as the original nobility did. It is a leisure class, famous for being famous, entitled by virtue of some quirk of personal magnetism or appearance or fractional talent, to subvert the Democratic process and replace the voices of many, with one voice.
If the cult of celebrity didn't seem all that ominous before the 2008 Presidential election, a campaign conducted less like the election for the leader of a Democratic country and more like the coronation of a movie star, it certainly should now. It is a threat to a free nation's values, both moral and political.
What the cult of celebrity teaches is that personal accomplishment means nothing, and personal presence and a degree of notoriety means everything. We cannot even begin to measure how much damage the cult of celebrity has done to us. From the Black community where academics and striving has been bypassed in favor of a one in a million shot at a sneaker commercial, to a generation of American youth that has abandoned self-respect and privacy in favor of seeking notoriety, to a journalistic culture where the reporter too is a celebrity and nothing is objective, only perspective, to a general cultural striving for youth, ignorance and edge, over knowledge, wisdom and experience-- the cult of celebrity is destroying America.
Little wonder then that the cult of celebrity was employed to elevate Obama to power. When Democratic and Anti-Democratic systems overlap, one must naturally struggle to destroy the other. If so many celebrities are politically radical, it is because they represent an unconscious cultural effort to destroy a system based on meritocracy and one man and one vote-- in which there is no place for their kind.
In a Celebrity Culture, Obama's lack of merit and experience only makes him more appealing, not less, like the Reality TV show contestants plucked from obscurity to fame, his incompetence and ugly background are not obstacles, they are assets that both add to the drama of his story and reinforce the image of a democratic celebrity culture in which anyone with the right story and some personal charisma can become a superstar. A competent candidate could never have become a celebrity, where cultivating drama and telling a story matters, while doing your job does not.
Celebrity and meritocracy cannot coexist. Meritocracy insists that men should be rewarded for their accomplishments. Celebrity insists that style is what truly matters. A celebrity glutted culture is one that has lost touch with both democracy and the ethos of hard work. It drowns itself in the shrill din of senseless noise, because it has forgotten that music is an accomplishment of harmony and order, rather than a blare of attention seeking distractions. But as the cultural leaders go, so does the culture.
Much as some conservatives may turn to Hollywood and wish for their own celebrities, conservatism cannot be made stylish. True conservatism is the opposite of celebrity. It focuses on sagely preserving what is endangered and rebuilding what is lost-- while celebrity pursues the destruction of what is because it is too boring and since it already exists, it is by definition not in style.
A war of slogans only rewards the enemy by playing the card of style over substance, and even if it occasionally succeeds in the short term, it accelerates your own loss of values in the long term.
It is however possible to fight entitlement in a public forum and win. Lincoln's Free Labor successfully contrasted the hardworking roots of the frontier farmer with the entitlement of the slaveowning plantation owner. That is why Joe the Plumber was both a step in the right direction and the wrong direction. Typical of the flawed tactics of the McCain campaign, it relied on fusing conservative values with celebrity, and so it failed. But the essential idea was always correct, the freedom to accomplish is at the root of what America was built on.
That freedom is now endangered, with a vocal chorus of attacks by the cult of celebrity which demands that their sense of entitlement, their superior understanding and values define our political culture. In short monarchy, nobility and tyranny with a flash and a camera ready smile.
Idle, vacuous, foolish, self-righteous and yet utterly hypocritical-- celebrities have always made perfect spokesmen and spokeswomen for socialism and communism. Their tainted mix of guilt, frustration and boredom has powered cause after cause-- as they continue on a collision course with the rights and freedoms of a Democratic Republic. But only a true embrace of meritocracy by emphasizing the freedom to accomplish and thereby prosper can neuter the cult of celebrity. Because while the shallow dreams of celebrity are compelling, most people are still capable of recognizing the reality of accomplishment.