Believing Celebrities are Real People Carries Many Dangers
Becoming a product while still wandering around in the body and identity of a mortal has the potential to turn out not too good for anyone involved.
Many years ago, I reviewed and published a story in The Spokesman Review newspaper about a book titled The Culture of Celebrity by Richard Schinkel. This was back in the early 1980s, so I’m not surprised that you can’t find my review or maybe even the book anymore; although, it appears to have been re-published in 2000 under a new title, Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity, available on Amazon.
One of the strongest memories from this book, was Schinkel’s description of the celebrity as “the most desirable neighborhood in the global village” or something very close to that. Since the early 1980s to today, has enough changed in the world of celebrity madness to let us see that the once desirable community has morphed into a dangerous neighborhood?
Celebrity culture's phenomenon of people fascinated by the lives, achievements, and scandals of famous or influential individuals, such as actors, singers, athletes, politicians, and socialites, no doubt, still has some benefits, I’m sure. For certain, it also has some harmful effects on society and individuals.
- Celebrity culture can undermine critical thinking, reality testing, and personal responsibility. Some celebrities spread misinformation, propaganda, or conspiracy theories that mislead or manipulate their fans. For example, celebrities who endorse pseudoscience, quackery, or extremism can influence people to adopt irrational beliefs or harmful behaviors.
- Celebrity culture can create unrealistic expectations, dissatisfaction, and insecurity for people comparing themselves to their idols. Some celebrities can project a distorted or idealized image of themselves that induces inadequacy and inferiority in their fans. For example, celebrities who use cosmetic surgery, photoshop, or filters can affect others' self-esteem and body image.
- Celebrity culture can expose people to negative influences, pressures, and risks. Some celebrities can engage in illegal, immoral, or unethical actions that can harm themselves or others. For example, celebrities who abuse drugs, alcohol, or violence can set a bad example for their fans or cause scandals and controversies.
Celebrity culture is a complex and pervasive phenomenon with advantages and disadvantages for society and individuals. Awareness of potential benefits and harms of celebrity culture is vital to consuming it with moderation and discernment, but who among us is capable of doing this unerringly and always being correct and accurate in our assessments?
As icons of success, glamour, and influence, Celebrities camoflauge a complex and often exploitative industry profiting from them. A celebrity is not just a person but a product carefully crafted, marketed, and sold to the masses. Allow me to repeat:
A celebrity is not just a person, but a product carefully crafted, marketed, and sold to the masses.
Creating a celebrity involves many factors, such as talent, charisma, appearance, media exposure, social media presence, endorsements, and partnerships. However, these factors do not necessarily reflect their true identity, values, or interests. Rather, they are shaped by the demands and expectations of the market, the fans, and the stakeholders who invest in the celebrity brand.
The profit motive behind manufacturing a celebrity is evident in many aspects of the celebrity industry. For example:
- The media plays a crucial role in creating and maintaining a celebrity's image and popularity by hyping or tearing them down, depending on the ratings, clicks, or controversies they generate. The media can also manipulate perception of a celebrity by selectively reporting or fabricating information about their personal or professional lives.
- Loyal fans are another source of profit for the celebrity industry through product purchasing of celebrity products, services, or experiences. Fans also provide social validation and emotional support for the celebrity via engagement on social media platforms, letters, and other channels. Fans can also be demanding, intrusive, or obsessive, and they can pressure the celebrity to conform to their expectations or fantasies.
- To understand the celebrity as product, you must understand the stakeholders: people or entities with a financial interest in the celebrity’s brand. Stakeholders will include managers, agents, producers, sponsors, partners, or investors. These indviduals and organizations provide resources, opportunities, or career development guidance for the celebrity but also exert control, influence, or exploitation over the celebrity’s decisions, actions, or contracts.
Dealing with so many people and organizations demands presenting various personas to each, which carries negative consequences for the celebrity and the society. For the celebrity, being a product brand and maintianing different personas can lead to loss of authenticity, identity crisis, mental health issues, substance abuse, or burnout. For society, it can lead to unrealistic standards, distorted values, superficial culture, or idolatry.
Therefore, it is vital to recognize a celebrity is not just a person but a product of a complex and often exploitative industry that creates and profits from them. A critical and informed perspective on the celebrity phenomenon can help us appreciate the humans behind the products and question the motives and methods behind creating a celebrity to realize the various forms of manipulation that may be at work:
- It can damage the reputation and credibility of celebrities and the manipulators. Manipulation can involve deception, coercion, or exploitation of celebrities, which harms their image, trust, and well-being. Manipulators can also face legal, ethical, or social consequences for their actions, such as lawsuits, fines, or boycotts..
- It can create a superficial and distorted culture that values fame and money over authenticity and quality. Manipulation can influence the public’s perception and consumption of celebrities and their products or services, which can lower the standards and expectations of the market. Manipulation can also create unrealistic and unhealthy ideals concerning beauty, success, or happiness.
- Manipulation can reduce the satisfaction and loyalty of the consumers and the fans by undermining fan trust and respect in the celebrity brand. Consumers and fans may feel cheated, betrayed, or disappointed when they discover that they have been manipulated by false or misleading information or endorsements by a celebrity. Manipulation can also reduce the emotional connection and engagement consumers and fans have with celebrities and their products or services.
Let’s chat about the elephants in this celebrity green room, two elephants actually: Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
Both guys were second-rate, B-list, or lower celebs during their highest point of celebrity. As Reagan's career wound down, he co-starred in second-rate movies about a monkey and himself. He was not Humphry Bogart. He was not even Pee-Wee Herman; he was a clown with a chimp or a chimp with a clown, depending on whose agent was more involved in the marketing campaign.
BUT the name Ronald Reagan had a nice familiar ring to it—kind of like Ivory Soap or Ford Mustang or Healthy Choice Frozen Dinners.
What Ronald Reagan had was a kind of stupid Irish luck, smile, and a deep enough intellectual limitation to buy into the great Communism scares of his era and parlay that, along with mostly racist attitudes and beliefs, into a spiel that somehow fed red meat to the knuckle-dragging masses of Americans who equated name recognition with celebrity. Reagan launched his POTUS run in Philadelphia, Mississippi? You could not have found a more perfect location for the Nixon era, southern strategy of exploiting white Americans underlying racism. Look that shit up!
After Ronald came The Donald (not the duck who, despite a speech handicap, had some humor and charm, no the guy, the monster.)
What more can anyone say about or add to deepen the tragic depth of disaster of a horrible, fake businessman on a bullshit TV show pretending to be competent and authentic, and people in love with celebrities bought that shit.
On The Apprentice, Trump used his name recognition to fool millions of people into believing he was something other than a lying, criminal, con man of the worst type, a malignant narcissist with no conscience, no shame, and no credibility.
But most importantly, for our purposes here, Donald Trump manipulated the mechanisms of celebrity creation to make people think he was a celebrity. He rode this nonsense and myth all the way into the White House by flat-out lying, telling people what they wanted to hear or feeding their fears about what might be happening in their lives and offering them an imaginary space in his imaginary Hall of Fame for the mere price of whatever they could send him in the greatest con of a life dedicated at all times and in all ways to perpetuating cons. Trump monetized celebrity beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed before.
Lest anyone has forgotten recent American political history and how far the Donald has dragged us into his celebrity version of an American Carnage nobody could see but that he promised to end by being elected with three million fewer votes than his opponent in 2016.
Below are stark images of the limitations and the tragic consequences of not being able to discern the differences between name recognition and celebrity-at-all-costs:
Contrast that with this:
Again, thinking the changing of a human being into a product to be sold and consumed and called a celebrity has risks easy enough to see and recognize if one has the courage and honesty to face it.
Of course, you may prefer to believe every person presented to you on TV is actually just like they are presented: a nice guy, a lovely, tireless virginal mommy, a fast-driving, hard-hitting, sneeze-free, allergy-avoidant master of his destiny, a superhero because after all he plays one in the movies. If you want to believe in the presentation of this product, and it entertains or sparks joy to believe this –– go for it.