Thursday, July 12, 2012

Celebrity Jello salad.

We're in a new 1950s. Bear with me, because this one is a bit convoluted.

The culture of celebrity worship is equal to the post-WWII push toward a consumer culture. Media fixation on celebrities is like that of commercially prepared consumer goods--the flow of celebrity images is that of Jello salad, with the branding badges of couture and self-promotion nestled in celebrity images like so many pineapple chunks and mini-marshmallows. American Idol and its ilk are the showcases for consumer notions of self as much as they are for talent. Deep-finned Cadillacs on revolving stages then, blandly popular performers on similar stages now. Reality shows have a leveling effect much the way that the popular TV shows of the 1950s did; they show consumers a normative lifestyle. Celebrity culture is the new normal.

The basis for celebrity is the presumed authenticity of action as performed by a given celebrity before the cameras. Accessibility is the currency for the new normal, and everything becomes a confession. And thus, the constructed confessional: This is what we are left with. Can a constructed confession be authentic? Alcoholics Anonymous functions on such confessions, but in the opposite context. Celebrity and recovery cannot mix, its members are told. Spiritual growth takes place best in the self-effacing context of anonymity. The absence of the public self permits the presence of the true self. If this is the case for all of us, then celebrity cannot ever be authentic when presented as reality. Authenticity and connection are discarded in favor of revelation of a carefully constructed self.

Ironically, celebrity culture reinforces the notion that authentic confession requires anonymity. Umberto Eco's library in The Name of the Rose, with its lightless chamber in the middle, is not only a commentary on the ultimate unknowability of the truth. It tell us what Schroedinger's cat hints at: To know something is to destroy it. Celebrity culture is not fleeting because it is popular; it is fleeting because permanence would, paradoxically, bring about its annihilation.

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