Thursday, December 06, 2012
The Celebrity Card
I once thought of MTV as a breath of fresh air. I thought
Â I would never stop watching it. I learned better. Years ago.
MY OWN WAYBACK MACHINE. Yeah, in the wake of the election, 6 in 10 Americans favor increasing taxes on people who make more than $250K a year. Never mind that such people already pay most of the income taxes, and never mind that even confiscatory rates of taxation on such people wouldn't solve the fiscal crisis or make even a dent. Regardless, there can be no doubt that the class warfare argument has worked spectacularly well for the Obama administration. Why?
The answer is simple, even elegantly simple. But it's also as perverse as it is simple. Perverse because it's representative of one of those disconnects that are so gigantic and contradictory most people are unable to comprehend its absurdity. Not even the supposedly far-seeing righty proponents of the new media recognize the extent to which the internet, a zillion cable channels, and the cancer-like growth of social networks have compounded rather than alleviated their messaging problem.
Who are the most visible rich? Celebrities. Our adulation has been cultivated as pervasively as our subconscious resentment, via every kind of media in the exploding technological universe. We're all vulnerable to being seduced by physical beauty, success, glamorous lifestyles, artistic talent, and lucky if unequal combinations of same. We desperately want to like the people we envy, as if some their shine could rub off on us, as if -- were we to meet them -- they would like us too.
It's the real secret of Obama's populist appeal. He's the dork -- we all recognize that in him, the would-be (but not) basketball star, the laughable bowler, the gawky golfer in shorts, the stuttering party wallflower with an intimidating and barely respectful wife -- who stands in for all of us when he pals around with movie stars, sports icons, and music legends. He's icy and even contemptuous with his political peers (politics has been called the show business of ugly people -- ugh), but he's "likeable" in sum because he's as obviously starstruck as we would be given the opportunity to meet Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and all the lesser lights of American celebrity. And when they treat you as some kind of savior, well, that's just an Everyman's dream come true:
Of course, this kind of sentiment is naive if not insane. What would celebrities know about anything real? They live inside a cocoon of personal assistants, publicists, agents, managers, and fashion consultants whose whole livelihood consists of making them feel special and infallible. If you have any trouble believing this, The Backstage links at The Smoking Gun should convince you. Granted, these entries are short on what Hollywood stars require, but that's not usually done by contract. It's done by the natural perquisites of royalty. Whatever's the worst in The Smoking Gun list, be it Madonna or JLo, you can pretty much count on the fact that an A-List movie star needs more.
Thing is, we know all that already. We love it in one sense and resent it in another. Thanks to TMZ and Perez Hilton (etc, ad nauseam), for example, we know that celebrity doesn't always arise from talent. All those reality shows which have made stars out of talentless cartoons like Kim Kardashian, Ice-T's wife Coco, and Jersey Shore's Snooki make it clear that financial heaven can be achieved by idiot freaks who couldn't even be trusted to handle a week of pet-sitting.The idea of being famous for being famous has taken solid root in the national consciousness. Quick quiz: How many of the following vulvas have you seen flashed on stage or posed getting out of limousines? Madonna, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, etc, or do you prefer the more mainstream gallery presented here? In either case, do you know anyone in your personal circle who would pose in this way, and would you look to such women as spokespeople for a theoretical "war on women" when this is going on in the liberally celebrated Arab Spring? Doubt me? Ask Lara Logan of CBS News. It's all good, right, as long as the Jews are put in their place.
People are capable of contradictory emotions. Somehow we don't penalize the president and his oafish wife for hanging out with the richest do-nothings in the world. At the same time, the constant media barrage subtly convinces us that this is who ALL rich people are. They have more than they need. They didn't earn what they have, not really. And we deserve to take more and more from them, not least because we have loved them so much. They OWE us for our love and loyalty and fascination.
Except that it's all a crock. The most visible but also most unreal subset of America's wealthiest citizens -- movie stars, rock stars, and glamorous exhibitionists -- are not the real emblems of American wealth. The bricks underneath the CGI turrets are (probably boring and boringly unsybaritic) engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, scientists, industrial designers, and flat-out innovators. They're neither Brad Pitt nor Victoria's Secret models. Most of them achieved their 250K+ per year income by studying long hours, working very hard long hours, and taking risks most wouldn't take. A great many did it by doing work most of us wouldn't accept. And I'm not talking about illegal immigrants. Know anybody who's made money in the plumbing business?Â Not always but often, they have to deal with our shit. They do it, at all times of day and night. They should be penalized because you're not making ends meet? Farmers? Know any? Plowing fields, shoveling animal shit, dealing with state and federal regulations every day about how and what they feed their stock, fertilize their crops, and survive for another year on the doomed family farm?Â Don't like your local car dealer or gas station? Both pinned between major manufacturers they can't control and retail customers who cherish grudges that last for years. How dare they ever make a quarter million dollars a year? Dis. Grace. Ful.
Yeah, let's punish them. Because Paris Hilton has pissed me off one time too many. Riiiighhhht.
So here's the rub. The Obama administration continually parades our lunkhead president before celebrities who make mega-millions by pretending to be other, smarter, braver people. Which is actually a clue that our president is a would-be celebrity who is pretending to be a smarter, braver thing than he is. But nobody sees. The celebrities endorse him, he gushes in their presence, and people find the whole act charming.
Meanwhile, and much much worse, conservatives can't figure out how they lost the most important election in the history of the republic. Use the search function to enumerate all the incredible stupidities of the right. (Keywords: stupid, conservative, republican, intelligentsia, and Howdy-Doody.) This one's probably the worst, though. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell actually think they know what's going on.
btw, there was also a moment when Rome lost its republic. But history is no guide for us. The end of the Roman Republic was the beginning of the Roman Empire. The end of the American Republic is the end of the nation that never really wanted to be an empire when it had the chance. The first nation ever to make that choice. Proof of American exceptionalism now that it's finally and officially done with.
Rejoice, all ye would-be celebrities. Can't wait for Hollywood's new senator from Kentucky, Ashley Judd. Have to admit she's got pert boobs. Haven't seen her vulva yet, though. I'm prepared to be impressed.
As for the card being played? It's the death card. The good news is that it won't achieve its full effect on December 21. It's going to take years of agonizing suffering and regret instead.