Sometimes we love to hate them, sometimes we love them, sometimes we are confused and think they are our personal friends, but I personally see the turning regular people into some sort of demigod to be problematic. I’m sure you’ve all seen images of famous people, larger than life, being photoshopped into heroic or dramatic poses by and for a public that can’t get enough of them, their wisdom, their opinions, their brands. Mirror neurons in our brain encourage us to be like them, copy their mannerisms and catch phrases, in the hopes of becoming more like them, or perhaps just being mixed up by passers by as being like them, or having what makes them desirable, their gravitas.
While I acknowledge I too am human with the same habits and desires to be something more, to look up to these people that have been isolated out as worth more attention than the average person, someone who resembles an ordinary human but through deeds or sheer persistence and facepower (being seen over and over again until we think we know them) they work their ways into strangers hearts. Some of them seem deserving. Some of them seem like attention seeking bottom feeders. But their persistence pays off regardless. But is there even a problem with this?
I think so. I think that they become influencers, and for those that have done special accomplishments that has bettered humankind as a result, they probably do deserve this attention. But easily the most damaging things celebrities have done are become synonymous with product placement – where they root for or endorse a brand of something that quite clearly did not help them become successful, since they were not an ambassador for that brand when they were toiling in obscurity, working toward but not yet achieving that success. With our sucker-like brains and its habit for mimicry, we easily conflate the two, and unless we have the awareness of being influenced by product placement, incorporate those products into our life if there is a chance, any chance, that it might make us more successful. This is the most obvious, and most damaging aspect, as far as I can tell, but let me tell you about a much more insidious problem – when they have reached a point where they may be surrounded by yes-persons and feel everything coming out of their mouth is nothing less than genius.
I’ve studied science, and, as a by-product of such, I’ve studied among that the history of science, specifically scientists, doctors and early researchers. And I noticed a somewhat disturbing pattern, at least from those that became famous in their own day. That pattern goes as follows: the scientist works hard proving and disproving theories, opening the way for new research, develops these groundbreaking ideas, which branch out to still new theories. So far so good. But quite often, and I think this seems to happen a lot, they go off the rails somewhere. They start pushing theories that they have not tested, but firmly believe in, becoming so entrenched in them, that upon reflecting on them in history books, they seem quite clearly to be mad or somehow afflicted. Their theories go so far off their own deep end, they are never properly tested by the celebrity-scientist, merely pushed about as fact, and are never picked up in scientific circles, published research papers, etc. They seem to be dwelling in some sort of alternate universe, where they adamantly believe these phony facts alongside the other facts that they had quite decisively proven earlier in their career. Nobody else with credibility will touch them, but they go on believing this. Why?
As far as I can tell, it’s because their famousness reaches some critical mass, where they no longer have the presence of mind or perhaps ego, such that they believe every theory they have is above reproach, factual, as real as the earth beneath their feet. And I can’t help but think they were worshipped as heroes, in a very similar manner to current day Instagram models and science-ish celebrities on TED talks and YouTube.
One science celebrity comes to mind as falling into this pattern. I won’t mention their name, because there are many more examples than just theirs, and I don’t want to pick on any one in particular or try to drag down their name – that isn’t the point of this. But they have followed the same pattern as these high-profile scientists I’ve only learned in books. When I first learned about them, they were small time, but very intelligent. I enjoyed their lectures which they had uploaded to YouTube, and I think they were great, being a subject matter expert and eloquent speaker. Very quickly though, once they became famous, they started branching into other things – subjects adjacent to their specialization, topics of the day starting with politics but then bleeding into popular culture, other celebrities, relationship problems, dieting, pretty much anything you can imagine. Their eloquent speaking and charm, whether a natural gift or developed, carried them far, and at some point, listening to their video where they were giving their opinion on religion, I realized I had not been subjecting this person to the same scrutiny that I listen to people’s ideas, they at some point simply began washing over me.
That revelation made me uncomfortable. I renewed my critical thinking as I listened to new videos and evaluated them, realizing not only did I not agree with them, but they had no basis in rationality and fact, and were not provable, or even in many cases, useful. I unsubscribed, feeling like I had been poisoned to some unknowable extent, and was sad and cautious. I was so smitten by the fact that a scientist was being elevated to celebrity status, that I didn’t realize their progressive change, a metamorphosis into something else, not quite a celebrity, but no longer a scientist either, in a way.
They fell into the same pattern, surrounded by people telling them their shit doesn’t stink, they have untold numbers of self-help books they could fill with their wisdom to help people of all shapes and sizes to time immemorial. I believe yes, they have the same trappings as those scientists of old, that their theories are above testing and are to be held a self-evident. Not good, not worth my time or willingness to regard. I would now have to carefully sift through everything that would now fall from their mouth, critically mull it over and give or take away from its value based on what I know and understand. This is a good thing, for me, but just makes me more aware about how others are processing not only their words, but the words of anybody and everybody who becomes famous. People whose loftiest goals are to sell out to the biggest bidder, to throw off the shackles of the work they may have in the past seen value in, in favor of 30 second product placements of their own products or those willing to pay them, massive companies who see the value in celebrities slipping in mentions of these corporations in positive light. There’s value in that for them, obviously, but does it influence their long-term reputation. I’m still not certain.
So where is this all going? If I were to entertain my most fanciful of ideas, my thoughts drift to the French Revolution, a time where all the fanciful celebrities (Royalty, Nobility, Socialites, the Otherwise Rich) were dragged over to the town square and were beheaded. But will our society ever get sick of all of them at once, decide to be over and done with them in the most violent means imaginable? Part of me hopes so, but not because of some benevolence or eagerness for humans to “succeed”. It’s probably partly jealously, partly stomach-churning nausea at the thought of the broader idea of SELLING OUT, the exchange of their credibility and authenticity for cash, dooming those around that look up to them to waste their hard earned money on junk. What could be any more satisfying than another revolution, ushering in a new golden age, where in order to prevent celebrities from jacking our rational thought processes and desire to succeed, we as a society see fit to erase the very idea of celebrity from our lives, a Shiva-like destruction with the intention of remaking things for the benefit of all, erasing them from mainstream thought, save the morality tale of the dangers of achieving celebrity for it’s own sake, remembered with a shudder of long past regret, remembered because it was a way of life we never want to fall back into again.