Barbra Streisand, Whoopie Goldberg, and Samuel Jackson threatened to leave America if Donald Trump won the presidential election. John Voight, Loretta Lynn, and Tom Brady announced they would happily stay. The cast of Broadway musical "Hamilton" felt self-important enough to lecture a captive-in-the-audience vice-president-elect in public.
Certain NFL and NBA players refuse to stand in respect for our country and kneel in protest during the playing of our national anthem.
Why do celebrities think their opinions matter?
Why do Americans care what celebrities think?
Actors make their living and gain public visibility by pretending to be other people. Sports figures make their living and gain public visibility by executing ballgames accurately. These professions require skills achievable through training and practice. The skills don’t make the practitioners thinkers; it makes them players. Some pop music celebrities don’t even display musical skills — they just scream — but many "civilians" care about their opinions anyway. Actors, sports figures, pop musicians. Why do so many Americans attend to their opinions on politics, health care, and foreign policy?
Celebrities also exercise influence via product endorsements or appearances in magazine ads and TV commercials. This brings them money, but why do so many "average" people buy products because some celebrity endorses them? Why are so many interested in the intimate lives of celebrities: affairs, divorces, gender preferences? Voyeurism into the private lives of "stars" was once forbidden by Hollywood film studios, but today they’ve become a topic for idle gossip. Celebrity worship is not exclusively American, but it flourishes here more than elsewhere.
Is it because we don’t have royals to appreciate for glamour and perceived authority no matter how symbolic? To become royalty one only has to be born or get married. Although kings and queens of past eras wielded real power, these positions today don’t require any special skills at all.
Many Americans — I am one — couldn’t care less about celebrities beyond their abilities to ply their trades. We find their pseudo-intellectual pronouncements ludicrous or embarrassingly pathetic; yet pulp magazine sales and TV talk shows prove vast interest by a huge public into the most trivial details of "stars."
Monkey see, monkey do?
We now witness high school football players kneeling during the National Anthem because they are imitating NFL stars who started the protest. These same kids choose clothing to mimic favorite TV and movie characters. Their parents wear torn-on-purpose blue jeans just like everyone else who follows "fashion" trends set by celebrities.
Although some buy "designer" apparel for quality and style, many women flaunt Gucci handbags and men tread confidently in Gucci shoes because of brand. Others go so far as to tote fake Gucci luggage. Does wearing brands lend some sort of legitimacy to the person wearing them? What do tattoos and message tee shirts declare about the wearer? All these practices broadcast preoccupations with what? Borrowed identities; the same ersatz identifications that others feel parroting celebrity opinions: "If so-and-so believes such-and-such or wears this-and-that and I can twerk to their "Rap," then they must be right about global affairs too."
Value systems and authentic self-identity need no outward branding or alignment with anyone other than one’s own soul. These are achieved by assessing the validity of various, competing ideas and coming to individual conclusions via objective observation and critical reasoning. This process takes time and effort, and one can make mistakes as well as ascertain truths. It seems logical, then, to postulate that those who neglect interior growth and follow or identify with the lives, products, and opinions of others are not true individuals in any mature sense whatsoever. The celebrities? Pompous, self absorbed, and often disconnected to reality because of fame but enjoying wide public platforms from which to opine.
Emulating authentic heroes who perform admirable feats physically and/or mentally can be a wondrous adventure into achieving excellence that rewards personal efforts. Copying movie stars, sports figures, and musically challenged "musicians" is a slippage into lazy conformity by means of value identification based on adulation of another’s opinions and practices rather than on one’s own. Relying on confirmation of subjectively or emotionally accumulated opinions by looking for celebrity agreement confesses a lack of confidence in personal judgment. So instead of declaring autonomous, thought-out values by word and behavior, copycats fake credibility by association with the famous but end up revealing their insecurities to everyone but themselves.
Donald Trump won the presidency. Are the actors who threatened to leave the country leaving? Do we care? Because sports figures refuse to stand during the national anthem — whatever our politics — do we sit it out or stand taller? Individualism is the fundamental, core value that made America "America" and Americans "Americans." Let us each belong to ourselves, the self-created individuals we were born to be if only we will observe, think, and judge independently.
Alexandra York is an author and founding president of the American Renaissance for the Twenty-first Century (ART) a New-York-City-based nonprofit educational arts and culture foundation. She has written for many publications, including "Reader’s Digest" and The New York Times. Her latest book is "The Innocent." For more on Alexandra York, Go Here Now.
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