At the same time that the news media has conflated entertainment and news, the dynamic has elevated the opinions and statuses of the celebrity class – TV, Hollywood, athletes, royalty, courtiers – to an exalted level with the implicit assertion of the relevance of those opinions to daily and societal survival. On occasion, and perhaps even more often than is healthy, some celebrities have been elected or been candidates for public office.
The American psyche has been infused with a failure to distinguish the reality of celebrity, i.e., fame, from, well, reality. The age of bobbysoxers and fan clubs has largely been replaced by social media as “influencers” now define cultural concepts. The news media has daily amplified the phenomenon. Some of this transition is virtually subliminal, a kind of fawning acceptance of celebrity as being as essential as air, water, or food. Celebrities, minor and major, have aggregated a psychic sinecure in the mind of the American public.
The American psyche has been infused with a failure to distinguish the reality of celebrity, i.e., fame, from, well, reality.
This outcome was neatly illustrated by a small piece in The New York Times’ feature “Metropolitan Diary,” (January 9, 2022), a collection of experiences in the Big Apple:
Dear Diary, I was walking through SOHO when I noticed a crowd in front of the Crosby Street Hotel. I asked a young couple who they were waiting for.
We don’t know, they said, explaining that they had seen the crowd and had decided to wait too.
I asked how long they had been waiting.
About 30 minutes they told me.
“You have been waiting for 30 minutes for someone you don’t know?” is asked.
“Yes,” one of them said. “It might be a celebrity.”
I walked a few feet and saw a woman standing with what appeared to be her two teenage daughters.
“Who are you waiting for?” I asked.
“We don’t know,” the woman said. “We saw the crowd and decided to wait. It could be someone famous.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.
“Maybe about 40 minutes or so,” the woman said. “Not really sure.”
At that point, the hotel’s doors opened but only for the doorman to make sure the crowd wasn’t blocking the entrance.
Walking a little farther down the block, I noticed a man sitting in a car.
“Are you waiting, too?” I asked him.
“You bet,” he said.
“But you don’t know who it is?”
“Don’t care as it could be somebody,” he said.
“And if it’s somebody,” he added, “I don’t want to miss it.”
However important celebrity and celebrities are to the minds of the population, the devotion of ink and digital space has reached a massive proportion. Consider that British royalty has been exported to the United States for popular consumption, as if we were not blessed with the likes of our own highly populated genre, e.g., Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, Donald Trump, and, of course, Kanye West. Meghan and Harry seem to have created their own niche.
The American brand of fawning over celebrity may not be deemed as absurdist as waiting for Godot but it has come to occupy an inordinate vitality, perhaps compromising common sense. Willingness to join a crowd for a peek at an unidentified someone merely because they may be “somebody” is a sad commentary.
Anonymous Facebook posts inviting viewers to share personal experience with “The Most Famous Person I Met” or “The Most Famous Person With Whom I Was Photographed” further imprint our psyches with celebrity influence and reveal the inclination to share a fawning moment, a personal few seconds of celebrity magnetism or “maganetism,” if you prefer. One snarky critic labeled it “enigmaganetic.”
It is possible that the deluge of celebrity via social media and commercial news media may, over time, assist the public to discern the wheat from the chaff, enhancing reasoning and reading skills. It won’t be too soon. In the meantime, folks will continue to pine for the arrival of Godot, likely well before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius or a new Age of Reason.