As the January fanfare sounds, the world’s media braces itself for a celebrity takeover. In a world that seems to be already well and truly dominated by celebrities, it’s hard to envisage how we have the capacity for even more worship. But each ‘Awards Season’ we find it, and we reinforce the strength of influence we lend to celebrities with a vengeance.
This year it took a Meryl. A little streak of Meryl revealed that the Age of the Celebrity is showing no signs of decline. When Meryl Streep, universally regarded as one of the greatest actors of our time uses her three minutes of airtime to voice her almost universal grievances about a changing America the world stops, Angelus-style. True: when you are as eloquent, engaging, respected and passionate as Meryl it’s no great secret why we stand to attention. Also true: a well-sculpted bare bottom can have the same effect. Kim K, I’m looking at you.
So if there are no clues in the content, the only certainty is surely the celebrity. It is the reason why a climate change documentary featuring Leonardo Di Caprio gains more attention in a day than the world’s top environmental scientists get in a lifetime. Logically, it’s all wrong. Why does the perspective of someone who’s made a living from acting merit greater trust on environmental issues than experts who’ve lived and breathed the subject their entire working lives? Why do we owe our ability to read, write, and count, calculate, understand, and research to teachers and educators only to completely sell-out the experts for A-listers’ opinions in other learning opportunities? Is it simply to avenge that teacher that gave us canteen clean-up in first year, or have we not even realised that we’re doing it? As plausible as the first option may be, I’m going to roll with the second.
There’s also this thing called social media. A plague on the world, responsible for tsunamis, famine, the 1916 Rising, World War II and Harambe dying… But seriously, social media does play a part in the formation of the cult of celebrity. Gone be the days of mystery and speculation – today, many celebrities open a window to their lives for the world to see (some even throw us the keys and say “hop in”). The more we know, the more we think we know. The media helps to generate romantic notions of musicians and actors we know and love and build them up until the weight of the world could rest on their shoulders and we believe they could carry it with ease.
Or maybe it’s the glamour. Since time began it’s in our nature to marvel at things that are bigger, better, shinier and glitterier (yes, it’s a word) than what we’re used to. Celebrities are more visually appealing than research. They’re too cool for school. They are shinier than science and more fabulous than facts. Maybe we actually evolved from magpies and are still sidetracked by shiny things. It’s a theory that doesn’t say much for human intelligence, but who is to say it is wrong?
It’s easy to be cynical about celebrity culture, but that’s often less fun. Celebrities are allowed to preach in the same way that we are allowed to gloat when they mess up – events which are often not mutually exclusive.
At the end of the day, the rise of the killer celebrity is not wholly threatening. We largely leave matters of science, technology, health, economics and politics to the experts. Except for Trump that is, and with any luck he’ll ruin it for the rest of them.
-By Aisling Bonner