There is a well-known meme which features a photograph of a notoriously unintelligent celebrity – take your pick, there are certainly plenty to choose from – with the accompanying text: “stop making stupid people famous.” The thing is – stupid people might actually be the perfect candidates for celebrity. These lucky (or – if we are to be honest in regards to the actual costs of fame and its associated wealth – unlucky) souls are generally the empty slates upon which hordes of adoring – or equally, and often enough, abhoring – devotees might pin their own interpretations, psychological projections and generalised clichés of identity and personality.
Observe how much of so-called celebrity culture consists of the active construction and assertion of meanings, values, relationships and identity-tokens around these hapless manikins. The vigorously enthusiastic gravitation and fascination around and with these aspirational personalities is a measure not of any intrinsic substance or subjective worth in the (or perhaps, curiously any) individual, regardless that it is transparently clear that some celebrities are anything other than shallow and superficial vessels for the commercial or ideological storage and representation of identity – more on this later. This pop-cultural attraction towards a nodal focii of the glamorous, the important, the influencer and the notionally talented entertainer, sportsperson or raconteur – it masks a more profound truth, cultural fact and psychological artefact of human being.
The primary reason we (all) feel so deeply compelled to construct the significance and cultural stature and significance of the concept of the famous, on a broad spectrum from Kardashian to Einstein, is that it allows us (each and all) to allay those deep existential doubts that we intrinsically possess concerning our own significance and worth in this world. By asserting the existence and significance of this Other important person to which we might orient our own hopes, loves and desires – both positive and negative – we provide ourself with an aspirational metaphysical anchor of certainty for ourselves, beyond ourselves. The existence of an Other personality, identity and subjective psychological being upon which so many people become obsessed itself becomes a reflexively self-validating locus of substantive self-identity and an associated psychological abstraction of self-worth; “they possess an apparent subjective value, experience and the certainty of existential depth and so, consequently, must I“.
It is often said of celebrity that a strange irony faced in the spotlight is that once you have everything you could possibly ever need, people and companies feel compelled to give you more things – luxury goods, status symbols, more wealth, property, etc. – for free. This is actually a symbolic representation of the self-gravitational psychological and cultural center that celebrity and fame represents. The bigger and brighter the star, the more attention, psychological value and abstract (or concrete, material) wealth it autonomously acquires.
This is also the key curse of fame. “Glamour” is an old Scottish word for the Evil Eye and it is very much the case that should an intelligent and sensitive individual find themselves in the spotlight of public attention for any extended period of time, this can be (and very often is) psychologically catastrophic. Norma Jean Baker, a very intelligent, curious and sensitive person, was so closely associated in the public eye with her ditzy on-screen persona that she became typecast and veritably imprisoned by an identity that she could no longer freely choose to change – in as much as anyone ever can choose their identity, of course.
Many other brilliant artists, musicians, writers and actors suffer similar psychological disassembly in the withering onslaught of public opinion – observe the acute form this takes in South Korean K-Pop where trolling leads to self-harm. Do we choose (and invariably abuse) our celebrities because in so doing we excuse ourselves from the psychological doubt and uncertainty that we all carry and which is so much easier to negotiate in an Other, at distance?
Perhaps we should be making more stupid people famous. Where there is not much going on in the way of intelligence or psychological sensitivity we might certainly see less self-destructive behaviour. Then again, the culturally-inculcated catastrophic psychological dissasembly of the distant Other (in or through addiction, self-harm, etc.) may be an intransigent and secret desire for the many hundreds of millions of insecure and isolated self-identities and, as much as we are all unlikely to wilfully acknowledge this fact, we are all fundamentally and foundationally insecure and isolated. We endlessly and enthusiastically (re-)create the conditions for the production of a psychological vacuum of self-destructive (celebrity) emptiness so that we may never have to gaze into our own void.
Yes, by all means make more stupid people famous. Just don’t give them any real power because these are the fragile narcissists who are least well-equipped to deal with either responsibility or reality.