top of page

Wait, I asked to see a tailor

relax you copyright attorneys. I am not charging anyone to see this image, so it is not enriching me in any way, shape, or form.

I wanted to invent a new drinking game during the recent Super Bowl broadcast.

Every time they showed a picture of Taylor Swift in her groupie box, we would take a swig.

I’m glad no one took me up on the idea. We’d have been hammered by halftime.

As is usually the case when I get on a rant, those around me threw a lasso and tried to bring me back to earth. I was told, it wasn’t her fault; she’s a talented young woman who is putting a portion of her billion dollars to good use; her activism in the social and political world is a good thing; and finally (this is not playing fair) your granddaughters love her so Back Off, Bucko!

My only counter was that she’s at the Super Bowl because she’s dating The Hulk who clearly has anger management issues. How does that fit with the Lady Madonna imagery?

This week I’ve been thinking about that conversation and the larger issue of celebrity worship in today’s world. It is literally everywhere you look.

But there is nothing new about it.

Julius Caesar, Mozart, Bach, Napoleon, Lincoln, Grant (Ulysses and Cary), Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, etc. Our parents and 5 times great grandparents likely followed them through the streets for an autograph or an elegant bow.

Modern media has increased the daily exposure and therefore ballooned the numbers and the hysteria. Think about it. The popularity of a person used to be measured by the number of people who came to their concert, walked or drove to the record shop and bought an album, or went to the movie theater and sat through a 90-minute production. Now your approval is measured in “clicks” and the scale is defined in CPS (Clicks per second). The average human can do 6.5. Think about that.

In addition, the algorithms that drive social media have recorded your preferences in such detail that if you consider yourself a “Swiftie”, you are being electronically stalked with her face, her music, her thoughts, and her drama every waking hour. We increase the accuracy of our preference fingerprint with every click and wear it like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. It is visible from space.

This is our new reality and we ain’t ever going back.

I’m cool with that.

However, what bothers me is that celebrity used to have a certain meritocracy about it. It was clear why Sinatra, Benny Goodman, and Henry Fonda were famous and drew crowds wherever they went. And fair enough, Taylor Swift is certainly in this category of talent.

The modern genre, however, has frequently suffered a hallo malfunction.

I think Paris Hilton was the first celebrity described as being famous for being famous. And like the Old Testament where one begat another, Paris Hilton’s stylist Kim Kardashian enters the scene, and we are off to the races. Begetting everywhere you look, if you are brave enough to peek.

When you look up the bios of this category of modern celebrity, they are often described as “Media Personalities.”

Let’s examine that term for a moment.

We all have personalities. Webster tells us that at the core, the definition is “the quality or fact of being a person.” Can the bar get any lower than that? The worst booger-picking idiot in your first-grade class met that test.

The definition goes on to say that individuality is the next element of personality, and once again, that kid you were only sitting next to because of the cruelty of alphabetical order gets a box check.

So, to summarize, all our Wikipedia entries could describe us as personalities.

How then does someone get “Media” dropped in as an adjective?

Well, either their great grandfather was Conrad Hilton, they are rich, and did a sex tape that went viral, thus getting them covered in the news (read media), or they are the daughter of OJ Simpson’s lawyer, are a rich stylist, and get filmed going into parties. Still looking for a molecule of merit in any of that? Me too.

So, in a world of too many cable channels, too much airtime to fill, and too much channel surfing by people with no balance and a fear of the ocean, we put people on the air whose only merit was a successful spin of the cosmic wheel of fortune. They are somehow worthy to be made part of the world of media and presto, they are crowned a media personality. Thus, they are forever separated from you, me, and that little booger picker at Catonsville Elementary School.

Where this blends into a dangerous mix is when the editors of People Magazine realize that they can sell as many, if not more issues by putting the meritless on the cover rather than the praiseworthy. Their faces stare at us as we buy our groceries or wait in the doctor’s office. Maybe because of our innate curiosity, jealousy, or secret celebrity worship, we too flip through the pages. We try to forget the curiosity of dead cats, the fatal jealousy of Othello, and modern stalker laws as we get our celeb fix for the day.

This is all harmless you might say. Good fun. Nobody gets hurt. Right?

Well, as Coach Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Given the promised nonpolitical nature of this blog, this transition will be tricky. I am chalking my hands so as not to fall off the high bar.

Here are some names to ponder.

Clay Aiken, Sonny Bono, Jessie Ventura, George Murphy, and yes, Donald Trump.

Many would want to put Ronald Reagan on this list of actors, singers, wrestlers, and reality TV stars who went into politics. I would argue that Reagan’s progression from two-time president of the Screen Actors Guild to the California State House to the White House was meritocracy in action. Had he been a failure in any of those preceding leadership roles, he would have never become President.

Back to the question of the harmlessness of the ooze of celebrity culture into US and world politics.

I would argue that when someone makes the jump from celebrity to politics, the impact is mitigated by numbers. If you are a successful candidate for the House of Representatives, you are one of 435 and the damage is somewhat contained. Sonny Bono didn’t leave any real stains and George Santos in the end only embarrassed the NY Republican Party. If you are elected to the U.S. Senate, you are one of 100 and if you, like George Murphy represent California, your style and a competent staff can get you by for six years.

But it is when the road narrows down that the trouble begins. The President of the United States is one of only two nationally elected positions in American politics. It is not a just euphemism that it is the most powerful position in the world. History shows us that it is the position that can save the Union, win victory over fascism, put a man on the moon, and win the Cold War. (or not)

In the prescient words of Joe Biden to Barack Obama on victory day for Obama Care, “Hey man, this is a big f**king deal.”

I am not going down the slippery slope of critiquing Donald Trump’s or Joe Biden’s first terms as President. You have your opinion. I have mine. But one thing that even Donald Trump and those closest to him have said is that had it not been for his television show The Apprentice, he would never have been elected president.

He had been a New York businessman. He was a developer with (at least) a $1 million head start from his father. He was a recognizable personality whose nine lives through five bankruptcies made him the talk of the town. But The Apprentice was his Get Out of Jail Free card. It was the perception of him as the tough, pragmatic, pilot of the conference table shouting “you’re fired” to some poor schmuck that defined and preserved his image like a roach in amber.

He had done way more in his life than his friends Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, but it was Donald Trump, media personality, that launched his ship. Week after week the writers portrayed him as the man to see, the titan of industry, the ultimate boss. And it worked.

When I confronted a friend who openly said he was going to vote for Trump in 2016, these were his exact words. “He’s a successful businessman who knows how to make a deal and that is just what this country needs.”

As I look back on it, I learned that the media loves media personalities and the gateway to the living rooms of America is the media. Love him or hate him, he was selling advertising and driving the numbers of both Fox and MSNBC through the roof. They entered into an unholy alliance that gave Trump more free airtime than any politician in history. And the backdrop was the false image that he crafted on television.

It is the one and only answer to the multiple news cycles that would have killed any other candidacy. Remember? John McCain’s a loser, I can grab women, imitating Serge Kovaleski, the disabled reporter who suffers from arthrogryposis. If you say and do enough outrageous things, it is hard to keep up.

And you know the rest of the tale, or at least up until today's headlines.

So, I will end there with this bit of caution.

In the words of Julius Caesar, “Caveat Emptor” (let the buyer beware).

Our worship of celebrity is not a victimless habit. Like everything else we need to mix what is fun with what is real and never confuse the two. Taylor Swift is a talented song writer, singer, and businesswoman. But do you want to emulate all her choices?

Sony Bono was a talented performer, but did you trust him with a vote on whether we went to war?

Jessie Ventura was famous because he could body slam an opponent in the ring, but how was that going to work in the State House?

In this celebrity-driven world of ours, enter the polling booth with a clear sense of who you are choosing and the implications of getting it wrong.

Taylor, my granddaughters, and I will be watching.



bottom of page