It seems a truism to say humans are strange and incoherent creatures, filled with contradictions and biases that make us do and say some outrageous things. Take, for example, our fellow mammals who find themselves bathed in fame and adoration. Whereas many come to this elevated status through successful careers in music, sports, film, and television, individuals like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian acquire fame via crudely-made videos hardly deserving of the title pornographic. (Although the videos were intended to shame and humiliate these women, one cannot help but notice how lavishly the victims have profited from their widespread distribution.)
Generally, I hear few objections when prominent individuals endorse humanitarian organizations, cancer research, education and afterschool programs, gender and sexual equality, marijuana legalization, renewable energy sources, and so on. In fact, we laud celebrities who go out of their way to help others, raise awareness for underappreciated problems, and support initiatives we deeply value. Here, their status has great societal benefit.
However, if such a person were to comment, for example, on a presidential election or Syria, foolish rejoinders typically follow like: “stick to [enter celebrity’s employment or vocation here]” and “what do they know about [enter any political topic]?” The famous individual is swiftly and callously berated, mocked as out-of-touch or woefully ignorant of the issue at hand. The irony is that the very things many famous people endorse—gender equality, marijuana legalization, and others—are palpably political in nature.
Why do we do this?
In his Politics, Aristotle argued that humans were inherently political beings owing to our capacity for speech. Our English word, politics, derives from the Greek meaning “affairs of state,” and politic from the Latin meaning “pertaining to public life.” If we consider this, why do many individuals become outraged when some high-profile celebrity decides to make a political statement? Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, regardless of their breadth and depth, or lack thereof? (Trust me, I know that some opinions are downright nonsense or embedded in great slabs of stupidity.)
Interestingly enough, we don’t mind prying into the lives of the rich and famous. Avid fans go to extraordinary lengths to discover intimate details about the lives of their heroes. The media is more than happy to oblige by stalking and harassing celebrities. This fetishism extends to dietary habits, sexual behaviors (in what positions and with whom), religious and spiritual inclinations, educational background, fashion tastes, where their children go to school, etc. Fucking everything. Once in the public spotlight, nothing about one’s life remains sacrosanct. Here’s the most baffling part: when delving into the lives of famous, one may come learn that the individual identifies as a feminist, an explicitly political ideology. And the fans rightly applaud this.
Does no one see the contradiction here? If they support equal rights for all genders and sexes, that’s respectable and commendable. But have an opinion on Syrian refugees or, more recently, the bombing of a Syrian base, then that celebrity can go fuck off. [Lugubrious sigh.]
Maybe it’s some form of cognitive dissonance or hypocrisy. Who knows.
Are celebrities entitled to the same rights as ordinary citizens, namely holding and disclosing political opinions publicly for debate? Or do they exist apart for the rest of civilization, giving up their right to participate by virtue of their professions, only to view society from the peripheries?