Celebrities as Moral and Political Guides

Theodore Dalrymple in the LA Times on the rise and rise of the celebrity as a moral and political guide:

THE CULT OF CELEBRITY is not new, but it is increasing in its scope and effect. At one time, people wanted simply to gawp at the famous, and possibly dress like them. Now, many take their moral and political opinions from them. For example, most young people’s view of Africa, insofar as they have one at all, probably derives more from the pronouncements of Bono, U2’s lead singer, than from any other source of knowledge about the Dark Continent.

As it happens, Bono has boned up on his subject, even if his conclusions about what should be done to help Africa are eminently disputable and deeply hypocritical. His authority arises from his celebrity, not from his knowledge. An equally knowledgeable but otherwise totally obscure person would not be able to hector the leaders of France, Germany and Italy for falling behind on their promises of aid, as Bono did last week. When Bono speaks, they have to listen — he is more famous than they are.

Bono is, of course, a fairly mild example of this phenomena and probably not a harmful one. Dalrymple goes on to point out the strange case of Rosie O’Donnell who holds court on her website on a broad range of topics.

The most interesting, or revealing, question asked is, “What kind of anti-depressant medication do you use?”

The fact that she takes such medication means that O’Donnell, for all her fame and wealth, is just like us, which is to say full of misery and dissatisfaction. Moreover, the person asking it seems to be asking for a recommendation, for whatever O’Donnell takes must be good for you. For the questioner, then, O’Donnell is not only a moral but a medical authority.


#1 Statler on 05.23.07 at 4:42 pm

I don’t mind celebrities having opinions and using the platform of their celebrity to advocate it.

We should not rely on “the expert” alone to decide on policy in their area of expertise. Fdor example if one allowed the medical profession to determine abortion practice, then we would have abortions with few restrictions, similarly for illegal drug use which would be treated as entirely a medical problem (and decriminalized).

At a time early in the last century, every public intellectual of note was either a fascist or a communist. These were people whose expertise was political philosophy, look where they ended up.

So I would rater a fool speak on any subject, than to allow custom or diktat to restrict public discussion of any subject, to those with expertise in that field.

Eventually the public is better served by a diverse group of ill informed opinion, than by a small “elite” group of considered opinion.

#2 Statler on 05.23.07 at 5:01 pm

with regard to popular (ie low) culture, this has always been driven by the masses. As Muslims I think we should adopt a form of cultural monastasicm to try and insulate as much as we can from this type of social change.

Paul Johnson has a superb piece in this weeks spectator.

In the Muslim world, the “rock stars” are the eminent scholars of the sacred sciences, in the west, the rock stars, are rock stars.

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