Friday, July 31, 2009

Why We Are a "Celebrity-Riddled" Culture

Can you stand one more plug for Chris Hedges' weighty tome, Empire of Illusion? And a few more facts about how the banksters are stealing us blind (still)? I can't urge you enough to read it (and tell your friends). (Emphasis marks and some editing inserted - Ed.)

Celebrities are skillfully used by their handlers and the media to compensate for the increasingly degraded and regimented existences that most of us endure in a commodity culture. Celebrities tell us we can have our revenge. We can triumph. We can, one day, get back at the world that has belittled and abused us. It happens in the ring. It happens on television. It happens in the movies. It happens in the narrative of the Christian Right. It happens in pornography. It happens in the self-help manuals and on reality television. But it almost never happens in reality.

Celebrity is the vehicle used by a corporate society to sell us these branded commodities, most of which we do not need. Celebrities humanize commercial commodities. They present the familiar and comforting face of the corporate state. Supermodel Paulina Porizkova, on an episode of America’s Next Top Model, gushes to a group of aspiring young models, “Our job as models is to sell.” But they peddle a fake intimacy and a fantasy. The commercial “personalizing” of the world involves oversimplification, distraction, and gross distortion.

“We sink further into a dream of an unconsciously intimate world in which not only may a cat look at a king but a king is really a cat underneath, and all the great power-figures Honest Joes at heart,” Richard Hoggart warned in The Uses of Literacy. We do not learn more about Barack Obama by knowing what dog he has bought for his daughters or if he still smokes. This personalized trivia, passed off as news, diverts us from reality.

In his book Celebrity, Chris Rojeck calls celebrity culture “the cult of distraction that valorizes the superficial, the gaudy, the domination of commodity culture.” He goes further:

Capitalism originally sought to police play and pleasure, because any attempt to replace work as the central life interest threatened the economic survival of the system. The family, the state and religion engendered a variety of patterns of moral regulation to control desire and ensure compliance with the system of production. However, as capitalism developed, consumer culture and leisure time expanded. The principles that operated to repress the individual in the workplace and the home were extended to the shopping mall and recreational activity. The entertainment industry and consumer culture produced what Herbert Marcuse called ‘repressive desublimation.’ Through this process individuals unwittingly subscribed to the degraded version of humanity.

This cult of distraction, as Rojeck points out, masks the real disintegration of culture. It conceals the meaninglessness and emptiness of our own lives. It seduces us to engage in imitative consumption. It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, and economic collapse and political corruption. The wild pursuit of status and wealth has destroyed our souls and our economy. Families live in sprawling mansions financed with mortgages they can no longer repay. Consumers recklessly rang up Coach handbags and Manolo Blahnik shoes on credit cards because they seemed to confer a sense of identity and merit. Our favorite hobby, besides television, used to be, until reality hit us like a tsunami, shopping. Shopping used to be the compensation for spending five days a week in tiny cubicles. American workers are ground down by corporations who have disempowered them, used them, and have now discarded them.

Celebrities have fame free of responsibility. The fame of celebrities, wrote Mills, disguises those who possess true power: corporations and the oligarchic elite. Magical thinking is the currency not only of celebrity culture, but of totalitarian culture. And as we sink into an economic and political morass, we are still controlled, manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the dark wall of Plato’s cave. The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to keep us from fighting back.

Read on (please) here. And from Swiftspeech! we have the following bankster getaway reporting: (Emphasis marks added - Ed.)

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo today published a report entitled "'The Heads I Win, Tails You Lose' Bank Bonus Culture". The numbers tell their own story.

In 2008:* JPMorgan Chase: $25 billion in TARP funding, earned $5.6 billion, paid $8.69 billion in bonuses;* Goldman Sachs: $10 billion in TARP funding, earned $2.3 billion, paid $4.8 billion in bonuses;* Morgan Stanley: $10 billion in TARP funding, earned $1.7 billion, paid $4.5 billion in bonuses;* Citigroup: $45 billion in TARP funding, lost $27.7 billion, paid $5.33 billion in bonuses;* BoA/Merrill Lynch: $45 billion in TARP funding, lost $23.6 billion, paid $6.9 billion in bonuses.

In total, 4613 bankers and traders received bonuses of more than $1 million at these 5 financial institutions, all of which would in all probability have collapsed if not for taxpayer assistance. The TARP funding is by no means the only way they got access to the public trough. While some have returned TARP funds, the other types of funding, while there's no doubt they add up to a far higher total than the combined $135 billion in TARP funds, exist in a much more opaque territory. There are numbers available of what the banks received from the AIG bail-out: Goldman Sachs, for example, was handed $13 billion.

Suzan ________________


Marja said...

Yes out society gets more and more shallow and agressive. Sad But when you look carefully in hidden places there is still some light I've met people giving all their out of love to help other less fortunate. So their is hope
Thanks for visiting my blog

Suzan said...

Thanks for your comment, Marja.

There is hope, but it seems evanescent today as we see single-payer healthcare dismissed as a ridiculous idea for the American taxpayers and the banksters continuing their self-aggrandizing ways at the expense of these same taxpaying victims who are expected to receive all this bad news with head-bowing acceptance.

You have a very nice blog. Kudos!


Beach Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beach Bum said...

American workers are ground down by corporations who have disempowered them, used them, and have now discarded them.

That to me is the most chilling. I hardly ever hear the term "American citizen" anymore. But if I think about it citizenship implies responsibilities and duties which might cause an issue with those trying to mold society to their wishes.

Far more common is the term "American Consumer" which to me implies a population oblivious to what is being done to them in broad daylight. I could go on because this stuff is starting to get really Orwellian with my favorite little saying from 1984: Proles and animals are free.

1984, Chapter seven
Winston carries on writing in his diary with dedicated if apprehensive zeal. He knows that if once the “proles” rose up in rebellion, the Party could not survive. But the “proles” seemed incapable of organizing themselves into any concrete entity. All their immense energy was dissipated in trivial grievances; they had no concern to expend on larger issues.

Throw in a few reality television shows, Jerry Springer and his broadcast kinfolk, and the entertainment news shows with all the gossip and the banal antics of celebrities and I'm about to write the national anthem for Oceania.