Privilege and Prestige


Jack Gleeson, ex-actor (ex for reasons) and scholar of philosophy and theology, reports about 19 minutes and 50 seconds in the following video that 36% of a sample number of 600 adults are afflicted with Celebrity Worship Syndrome, citing a study done by the University of Leicester.

This study recognized a spectrum between admiration for a celebrity in the entertainment and social sphere as a mild form, an intense personal attachment to a celebrity in a medial form, and pathological in the extreme. Milder forms can become extreme with stress and upheaval.

While Gleeson could have spoken extensively about his personal experience, he takes a more bird’s eye perspective when he proposes that advancing media technology proliferated the recognizability and influence of public figures, incorporating Henderson’s societal and economic theory of celebrity, and Jamie Tiranne’s evolutionary psychology theory of celebrity.

“The truest form of charisma is one which receives these powers as a gift by virtue of a natural endowment (…) they may not possess the heroic qualities of a prophet, but as highly visible role models, they have become the object of imitation. Their publicized personality and individual qualities work as a form of quasi-charisma that gains people’s attention while setting them apart on a different echelon.”

Full transcript here.

I considered this breakdown of celebrity glamour fascinating, a way to distinguish too between cultural fanaticism and personal admiration.

My main thought, though, was that while this force of glamour is certainly minimized…is it absent when applied to other people as opposed to famous other people? I just have this inclination towards the idea that until/unless all of the distance and barriers between one subjective experience and another completely collapses into a singularity of understanding then it’s impossible to sincerely admire another person for a virtue that they would truly have. Until then, we’re all only projecting. This not only has a lot of unfortunate implications in terms of functioning in society, and taking emotional responsibility in relationships (or taking people to ask for being emotionally irresponsible in relationships), but also gets quite lonely.

Not that it’s either one or the other. I even wonder if it could be the in-between that generates the same process as the deification of heroes or the welcome haunting guidance of specific ancestors.

Changing gears, it comes off to me that fame is one of those dubious privileges. Conventionally-attractive people have it so much better than conventionally unattractive people, but they still suffer objectification, usually sexual objectification. Middle-class children are granted the privileges of shelter, clothing, food, medical care, and education but can still suffer undermining of their agency based on their age rather than their maturity. Famous people can reap a plethora of advantages provided by the immense attention granted to them, but can still suffer unwanted forms of that attention.

The privilege of fame, like economic privilege, is systemically mutable as an object but still subject to an awful system that can do irreparable and unnecessary damage. So, I’d consider this well worth examining, and contemplating, for the clarity it can provide the situation of or relationship between oneself, other people, and the world.

It’s not keystone of grand theory material, of course social justice causes aren’t generally set up to protect famous artists as a marginalized demographic, there’s no list out there teaching famous people how to trade on their privileges as allies to the underprivileged…everybody else, it would be—but it’s still an examination of power, and could be especially pertinent in spaces where critical analysis of entertainment is the most effective way to bring identity politics to awareness.

Sustainability of natural resources, legal and economic justice are (in my opinion) the keystones, but to truly know a people we must consider more the writers of the songs and stories than to the writers of the laws.

(Unless the laws interfere with the popular production of particular forms of songs and stories. I’m already misquoting, so these search engines won’t tell me who originally said the thing, and yeah, I didn’t think this all the way through, I just considered it incidentally interesting…)

2 comments on “Privilege and Prestige

  1. That was amazing. I listened to the whole thing. Some great sociology there! The irony being that I wouldn’t have watched it if it weren’t for a celebrity speaking. 😀


    • Faemon says:

      From this, I must agree: Gleeson really is amazing. When I heard him say that he wasn’t going to act after Game of Thrones because he wanted to “focus on his studies” I thought, oh, no, that’s child actor code for “suffering from fandom retrograde: when an audience punishes a real-life person for the actions and personality of a fictional character” especially common to condemn or harass the actor instead of, say, real life people who would be more responsible for that like the writers or directors (or, if it comes down to that, the casting agents!)

      Then I watched this and thought, ohh…so when he said that he would “focus on his studies” he meant that he would focus on his studies. Who knew? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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