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Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

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Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Nicky80 on Mon Oct 27 2014, 19:29

Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?


Just because someone is good at acting or sport, why should we care about their opinions on foreign policy, the environment or healthcare, asks Alex Proud

The recent week-long celeb-fest that was George Clooney’s wedding made me feel sicker than usual.
 
This may seem odd, but I don’t actually dislike George Clooney. He seems a decent guy, hasn’t forgotten his roots, only whores himself to Nespresso in order to pay for a spy satellite to keep tabs on atrocities in Sudan...and if they want him to be president, he’s better looking, brighter and has more palatable politics than Reagan.
 
But this is the point: I don’t want him to be president. I want him to be a good actor. And while I probably agree with many of his political views, I don’t want to hear them. When I’m ill, I go to a doctor. When I want my car fixed I’ll go to a mechanic. When I want a view on the current situation on Iraq or Syria I’ll look for an interview with a diplomat or an academic. When I want to know whether or not to get my child their jabs, I’ll ask an immunologist.

Yet on many of these topics, the media is very happy to offer celebrities a platform to air their views, no matter how nonsensical or shallow they are. I can think of at least a dozen famous folk who regularly use their “platforms” to tell us what they think about everything from MMR jabs to global warming to ISIS. To be fair, I haven’t heard much in the way of celebrity views on car maintenance, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
It wasn’t always this way. Back in Hollywood’s golden age, we had love at at distance – and a carefully managed distance at that. Of course, there were the gossip mags such as Confidential (portrayed as Hush-Hush in the film LA Confidential) and I suppose you could argue Marilyn Monroe was involved in politics inasmuch as she was probably shagging the president. But I’m pretty sure she never felt the need to offer her opinions on much beyond fluffy things like love and the perfect man which, as the world’s pre-eminent sex-symbol, were her area of expertise.

As the mystique of celebrities declined in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s, our "love" of A-listers (and even B, C, D and E-listers) became intrusive and feverish. Next time you go into the newsagents, look at those groaning shelves of technicolour hell. Soon you realise that, much as we joke about them, Heat, Now, and Closer are actually the respectable publications. Below them is a whole level of bottom feeding rags which make Hush-Hush look like the New Yorker. Here, the level of vulgar intrusiveness, especially for the talent-show-types for whom trashy exposés are their bread and butter – is nothing short of astonishing; it’s half Victorian freak show, half media studies course.

Strangely, I’m OK with the celebrity underclass. As I say, it’s horrendous and awful, probably beyond anything the dystopian sci-fi writers of the 70s could have imagined. Yet it’s also pretty circumscribed. You’re briefly elevated out of the actual underclass. Chances are you’ll be right back there in six months, but if you’re very lucky, you might get three years as cannon fodder for reality TV or the aforementioned mags. Of course, the dream is becoming Cheryl and, in my weaker moments, I sometimes wonder if the contestants on X-Factor are a bit like modern-day gladiators fighting for their freedom...and then I slap myself and realise that, no, they’re not. Not at all.
I’m sure that dozens of theses have been written on the peculiar nature of the consenting exploitation of these wised-up rubes. But the whole thing is delineated enough to be ignorable if you try. Don’t watch the terrestrial channels on Friday and Saturday nights. Get your news from places like The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and the better broadsheets. Hark back the good old days when, in 1977, CBS news led with some arse-achingly dull item on the Panama Canal treaty before moving on to Elvis Presley’s death... The point is you can ignore the celebrity underclass because no-one takes them seriously or asks them about anything other than their latest three-in-a-bed-romp/ stupid feud/ oh-so-shocking coke scandal.

However, we do seem to have become interested in what proper celebrities have to say – and this is far more serious. In fact, to my mind, one of the most horrific developments of the 21st century has been the widespread acceptance of the notion that being good at acting/ sports/ pop music seems to mean the rest of us should listen to your opinions on Syria, Hugo Chavez or the plight of the Amazonian tribes. Or just child rearing, diet, or lifestyle. Or, for that matter, anything that isn’t whatever it is the celebrity in question is famous for being good at doing.
If I hear an actor critiquing a film or a play or telling me why a certain script is a work of genius, of course I’m interested. I might learn something. But Sean Penn and his various hobby horses? No thanks. There are literally thousands of people better qualified to comment than he is. Angelina Jolie on refugees? It’s great that she wants to support good causes. Me too. But I’m not sure why I am supposed to find the plight of displaced people any more or less poignant now that one of the world’s most beautiful women has given them a voice.
The list goes on. I don’t care about what Pamela Anderson thinks about animal rights and I couldn’t give a toss about Sir Paul’s views on vegetarianism. My lack of interest in Bono or Sting’s thoughts on literally anything at all is a thing of towering beauty. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors. Former soap stars in war zones (although I do quite enjoy Ross Kemp clowning around Afghanistan). Honorary degrees for the famous and pointless. Fashionistas whose absolutist moral stance against the evil of fur is as absolute as fashion. The list goes on and on and on and on.

Of course, many of these stars would all say this is terribly mean spirited. That they’re just getting “the message” out to a public who lack awareness. That they’re using their platforms to do some good. I sort of get this, but I don’t really buy it. I think it’s more the case that, having made tons of money entertaining people, at 42, you discover you want to be taken seriously too. And, hey, adopting a cause or having a position on Burma or the rapidly defrosting Arctic gives you that. Of course the media play their part too, because big star = more sales/ viewers/ hits, notwithstanding the celebrity in question being less well informed than your mate who gets tedious when he’s drunk.
The thing is, it’s about the devaluation of real expertise and the reduction of intelligent public discourse. It’s racing headlong towards some dumbed down future where The Economist is being guest-edited by Victoria Beckham. It’s part of the creepy pervasive stupidity that lets Tea Party and UKIP politics flourish because, let’s face it, if you’re listening to celebrities on global affairs, you’re not really asking the hard questions, are you?

Of course, with my business head on, I wonder how much money there could be in this. Do you think there might be a market for a current affairs magazine written entirely by celebrities? Also, it occurs that there are plenty of areas where celebrities have yet to make their mark. Physics for example. Right now, when the Large Hardon Collider spits out a cool new particle, they get a scientist to comment on it. Clearly this is a waste: scientists look dorky, they’re annoyingly nuanced and they don’t really connect with a wider audience. So, perhaps we could do a quick shot of the boffin in his lab, then cut away to Jedward who could tell us about their favourite quarks.
Seriously though, this is only about one step away from giving an actor five minutes to opine on some incredibly complex situation in the Middle East, something which happens with depressing regularity. In fact, it happens often enough that I sometimes find myself thinking that perhaps the time has come to give up on the west’s century-long experiment with mass-participation democracy.
This, incidentally, is why I quite like Kate Moss. She is (or at least appears to be) the one celebrity who has taken Mark Twain’s famous suggestion to heart: “It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” I’m pretty sure I have never heard Kate Moss offer an opinion on anything except “Nothing looks as good as skinny feels” and, on the subject of being thin and hot, she is an expert with an enviable body of work behind her.

Oddly, and unfairly, the whole celebrities-with-political-opinions thing doesn’t cut the other way. When politicians try to play sport (thank you, Ed Balls) and be down with the kids (William Hague at the Notting Hill Carnival: never forgotten) we think they’re idiots. Even Blair provoked plenty of snickers when he invited Oasis to Downing Street and back then there was a consensus that he was, at least, not uncool.
Yet when Simon Cowell gives us his political opinions (yes, the same Simon Cowell who admits to reading nothing and watching only cartoons) he gets acres of largely uncritical coverage. I love Cowell on X-Factor and that is because he is brilliant at producing utterly forgettable, manufactured, culturally worthless bubble-gum pop acts. But he’s not any good at anything else – and nor do I expect him to be. Next time the high-waisted fool offers some half-baked wibble about being a natural Tory, we should laugh him out of town. Or ignore him. It really would be better for him and better for us.
However, I suspect I’m in the minority with this view. Thomas Jefferson famously said that “the cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” Yet I don’t see much of that in Britain these days – and I see even less across the Atlantic, where I’m pretty confident that those who can name the entire Kardashian clan outnumber those who can name their Senators by 10-1. Unfortunately, you have to work with the world you have, not the world you’d like.

So, deep breath. When I see Miliband in action, I can just about buy the argument that at least some celebrity qualities are a good thing in a politician. Also, although Reagan was an amiable dunce, he was probably better than Bush I or II. And Clinton and Blair managed to do a pretty good job of straddling the politico-celeb divide, albeit from the other side, until they lost their balance. All of which brings us back to George Clooney. OK, I’m not really happy about it. But the moderate politics, the looks, the charm, the intellectual wife... As celebrity politicians go, it really could be a lot worse. So, reluctantly and speculatively, here’s my early endorsement: Clooney 2020.

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Nicky80
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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Katiedot on Tue Oct 28 2014, 19:02

The weird thing about this article is that George hasn't been all that outspoken about politics at all! He's got a lot to say on Sudan, but he's been there and knows his stuff.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Way2Old4Dis on Tue Oct 28 2014, 19:07

Yeah, it's just a good time to mention "Clooney" in your writing, no matter the subject. Or to write anything in which a "Clooney" line would seem appropriate.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by LizzyNY on Tue Oct 28 2014, 20:21

IMO the real problem is that some of our politicians know even less about some issues than the celebrities do. At least when George speaks up he takes the trouble to learn something about the issue first

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Joanna on Tue Oct 28 2014, 20:36

The article author wrote...."The recent week-long celeb-fest that was George Clooney’s wedding made me feel sicker than usual."

He needs to get his facts correct first.
Friday to Monday doesn't equal one week....
does it ?
Basketball

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by fava on Tue Oct 28 2014, 20:39

"The thing is, it’s about the devaluation of real expertise and the reduction of intelligent public discourse."  I do agree with this-- looking to celebrities for information on complex issues is a little strange. I am not talking about George.  Celebrities are entertainers and a lot of times it is very unclear where they are getting their info from, how deeply the have researched and if they are being fed info by someone who has an agenda.  For example, I will never understand why anyone would accept Stacy's endorsement of her cleanses when doctors and other nutritional experts argue against them.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Donnamarie on Tue Oct 28 2014, 21:19

I know that in the states a lot of younger people are apt to listen more to what a celebrity may say and take a stand with him/her on a subject than to listen and support a politician who may have similar views on the same issue. Politicians generally talk in partisan terms and their rhetoric can be really boring. Celebrities - the public can relate to them especially if it is someone they admire.

Look at the way people get their news. Mostly on the Internet from sources who lean either left or right and present news, especially political stories from their point of view. People read or watch news outlets that support the way they think. So they don't get all the factts necessarily.. And so much of our news is watered down and condensed. The public doesn't have the patience to really take the time to learn about certain issues. People are either not well informed or they are misinformed. At least I find that in the U.S.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by / on Tue Oct 28 2014, 21:32

I agree with you, Donnamarie. I'm from Europe and I think it's the same, maybe to a lesser degree but certainly celebrities are more appealing here as well. However, I do think it's sad that they have more influence just because everybody knows who they are, instead of someone who actually has expertise. As if all of these issues suddenly become more interesting when f.e. Angelina Jolie talks about them.

/
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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Maggy on Wed Oct 29 2014, 06:45

The masses fulfill their dreams through others, turning them into followers.

Only a handful are leaders and don't need celebrities to voice their opinion or define who they are.

(just thinking out loud)

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by LizzyNY on Wed Oct 29 2014, 12:18

Maggy - Agreed that "the masses" fulfill their dreams through others, but unless they have the desire or opportunity to lead they may not have the platform to get their voices heard. Thus they depend on others to speak for them. It doesn't mean they need someone else to define them - just someone else to voice their concerns.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Maggy on Wed Oct 29 2014, 15:31

Yes Lizzy, define.

For exsample: imitating hair styles, cloths, and the worst... physical attributes.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Maggy on Wed Oct 29 2014, 15:38

BTW, it could be a voice or defining.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by LizzyNY on Wed Oct 29 2014, 19:18

Maggy - I think we're talking about two different things here. Imitating clothes or hairstyles is superficial - wanting to be "in fashion" - and, IMO, doing things like getting surgery to look like a celebrity is immature or indicates huge insecurities. No matter how much you look like them you're not going to have their life.

 But following someone's beliefs because they are famous is another story.
No matter what field a celebrity comes from, if they can voice an informed opinion then they are worth paying attention to because they can make the issue better known than any private citizen ever could.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

Post by Donnamarie on Wed Oct 29 2014, 19:42

I think celebrities are far more involved in politics and causes in recent years more so than ever. People can question how genuine some of their motives are but it is far more commonplace. The good thing about that is what George has stated so many times. He can shine a light on what's going on. If you are a celebrity you already have built in PR and a potential platform. And to a segment of the population that person is far more interesting to listen to than a politician or an academic expert. Of course there are also many who still think Hollywood types should stick to what they know (acting/directing etc.) and leave politics and other important issues to those who are supposed experts on an issue or cause.

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Re: Why do we treat celebrities as experts on subjects that really matter?

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