Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Cult of Celebrity...
(Note: this commentary also appears on

I was watching Fox News this afternoon and saw something that always makes me laugh. John Kerry was campaigning this fine day in Wisconsin, and standing right there, singing to get out the Kerry vote, was Bruce Springsteen.

Now, I found this funny for a slew of reasons:

1. I do not know the depth or breadth of Mr. Springsteen's political accumen, but I'm pretty positive you could write everything he knows about politics on a matchbook cover. I know where Bruce would stand on nationalised health care, for example (I can afford better, leave me out of it!), and I can make a fairly accurate guess as to how he stands on foreign policy (keep me from being blown up, but don't expect me to fight). So, why was Bruce singing for Kerry today? One the wone hand, it's face time, which in marketing terms means millions of buck, especially when he's seen fronting for a man who seems to command the attention of tens of millions. Perhaps some of that attention rubs off on Springsteen and he makes a few extra bucks. Fine. That's capitalism at work. Then again, Springsteen in Wisconsin makes as much sense as gunpowder in baby formula, so there must have been a hidden message: New Jersey, I care about your votes, but can't get there to actually campaign, but THE MOST FAMOUS-EST of New Jersey-ians is with me! Be like Bruce!

In the end, it's all marketing.

2. The continued love affair Americans have for their celebrities is still mystifying to me. Yes, Bruce Springsteen has infinitely more musical talent than I ever will or could ever hope for, but because he's a famous musician doesn't mean he can formulate tax policy, or that he can broker a nuclear agreement with North Korea. We have this silly notion here in America that because someone has attained fame, he/she MUST be a well-rounded, all-knowing individual whose opinions mean much more than anyone elses. This is certainnly not true, as one listen to Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo or Alec Baldwin will attest to.

Again, it's all marketing.

3. When Bruce Springsteen came to national prominence, it was during the Regan administration and was launched by a song entitled "Born in the USA". It was catchy tune that dealt with the disaffection and unemployment of a Vietnam vet and the country which seemed to not notice how bad life was for him. Not exactly a conservative view of life, but since Reagan had already started the "Morning in America" rebirth, the tune came along at the right time. The conditions were right for Bruce Springsteen to vault up the charts and make a ton of money singing about the bad side of America because all we heard was "Born in the USA", thanks to the Gipper.

Marketing pure and simple, and by the way, I do NOT mean to imply that Springsteen would not have been a success without Reagan. Only that the tone had been set in this country that made us receptive to that sort of tune, or at least to the refrain.

Now, Marketing is a very important thing, to be sure, when you have something to sell. Everyday, people see Shaquille O'Neill, Derek Jeter, Michael Vick, Tiger Woods and Mike Modano hawking everything from sports drinks to automobiles to hockey sticks to rap albums, and there are millions of people who admire their athletic talent enough to want to emulate them, and so they buy the products they've attached their name and faces to. Fair enough.
Supermodels flood the airwaves with commercials selling cosmetics, perfumes, excercise equipment, clothing and lingerie. Again, fair enough. Enough women admire something about how these gals look and dress that triggers envy or admiration, just like sports figures do for men. As a result, tons of cosmetics, perfumes, and clothing get sold.

Ed McMahon hawks magazine subscriptions, Alec Trebek sells insurance, BB King sells diabteic monitoring supplies. In the area of pushing goods and sevices to the American public, a celebrity endorsement is worth it's weight in gold. It's effective marketing.

But we're talking politics here. We're not discussing a hair spray, a dishwasher or a car --- we're discussing the policies and personalities that will affect our way of life in this country. That is a toatally different ballgame.

Bruce Springsteen might be a great musician, but that doesn't make his opinion worth more than yours. Ahhh-nold may have become governor of California, but that doesn't mean he's a political genious (although I will say this about Austrians, they seem to have the ability to always give a rousing speech!), even if I agree with him.

On the other hand, there are celebrities out there who are engaged in what we might consider tertiary political activities that do not advocate on behalf of a candidate or policy. P. Diddy, for all the nonsense I believe he stands for otherwise, is running a very effective voter registration program entitled "Vote of Die", which seems a little extreme, but at least it has a worthy goal.He doesn't endorse any candidate.

Gary Sinsise (one of the finest actors alive, in my opinion) is running a charity which supplies Iraqi schoolchildren with pencils and notebooks and assorted sundries. Again, no advocacy of a policy or candidate, just a worthy goal, and a true humaitarian effort.

But in the final analysis, if you make your most important decisions by what gets written in People magazine or what someone says during a halftime show, then you have a serious problem. You've given up the right, and the process, of individual thinking and are willing to have your life dictated by someone you'd like to be, or to meet, but in all likelihood never will. There's a disconnect that often comes with fame, and for a lot of people who have it, there's an egoism involved too -- the ability to effect the mores, habits and thoughts of millions can have that affect on a person.

It doesn't mean they're right. It doesn't mean they're wiser than the typical person in the street. When it comes to your politics, that's a decision you need to make for yourself, BY YOURSELF.
With no outside influences, you have to sift throught the information, the statistics, the policies and the bullshit and figure out for yourself what your individual core beliefs are. Bruce, or any other celebrity, ain't gonna help you do that. John Kerry is not selling consumer products, he's pushing a political agenda and the methods used to sell toothpaste don't exactly translate well in this arena. Remember that before you pull the lever next week because Bruce told you to.

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