POP CULTURE: Better Celebrities – Free Ebook

Serious people are used to thinking badly of celebrity culture. They hate how everyone wants to read about where the latest big name has been on holiday, or who they’re dating. They say it’s silly and a sad reflection of modern civilization. Such stern attitudes may sound sensible and noble, but they are in truth deeply irresponsible. The impulse to admire and have heroes is an important part of human nature. Ignoring it or condemning it won’t kill it off; it simply forces it underground where it lurks undeveloped, prone to latch onto inappropriate targets. Human beings need role models. We therefore shouldn’t try to eradicate celebrity culture– we need to improve it: bringing a better kind of person to the fore of public consciousness; we need better celebrities, rather than no celebrities. Alexander Lukashenko is a rather evil dictator of Belarus, but this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care, in a way, about making his country a better place. Recently, he’s run a nationwide competition to find a raft of new celebrities. Elena is very good at milking cows. On her best-ever day, she pumped over 1,100 liters from the herd into the tanks. And recently, her prowess has been recognized by the government of Belarus. She is being named officially, ‘The Best Milkmaid’ of the Slutsk region, which lies just south of the capital, Minsk. It’s like winning a major talent competition on TV in the west. Elena traveled to the capital to pick up an award from the president himself. She’s been in all the papers. Sasha, too, has been on it. He held the 2015 title of ‘Best Welder of the Republic’. All countries, of course, stage competitions. We regularly award prizes for excellence at long jump, or throwing darts at a board. These things are recreational, though, rather than focused on jobs or the ordinary activities of everyday life. In Belarus, the ambition is quite different. Elena and Sasha are national celebrities, the equivalent of hosts of TV chat shows, supermodels and tycoons in other countries. They are seen as embodying ideals, to which we should all aspire. Meanwhile, young couples are encouraged to revere the example set by two other prize winners: Natalia and Conan, who’ve been awarded the prize for Belarus’ ‘Best Couple in Love’. The awards handed out in Belarus are not ashamed to stress the virtues of very ordinary people. The winners become famous, but don’t look at all the way we’ve come to think that famous people should. Most people in the UK or Germany don’t look sufficiently smart or fashionable to be able to become famous in those countries. But Belarus has focused entirely on how good a person is at doing something basic and useful, like bringing up a family, working in a dairy, or helping make tractors. These are the country’s only criteria of fame. It’s very unfortunate if we associate these kinds of awards, which bestow celebrity status for excellence in ordinary things, with an Eastern-European dictator and his oppressive regime. In fact, the good idea behind these awards is universal. It belongs as much, in fact more so, in liberal states. The core point is that a lot of things we should care about and need to take seriously are not currently well-treated by the media machine that creates celebrity culture. But that’s no reason to despair over the idea of celebrity. We should take more seriously the task of creating good celebrities– good in the sense that one would be honoring people who demonstrate, with particular clarity, virtues that need to be more common in society. As part of this new venture to create better celebrities, one might, for example, set out prizes for: the introvert who most successfully managed to communicate what he/she felt to their partner, the child who most generously forgave their parents, the worker who most intelligently diffused in fighting at the office, and, perhaps the biggest prize of all, the husband who best learned to control his temper and say sorry. We don’t need to stop having celebrities– we just need to put some slightly more helpful ones in front of our eyes.

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