When I was younger I had a really big problem with famous people. It wasn’t that any of them had done anything in particular to me or someone close to me. It just really pissed me off that there were people who got tremendous amounts of money for their jobs. And did I mention attention. I think at the heart of it what really got to me was that large portions of the population were following every move that rockstars or actors or sports figures made. Names like Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, etc… These are the names of people who were born and will die just like you and I, but for one reason or another they have risen to a level of prominence in our society. Now it would be really easy for me to turn this into a rant about how we pay grown men money equal to the GPD of some countries to play a game or how there are people who are literally only famous for being famous, but instead I want to take a different tack and talk about why our society needs people like Kanye West, Peyton Manning, and the Kardashians. Why, you ask, do I even care? I think part of it is for me to understand not just why celebs drive me nuts, I know that part pretty well, but to also ponder why they are useful to life, the universe, and everything.
Since the beginning of human civilization, at least as far as I’m aware, there have always been people who society values for their skills. I would guess that when man first started forming into groups, the people who were most valued were probably the best hunters or the biggest and strongest, but was there such a thing as a caveman standup comic? If we look at the value of commodities, and exclude supply and demand for a moment, we find that the more an item fulfills a societal need, the more it is worth…unless you’re talking about jewelry, but that’s a whole different discussion that will probably lose me the female portion of my readership :-). So if we’re willing to pay actors and actresses a king’s ransom to just appear on a screen and read words that someone else has written, they must be fulfilling a need that society has. My opinion, and I assume you want it because you’re reading my words, is that celebrities fill the need that society has for entertainment, which oddly enough would probably put them in the same category with Roman gladiators…I would totally pay money to watch the latest batch of American Idol contestants go at each other ala Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
I also think that the need is greater or deeper or more important than just entertainment. Take the ubiquitous singing contest reality show. Is it that we just like their singing and like making fun of the people who can’t or is it that a part of us can’t help but cheer for the nobody who, through their own efforts, becomes a somebody. On some level, maybe it gives us hope that we too may someday be recognized by society at large for our brilliance.
Then we have the obsession with celebrity gossip. There is definitely a schadenfreude aspect where we find humor in other’s misfortune, but to me, that doesn’t paint the whole picture. For Mr. and Mrs. America who work forty plus hours a week with only a couple of weeks off a year, I think celebrities allow the average person to live vicariously through others. What would it be like to name my kid something totally asinine? I don’t know, but Kim and Kanye named their child North West. What would happen if I won a ton of money playing a sport and then had lots of extra-marital sex? Could I get people to believe that I had a sex addiction? I don’t know. Let’s ask Tiger.
In the end, famous people are a necessary part of society, both for the service they provide with their careers and for the other benefits they provide through the craziness of their lives. So I’d live to give the nine bows of gratitude to all those people who for better or worse, put themselves in the public’s eye for the benefit of all of us…whether they realize it or not.