Society’s Obsession with Celebrities

Society has become, incredibly, even more obsessed with celebrities than it used to be.

I do not follow celebrities of any sort (unless “Niels Bohr” counts as a celebrity,) and my TV viewing is limited almost entirely to documentaries and children’s media, yet against my will I know who the Kardashians are, the basic plot of Rick and Morty (the Atlantic of all magazines ran an article on the show), way too much about Linda Sarsour, what Alexandria Cortez wore to work today, and every single Trump fart.

This is all gossip, and gossip is a sin.

How can you tell if something is gossip:

  1. Are you talking about a conversation that happened between two other people, neither of whom are present? Then it’s probably gossip.
  2. If you deleted the names, would it still be an interesting story? If not, then it’s gossip.

Along with this increase in gossip has come an increase in demands for purity in one’s acquaintances. These arguments tend to go like this: “Linda Sarsour once talked to a guy who said a bad thing, therefore Linda Sarsour agrees with these bad things.” Even worse, people demand purity in the people merely near famous people or talking about them, eg, “This guy went to a conference where a white supremacist was also in attendance, so he deserves to lose his job,” or “An evil guy said he liked something this other person wrote, therefore the thing this person wrote is evil.”

All of this gossip is coupled with endless demands that you remember who these people are. “Ben Shapiro said blah blah blah!” I don’t know who that is, nor do I care. “OMG, did you hear the stupid thing Jordan B. Peterson said?” I truly don’t care. If you think JBP is stupid, don’t read him. “Wow, just wow, this mildly famous male feminist just got accused of doing something bad so we all need to rally the entire country around attacking him RIGHT NOW.”

I don’t know how people manage to care this much about minor celebrities. It’s all getting really old.

Stop with all the gossip. Evaluate an argument on its merits, not based on who said it.

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12 thoughts on “Society’s Obsession with Celebrities

  1. Your definition of sinful gossip seems to catch useful gossip too.

    Order Without Law heavily emphasizes the role of gossip as the first level of enforcement for social norms. When someone drives 40 cows through your land and your hay gets eaten, you let everyone else know that that happened. Harsher enforcement measures only come when lighter ones have failed.

    Gossip also serves to spread information that should be spread — if Sarah gossips to Mandy that Alice got gonorrhea from Jim, the story might be a little interesting with the names deleted, but nowhere near as interesting as it is with the names intact. Those names add interest because they add value — knowing that Jim will give you gonorrhea is relevant information for you.

    To take an actual example from a school where I worked, one student expressed once that he liked dating girls, but he couldn’t stay with one because he quickly gets tired of them. Another teacher was amused by this and asked a female student if she would date the boy in question. The response was “no, he’s so playboy”. How did the girl know this? Should she have?

    Public figures are people who embody social norms. Their actions set norms for their followers, and pretty much everyone worries about this. This makes them a natural focus for gossip.

    I see a tension between the idea that we should stop trying to enforce “purity” on strangers we don’t know, and the idea that we should think of ourselves as one big social group, Americans, as opposed to a lot of little groups who hate each other. (But who, as members of separate groups, have no obligation to follow the norms of other groups.)

    This comment has kind of gotten away from me as I was writing it. I don’t have a larger point I’m driving toward.

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    • Celebrity gossip is especially harmless since it provides vicarious thrills that would otherwise be pricey and dangerous, or socially intrusive.

      Hard to go broke and get a perforated septum when Artie Lange is snorting the coke for you.

      Even what seems like the most pathetic manifestation – old hens who hang on every detail about Harry and Meghan – is psychologically healthy compared to the alternative, which is them obsessing about us and our affairs.

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  2. We are evolved to care very much about the tribe surrounding us. That is, the 100 or so people that fit into our dunbar number. We gossip about them for sound evolutionary reasons.

    We are also programmed to conform to our tribe, in pretty much all matters of taste, morals, religion, prejudice, etc. Again, this is sound evolutionarily.

    Modernity, with its radical alienation and cosmopolitan rootlessness, as well as its ready-made TV pablum friends, fills up our tribe-shaped hole with strangers. This is unfortunate inasmuch as all of our tribal instincts are essentially pathological when filled by such strangers. Kim Kardashian will never know you, so it’s pointless to want to wear what she wears. And yet.

    It is a powerful tool for any state. You are god-king, and want to decrease fertility? Forbid TV from showing mothers except in negative ways. Sex and the City, ba-bee! Want to increase fertility? (Insane god-king.) Forbid TV from showing childless women except in negative ways. Require all on-air talent to have at least four children.

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    • Yes, but there is a strange aspect. When we were teenagers, the same way we believed we are tool cool for school, we also believed we are too cool for pop culture. That mass media is for the masses and we are somehow above it. And that also meant even in adulthood not consuming it much because not being in the habit. So this is what I don’t get. There are studies showing most average people tend to think they are above average. The easiest way to look and feel like a special snowflake is to turn up your nose at mass media and pretend to be a coinnosseur of something higher. So how comes most people accept the mass media? Effectively accepting with it that they are pretty average people.

      But wait, it gets better. There are groups of people who are known to think they are different from the masses. Nerds, for instance, who think they are smart. SJWs, for instance, who think society programs people for gender roles but they can see through that. And what do they do? Argue about Star Wars. How comes they don’t think Star Wars is for the proles and they are kinda above it? Seriously the phenomenon of a group of people who consider themselves somehow above others, smarter, more woke, and yet totally lapping up Hollywood stuff meant for mass consumption consumes me. Why don’t we see far more snobbery an thus less watching of pop media?

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      • Because of intelligence. Average people can’t help it, they succumb to the norm, no matter what they pretend. They don’t seek novelty, what the Big 5 calls “Openness” is simply not in their genes.

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      • >When we were teenagers, the same way we believed we are tool cool for school, we also believed we are too cool for pop culture.

        We did?
        I wasn’t cool and I knew I wasn’t cool.
        How does a teenager rise above pop culture, though? Most teenagers I’ve known seem perfectly happy watching movies instead of reading War and Peace.

        Let’s assume:
        1. People want to think of themselves as special or better than others in some way
        2. Most people, of course, are average
        3. Reading War and Peace instead of watching a popular movie is *hard*
        4. Accepting that you are average contradicts #1, so people don’t want to do it
        5. therefore, the easiest route is to tell yourself that the movies, music, etc. you consume really are better than everyone else’s, or else you appreciate them on a higher level than everyone else.

        Additionally, perhaps everyone is looking one level below themselves and thinking, “at least I’m not like them,” and technically, that’s true–they are smarter or better at x than people who are one level worse than themselves–even people who are themselves quite average.

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      • Also, special people often don’t even realize until much later that what they’re into is considered *hard* in some way. Winning the championship of how to have very few to zero friends/people that gets what one’s into is a telltale sign that something’s different about that person. Even the way you write “I wasn’t cool” instead of “we weren’t cool” kind of hints at that.

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  3. I can’t stand Rick and Morty because it lacks narrative boundaries; it’s all deus ex machina. Rick is a slobbering-drunk super-genius mad scientist with god-like abilities travel through space, time, and several other dimensions (e.g. to an alternate universe where dogs are the masters of men). The only thing he can’t do is impart wisdom to his dull-witted grandson Morty, to whom Rick’s adventures are an incomprehensible carnival of chaos.

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