Power and celebrity
by Mohsin Sufi
As someone who loves TV, the idea of celebrity has always fascinated me. So, the other day, while indulging in a cup of Earl Grey, I began thinking about the power that comes with celebrity status.
To understand the power of celebrity, we first must appreciate the celebrity spectrum. We can put celebrities into classifications and organisms to better understand the types of celebrities that exist today. At one end of the spectrum are the 'accidental celebrities' who rapidly shoot to fame at no fault of their own. This individual has no control over his/her image. A notable example is fourteen-year-old Danielle Bregoli, who rose to fame on Dr Phil for telling the audience "cash me outside, how about that", after they criticised her lifestyle and the way she treats her mum. People loved it and she's currently a phenomenon. Renowned American film critic, James Monaco, famously described this
type of fame as 'quasar' as "it is not what they are or what they do, but what we think they are that fascinates us." These sorts of individuals enjoy hyper visibility but also a short and unpredictable celebrity lifespan. They don't hold much power, however they can still be very influential.
Next, we have individuals on the other side of the scale to the 'quasar' celebrity; people who are famous for possessing political or religious power. Celebrities like Theresa May and the Pope, make decisions that could affect masses of people. Politicians may not be popular; however, they have legitimate power, which will compulsorily affect whichever country they direct.
Politics is endemic when trying to unravel the link between power and celebrity. There has been a major celebritisation of politics over the past two decades. Many politicians are public figures, who are known to the public. When it comes to legitimate powers, politicians possess lots, so in that sense they are powerful. Celebrities who are 'stars' can transition into political figures e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger and, of course, Donald Trump. Schwarzenegger, who is a former movie star, served two terms as the 38th Governor of California, and business mogul/ TV personality Donald Trump is the US president! The fact that someone who was first established as a movie or TV star can transition into a major position shows that celebrities can hold legitimate power as well as referent power.
Now politicians are being used as media tools and transitioning to stardom. Figures such as Barrack Obama have significant celebrity status among the younger generation. Politicians nowadays have become much more media savvy and celebrity-like compared to 'old' politicians, taking on TV debates and joining famous TV interviewers, which makes their campaigns and goals more noticeable. Obama's 2008 presidential campaign was based largely on his iconic celebrity status. He was popular amongst college students and young voters because of his ability to connect with them on various levels other than politics. Unlike many other politicians, he ingeniously used targeted media such as Facebook and Twitter to reach this audience.
There are also individuals who are natural celebrities through their innate qualities such as rappers, footballers and singers. These celebrities are of the more popular category among the public. Singers such as Justin Bieber and footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo have more of a following than some religions. James Monaco described these celebrities as 'the star'. The power a celebrity holds depends on what type of celebrity they are. Hilary Clinton may be a significant political figure, however if she endorsed a product, she's unlikely to have much success. Contrarily, Lionel Messi may not be able to change the law in Argentina, but if he endorsed a pair of football boots, he will influence many people to buy them. Even 'quasar' celebrities seek opportunities from their short celebrity lifespan, selling T-shirts and doing interviews while they are still significant.
Celebrities offer alternative forms of intimacy compared with the kind of familiarity family or religion can offer. Celebrities hold some sort of social function, which leads to a reliance of them being good citizens to set an example. As soon as a famous public figure like Tiger Woods cheats on his wife, the world is in uproar, but the fact of the matter is, affairs are a frequent and common thing. This shows us that celebrities hold other forms of power; power over our society and its people. The power to lead the public's thoughts on what is wrong and what is acceptable. Celebrities are not just individuals who are talented or interesting, they're also figures through whom individuals construct their own identity. Celebrity influence extends from what clothes to buy and how to cut your hair, to how to vote and how to conduct your life.
My sofa is now warm, and as I look down at the last drop of tea in my mug, I finally draw the conclusion that celebrities hold a substantial amount of power, however the type of power subscribed to them highly depends on their kind of status. And as quickly as that status is afforded to them, it can so easily and swiftly be taken away.