This post on the Ten Commandments and contemplating their alternatives hits the issue of closed minds on the button. Structure, even spurious structure, is often manifestly priceless. History is full of examples where someone who is capable of offering such structure is judged not on the intrinsic merits of their beast but, rather, on its ability to provide societal comfort in times of crisis.
Meanwhile, a comment on Chris’s post today truly hit home, and reminded me of uni. Whilst the former describes how celebrity culture is anything but a meritocracy, that – indeed – the free market rewards not the deserving but the noticed, and furthermore argues that …
[...] Everyone loves to gossip. A few decades ago, they did so like Cissie and Ada, about neighbours and acquaintances. In our more atomized society, though, this is less possible. So we gossip about celebrities instead.
… the latter suggests that:
This is the whole reason why soaps exist. You can gossip about them at work.
Chris also observes accurately (the bold is mine):
[..] All – like many former MPs – are using the celebrity or notoriety obtained in one sphere to make money in another. Many people, such as Katie Price orPippa Middleton, make a life of this. Celebrity is a general purpose technology.
And that, in reality, is where we’re at. Celebrity is a simple tool to generate wealth. Like many tools, like many technologies, it is transferable: transferable from one area to another with relative ease, especially when you’ve cottoned on to the whole concept of transferability. The free market – Western civilisation in the round – operates not to reward worth or utility but, instead, those individuals and organisations who understand how to sustain and maximise their existing advantage.
Or does it?
There is, surely, another point of view which bears uncovering here. Celebrity – and here I mean things like people who are famous for being famous, people who are famous for actually being quite good in their field, people who are notably something (whether clever, stupid, physically attractive or particularly disagreeable), people who occupy important roles, people who occupy private spaces which become public (especially against their will) … anyone and everyone who registers on the surface of media irascibility – does actually provide a considerable service to humankind. In a randomising chaotic universe, celebrity provides us with structure. From the grandfather who opens his sports paper every morning in order to meet up again with a characterful stage of regular actors to the stay-at-home parent who watches a daytime TV punctured by regular crazinesses to the businessperson with a permanently connected stock-market app … all of these are processes with a purpose much greater than their apparent/alleged utility: they help us believe we can make sense of the senseless by providing us with patterns which manfully – and womanfully – repeat and resolve.
Yes. Soap operas do allow us to gossip daily about something. But, in truth, the purpose of gossip is noble: it gives us a basis for giving shape to our surroundings.
In that sense, celebrity equals utility squared. Gossip being its visible manifestation, its medium if you like, its paintbrush perhaps, celebrity is the engine of structure in our media-organised world.
The free market may be rightfully accused of not creating the conditions for planet-saving meritocracy. But in no way can its most visible components be accused of not satisfying serious needs – needs that all human beings, occupying randomised slots in universally bemusing situations, are inevitably going to exhibit and want supplying.