The Democratising Potential of Celebrity and Cosmopolitan Solidarity
The role celebrities play in promoting cosmopolitan values over communitarian tribalism was highlighted in the recent presidential inauguration of Donald Trump which was shunned by many A-list celebrities. This was contrasted with the widespread support for anti-Trump rallies like Alec Baldwin’s.
Trump’s communitarian, tribal and divisive America first campaign strategy which was an affront to outsiders didn’t vibe well with many celebrities cosmopolitan sensibilities. This othering of outsiders struck an empathetic chord with those celebrities whose purpose, as we shall see, involves forging cosmopolitan solidarity of tolerance and accepted difference. In this fashion, celebrity culture can potentially provide a safe space for belonging, a secular faith and path out of divisive tribalism.
Cosmopolitanism refers to having a world-centric citizenship outlook which can transcend and include national or ethnic identification (Identity and Cosmopolitanism with Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2015). The idea dates back at least to the Greek Stoics where Diogenes regarded himself as a cosmopolitan. Diogenes coined the compound word to escape entrapment and he derived from the word ‘cosmos’ meaning the world and ‘polis’ meaning a self-governing political entity.
The article Matt Damon: a cosmopolitan hero for the mainstream in Celebrity Studies explores how Damon has constructed his celebrity persona as the embodiment of cosmopolitism (Azcona-Montoliu, 2018). The study linked Damon’s performance in Elysium (2013) to Immanuel Kant’s premonition of a world which would ‘eventually produce a cosmopolitan condition and social order that would also be the guarantor of perpetual peace’ (cited in Azcona-Montoliu, 2018 p. 2). What was found was that beyond the re-emergence of anti-cosmopolitan nationalist and religious fundamentalist forces, cosmopolitan solidarity remains a key binding and connecting force which informs the ‘tapestry of contemporary society’ and Damon’s career (Azcona-Montoliu, 2018 p. 2).
The examination begins with the film Elysium (2013) where Damon’s character makes the seemingly unbreachable border between the planet Elysium and the Earth disappear thus granting world citizenship, equal rights, and equal civic status to all human beings in line with cosmopolitan ideals.
The constant crossing of borders is then extended to Damon’s Bourne franchise. In Invictus (2009), Damon tackles openness to difference in playing the rugby player who assisted Nelson Mandela’s dream of acceptance of the other. Invictus is shown as a celebration of a type of transcendent nationalism imbued with Appiah’s rooted cosmopolitism. In the more recent films, The Great Wall (2016) and Downsizing (2017), cosmopolitan environmentalism play a key part.
While Damon’s performances revolve around taking in the varying world-centric perspectives off screen, he is also involved in numerous projects which constitute a cosmopolitan worldview. He founded the non-governmental organisation H2O in Africa to assist with the water crisis and associates himself with scores of other-minded projects. While there is debate over whether this type of work is ultimately serving capitalism and the image of the star more than the people it purports to help, it is clear this type of work has increasingly become all in a day’s work for the average Hollywood star and celebrity. It highlights the extent to which celebrities at least exist to represent a cosmopolitan worldview in an increasingly interconnected world.
As literal captains of their own ship, the crowdfunded Youtube sensation Sailing La Vagabond also offer a refreshing independent alternative to the pressures of neo-liberalism in displaying cosmopolitan principles.
The crew of Sailing La Vagabond for example, severely criticised the cruise ship industry after they were approached to promote their products (CRUISE SHIPS. 7 Reasons NOT to go! 2018). Their success as counter-hegemonic broadcasters shows how personal fame has become democratised and made independent of traditional gatekeepers making more diverse modes of representation financially viable. Their Patreon site alone revealed the Australian team earn more than 15 thousand dollars (USD) an episode which are each viewed in the hundreds of thousands (Patreon / Sailing La Vagabonde 2019).
Cosmopolitism, more than establishing universal rights globally, prescribes an inter-cultural openness and inclusiveness and asserts individuals have equal rights and obligations towards each other. Moreover, Kwame Appiah’s principles of ‘rooted cosmopolitism’ does not diminish one’s immediate connections but extends obligations to people who live in very different ways than we do and from very different backgrounds which we may not like or agree with (Identity and Cosmopolitanism with Kwame Anthony Appiah 2015). For a liberal like John Stuart Mill, this provided the conditions to flourish in this new environment because of the diversity it allowed. In ‘On Liberty’ Mill compared how different animals flourished in different moral and cultural environments in which to grow into their full moral and mental potential or in terms of their level of happiness (in Potter 2010).
The Pauline Hanson trope of ‘I don’t like it’ becomes irrelevant because likening it isn’t part of the deal. Appiah’s conception of rooted cosmopolitism is different to the moral relativism in which Hanson or Trump are afforded an equal place at the table, and it’s why they work hard to discredit those that are fleeing persecution, rootless, or different. Rooted cosmopolitanism offers a type of belonging which is solidified through the collective effervescence of celebrity culture which provides an elixir to the perceived modern malady of seeming isolated in an ever-connected world and it has been evolving for centuries.
Rojek (in Redmond & Holmes 2007) observed collective effervescence as the binding material available through the ubiquity of ‘post-God’ celebrity as the mainstay of organising recognition and belonging in today’s secular society. This ‘substantial convergence between religion and consumer culture’ is said to provide the source materials, codes, scripts and prompts through which we construct our cultural relations and is the contemporary ‘lynchpin of belonging’ (in Redmond & Holmes 2007). Not all star and celebrity ethical allegiances lay foremost with the cosmos, but it does offer a way of identifying and belonging to something bigger than oneself which is comparable to religion.
The History of Consumerism (2016) reveals how the conditions of modernity necessitated the cosmopolitan response.
The world’s first consumer revolution occurred during a time of massive change in the 18th century and provided the building blocks of celebrity culture. At this time, the economic track ‘The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits’ by Bernard Mandeville, was also having a profound influence. In contrast to churches warnings of moral decay, sinfulness and the vanity of people caring more about fripperies than the state of their soul, Mandeville insisted the consumer revolution could help governments achieve the social and equality outcomes that the church couldn’t because it was slavery to consumption that made countries rich and safe. Mandeville presented a good case for consumerism by insisting a nation could either indulge in the fripperies of idle consumption to become wealthy or be high minded, spiritually elevated, intellectually refined and terribly poor.
The new modern consumerist economic orthodoxy created as a result was also not accepted by the Genevan philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was nostalgic for the simpler way of life he remembered from the alpine villages of his childhood and native villages he had read about. His solution was to close the borders and introduce high taxes on luxury goods. Rousseau agreed with Mandeville’s hypothesis and chose virtue and poverty over wealth (The History of Consumerism, 2016). In many respects, these two perspectives have dominated ever since in debates about capitalism versus communism, free markets versus environmentalism, or authenticity versus celebrity culture. For Potter (2010), society started to have second thoughts and for many, cosmopolitism has become anathema, an enemy of authenticity.
The ironic situation that emerged was that the good done in combating things like racism and aristocracy were undone in attempting to wind back the clock with coming into vogue of ‘local and particular loyalties… out of fears that things were moving too fast’ by so-called progressives and conservatives alike. (2010, p. 209).
Potter (2010, p 12) claims in the tradition of Rousseau the rise of communitarian authenticity status seeking, in contrast to cosmopolitanism, as a type of fetishization of the premodern in a world where religion and successor ideals of as ‘aristocracy, community, and nationalism- have been dissolved in the acid of science, technology, capitalism, and liquid democracy’. When we hear someone like Trump talking about bringing back what is lost and using quasi-biblical jargon of lost unity, wholeness and harmony he is tapping into these sentiments of the authenticity-seeking quest to restore the lost unity.
The conditions of modernity not only allowed individual consumerism to flourish, but it also had a profound effect on democratising the church. With the Reformation, one’s relationship with God was less mediated through the church. Martin Luther’s opposition to individuals having to pay indulgences or money which as said to take away sins for forgiveness by the clergy and allow entry into heaven was a concern. The removal of these began the separation of church and state and ushered in a new liberal democratic separation of church and state. The viral popularity of his 95 Thesis, which was reproduced on the printing press and spread rapidly throughout Europe highlights this change.
Adams Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ encouraged a type of trade of high mindedness and wrote about an economy of books and higher education that would go beyond simply providing material possessions but provide for a higher sense of happiness. It shows how we need not go to war against capitalism celebrities, and our media and entertainment industries to progress.
Stars and celebrities as brands are reminders of the true cosmopolitan trading societies of the Middle East or Africa before pre-modern central currencies and their entrapments were introduced. The bazaars which were anything but homogenised and were where the differences of the diverse buyers and sellers were tolerated, accepted and even celebrated. Celebrity culture is nuanced and for every cosmopolitan adventurer, there is a banal, narcissistic, bemoaning, tantrum-prone, communitarian shock-jock trashing celebrity culture to enhance their status.
Cashmere (2012) describes those who are disenchanted and despise celebrity culture as ‘agnostics’ on the fandom parasocial interaction scale and contrasts this with embracing celebrities and for immersing oneself in ‘self-defined relationships’ seeking to adopt perceived attributes which can lead to powerful forms of personal and social and transformation to reconstruct their own ‘attitudes, values, and behaviours’ through the people they admire. Boorstin who wrote The Image in 1961 in a time of great upheaval and social change as the Madmen Madison Avenue were overtaking reality is a great example of this pessimism. Boorstin was a conservative who referred to celebrities as ‘famous for being famous’ and talked of ‘pseudo-events’ which were over dramatized media spectacles.
But as Douglas Rushkoff (2011) pointed out Boorstin’s pessimism in the preface in the 50th-anniversary edition of The Image which well sums up its legacy. Rushkoff wrote that he failed to see how the media do not act independently of other media institutions and the ecologies from which they emerged and saw humanity as being programmed. He also failed to see the opportunities extent to which the emergence of peer-to-peer networking technologies might eventually challenge the pre-eminence of the image factory from which he recoiled (2011, p.1).
Fame has historically played a role in distinguishing the individual within or against society with the effect of evoking condemnation, praise or ambivalence. Leo Braudy noted in The Dream of Acceptability that fame has, since 8th century Athens, been a way of ‘expressing the legitimacy of the individual’ that ‘mingles one’s acceptance of oneself with the desire for others (or the Other) to recognize that one is special’ (2007, p.181). The resulting tensions are what have kept gentle hum of democracy progressing as individuals stake their claim to fame amid the counterclaims. However, in today’s feudal society, monopolistic, scorched earth, growth orientated tech giants and media magnates scour the wasteland in oligarchic relationships with neo-liberal governments desperately seeking new ways of colonizing our minds, attention, and reversing these democratising effects achieved (Rushkoff, 2019).
The transformation of capitalism to one focused on higher needs has been an important role of celebrities as image makers since society emerged from the pre-modern era of feudal overlords and oligarchs and one not without challenges. While consumption clearly won, some argue Rousseau’s ghost lingers on in that this has left humanity with a sense that we are a fallen people creating an anti-modern ‘authenticity’ movement. Celebrity cosmopolitanism solidarity remains the glue that can pull us through and a celebrity cosmopolitanism that maintains a place for the human soul is a part of this.
Where Cosmopolitism mingles with easter religions things become especially interesting;
Bear Reads Ekheart Tolle Fame
Ego and Fame
The well-known phenomenon of name dropping, the casual mention of who you know is part of the Egos strategy of gaining a superior identity in the eyes of others and therefore in its own eyes by association with someone important. The bane of being famous in this world is that who you are becomes obscured by a mental image. Most people you meet want to enhance their identity, the mental image of who they are through association with you. They themselves may not notice they are not interested in you at all, but in strengthening their ultimately fictitious sense of self. They are looking to complete themselves through you, or rather through the mental image they have of you as a famous person – a larger than life conceptual identity. The absurd overvaluation of fame is one of the many manifestations of egoic madness in our world. Some famous people fall into the same error and identify with the collective fiction. The image people ???? and the media have create around them and they begin to see themselves as superior to ordinary mortals.
As a result, they become more and more alienated from themselves and others. More and more unhappy, more and more dependent on their continuing popularity surrounded by people who feed their inflated self-image. They become incapable of genuine relationships.
A genuine relationship is one that is not dominated by the ego which is image making and self-seeking. In a genuine relationship there is an outward flow of open alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever. That alert attention is called presence and it is the prerequisite for any authentic relationship
The bane of being famous in this world becomes obscured
the NEED for Acceptance Will Make You INVISIBLE – Jim Carrey
Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory because ultimately, we are not the avatars we create, we are not the pictures on the film stock, we are the light that shines through. All else is just smoke and mirrors; distracting but not truly compelling. I have often said, that I wish people could realise all their wealth and dreams and and fame because it’s not where you are going to find your sense of completion. Like many of you I was concerned about going out into the world and doing something bigger than myself until someone smarter than myself made me realise that there is nothing bigger than myself. As that shift happens in you, you won’t be felling the world, you will be felt by it you will be embraced by it.
… the ego tries to trap you in the multiplex of the mind. Our eyes are not viewers they are also projectors that are running a second story over the picture that we see in front of us all the time. Fear is running that script and the working title is I’ll never be enough. The ego will tell you it will never be enough. You cannot stop until you have left an indelible mark on the earth – until you have achieved immortality.
Perceive challenges as opportunities and deal with them in the most productive way. And why not take a chance on faith as well, not religion but faith, not hope but faith.
You will only ever have two choices love or fear. Choose love. And don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.
The ego will tell you cannot stop until you have left an indelible mark on the Earth
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Potter, A 2010, The authenticity hoax: How we get lost ﬁnding ourselves, Harper, New York.
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Rushkoff, D 2019, Team Human Podcast Series. retrieved 01 February 2019 from <https://teamhuman.fm/>.
Lately I have been thinking about the authentic cosmopolitan religion celebrities embrace.