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The Obama Brand: Feel Good While Overlords Loot the Treasury and Launch Imperial Wars

Brand Obama makes us hopeful. We like our president and we believe he's like us. But we're being duped into doing a lot of things that are not in our interest.

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According to C. Wright Mills, "The professional celebrity, male and female, is the crowning result of the star system of a society that makes a fetish of competition." Mills added:

In America, this system is carried to the point where a man who can knock a small white ball into a series of holes in the ground with more efficiency and skill than anyone else thereby gains access to the President of the United States. It is carried to the point where a chattering radio and television entertainer becomes the hunting chum of leading industrial executives, cabinet members, and the higher military. It does not seem to matter what the man is the very best at; so long as he has won out in competition over all others, he is celebrated. Then, a second feature of the star system begins to work: all the stars of any other sphere of endeavor or position are drawn toward the new star and he toward them. The success, the champion, accordingly, is one who mingles freely with other champions to populate the world of the celebrity.

 

Degradation as entertainment is the squalid underside to the glamour of celebrity culture. "If only that were me," we sigh, as we gaze at the wealthy, glimmering stars on the red carpet. But we are as transfixed by the inverse of celebrity culture, by the spectacle of humiliation and debasement that characterizes tabloid television shows such as The Jerry Springer Show and The Howard Stern Show. We secretly exult, "At least that's not me." It is the glee of cruelty with impunity, the same impulse that drove crowds to the Roman Colosseum, to the pillory and the stocks, to public hangings, and to traveling freak shows.

Celebrity is the vehicle used by a corporate society to sell us these branded commodities, most of which we do not need. Celebrities humanize commercial commodities. They present the familiar and comforting face of the corporate state. Supermodel Paulina Porizkova, on an episode of America's Next Top Model, gushes to a group of aspiring young models, "Our job as models is to sell." But they peddle a fake intimacy and a fantasy. The commercial "personalizing" of the world involves oversimplification, distraction, and gross distortion. "We sink further into a dream of an unconsciously intimate world in which not only may a cat look at a king but a king is really a cat underneath, and all the great power-figures Honest Joes at heart," Richard Hoggart warned in The Uses of Literacy. We do not learn more about Barack Obama by knowing what dog he has bought for his daughters or if he still smokes. This personalized trivia, passed off as news, diverts us from reality.

In his book Celebrity, Chris Rojeck calls celebrity culture "the cult of distraction that valorizes the superficial, the gaudy, the domination of commodity culture." He goes further:

Capitalism originally sought to police play and pleasure, because any attempt to replace work as the central life interest threatened the economic survival of the system. The family, the state, and religion engendered a variety of patterns of moral regulation to control desire and ensure compliance with the system of production. However, as capitalism developed, consumer culture and leisure time expanded. The principles that operated to repress the individual in the workplace and the home were extended to the shopping mall and recreational activity. The entertainment industry and consumer culture produced what Herbert Marcuse called ‘repressive desublimation.' Through this process individuals unwittingly subscribed to the degraded version of humanity.

 
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