We are a culture obsessed with celebrities. A glance at the most digested news of many Americans would not show The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, but rather People Magazine or Sports Illustrated. Furthermore, the power of Americans to create celebrities is revealing towards the people that we choose to elevate to “super star” status. This kind of infatuation leads the rest of the world to believe that our capitol is Hollywood, not Washington D.C.
What are the consequences of a society like our own where the likes of Miley Cyrus and the Kardashian circus are the most celebrated and publicized figures in the United States?
We would argue that the consequences are grave, indeed: not only are we perverting our culture with the glamorization of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but we are also forming a negative world perception of the United States based on the things (and people) that we are endorsing and supporting.
In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Lee Siegel spoke to the increased vulgarity in American celebrity culture. Referring specifically to language used by the musicians that we elevate to hero status (think Madonna, Jay Z, Beyoncé). “Making public the permanent and leveling truths of our animal nature, through obscenity or evocations of sex, is one of democracy’s sacred energies… But we’ve lost the cleansing quality of “dirty” speech. Now it’s casual, boorish, smooth and corporate,” said Siegel.
What kind of message is the promotion of this kind of vulgar and immoral activity suggesting to our allies and enemies abroad?
When our only public portrayal of a “real” American family is the voyeuristic Kardashians or the dysfunctional Real Housewives franchise, we send a message to the world that this minority of ostentatious wealth and bad behavior is the norm in America.
And it does not stop there. Sexuality in America has become synonymous with identity – a value that is made evident to the world by the lack of censorship we demand from those in the public eye. In addition, we send a message to the world about what we value based on the emphasis that we place on exploiting both women and men in increasingly lewd displays of sex as entertainment.
From its (fairly) modest beginnings in 1964 to its raunchy release in 2013, Sports Illustrated’s “Swimsuit Issue” has become one of Time Warner’s top sellers, according to Forbes. The issue alone accounts for 7 percent of Sports Illustrated’s annual revenue. Likewise, the now-infamous graphic video for Miley Cryus’ “Wrecking Ball” has been viewed almost 400 million times, breaking VEVO’s 24-hour record, a feat that she also accomplished with her equally salacious “We Can’t Stop.”
These videos are accessible all over the world. When the only messages that we are sending to citizens across the globe are the ones that we publicize through the media, we are degrading our reputation, not only as a country, but also as a culture.
Unless we learn to promote the Steve Jobs instead of the Kanye Wests and the Condoleeza Rices instead of the Kate Uptons, we will continue to fail in representing America to the world.
Our public perception needs to change, and that will only result from an internal shift – one that demands an upheaval of values and the development of a moral calculus that, currently, America lacks.
More of Nick Pulgine’s writing on entertainment can be found here.