I suppose it was only natural, but we have witnessed the morphing of fame into celebrity, and the result is alarming. If you’ve never thought about the difference between the two then it might not be obvious what I mean. Fame pertains to a general recognition for outstanding achievement. There is nothing wrong with fame in and of itself. One can be famous within their profession, or more broadly famous as is the case with popular actors and comedians. Celebrity is the state of being celebrated, acclaimed, or widely known due to specific accomplishments. Not so long ago, well liked politicians were famous, now far too many are celebrities. Exactly how this came to be is beyond me, so I’m not going to address that here. What I want to talk about is an even more insidious practice than elevating people to the level of celebrity: when those people embrace that celebrity.
Don’t think that’s a problem? Consider that an appalling number of reporters and political pundits have been elevated to celebrity status in recent years. In our vapid shock-and-awe obsessed news landscape only those reporters that bow before the altar of celebrity can really get ahead. Jake Tapper is a prime example. Wikipedia lists him as a journalist, novelist, and cartoonist. He’s a cartoonist now. I mean, great. I’m sure his art skills were such that he could have succeeded without his already big name. Then again, maybe not.
I recently came across Cameo, a website/company that allows celebrities to offer short personalized video messages to fans for a fee. At first glance it seems innocuous enough. Upon closer inspection it’s horrible. You can watch videos that people have paid for as examples of what you get from each celebrity, and there is something remarkably skeezy about them. I think it’s the fact that the videos pose as sincere off-the-cuff greetings while we know exactly how much people paid for them. I guess what you’re really buying is the knowledge that you got a celebrity to acknowledge your existence, and the idea that that has literal value in and of itself is unfathomable to me. But my general problems with Cameo are moot compared to the following question. What happens when a political pundit embraces their celebrity and puts themselves on Cameo to make a few extra bucks?
Fox News commentator and Trump supporting millennial Tomi Lahren recently got a lesson in what happens when you let people tell you what to say. Comedian Ali Asghar-Abedi spent $85 on Cameo to get Lahren to thank all the Indian fans of Donald Trump and to say that “President Trump is wise like an ullu.” First off, why would Tomi Lahren have fans in India? I openly acknowledge that she has fans in America, but what would Indians care about what she has to say? More importantly, ullu is Hindi for “owl” but what matters here is the cultural context. In English, being associated with an owl is a sign of wisdom. In Hindi, being associated with an owl means that you’re a fool. So a comedian got Tomi Lahren to call Donald Trump a fool in Hindi. Childish? Yes. Funny? Kind of. But here’s the thing: in interviews Ali Asghar-Abedi said that he was trying to make a point, and I think he succeeded brilliantly. Lahren could have easily Googled ullu and discovered its associations with foolishness. Such due diligence is the least you would expect from someone whose entire career is built upon their voiced opinions of things. But no, she was happy to take $85 to voice an opinion exactly opposite to her own. Ali Asghar-Abedi is quick to point out that we shouldn’t jump on Lahren for this, as he firmly believes that many pundits wouldn’t check the meaning of what they are saying. He’s probably right.
If a pundit will take $85 to record a one minute video with little to no interest in understanding what they are saying, then how much integrity do you think that person will have when they accept tens of thousands of dollars to show up on random talk shows to offer their opinion? Why would anyone listen to such a person?
Well, because they’re a celebrity.
Dr. Andrew Porwitzky is a scientist and freelance writer living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of numerous works of fiction, scientific articles, and essays.