A guest blog entry by Brett Wallace (student, world citizen)
We clearly live in a celebrity society.
A lot of people follow major celebrities throughout their daily lives, relishing the pictures they get of their favorite movie star walking down the street in sweatpants and a stained t-shirt. Nowadays, it seems that people even act like celebrities, getting celebrity egos just for having a managerial position or scoring on the basketball court. This can even be seen with such sites as Facebook and MySpace. Kids and adults love publishing pictures, interests, hobbies, news about their lives, etc, for all users of the Internet to see, even If just friends and family. Some use these sites in an attempt to make everyone a celebrity, that is exist somewhat in the public eye.
A recent article published by the Chicago Tribune dealt with celebrity death hoaxes after the death of three celebrities in recent news (http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-talk-celebrity-death-hoaxesjul01,0,3603807.story). It seems that people get a kick out of sending falsified information and making a big (or little) splash in the Internet blogs or tabloid newspapers.
According to Sociologist C. Wright Mills (200), in order to determine why people, individuals, are doing this we must look at society in general. The very basic structure of this society creates a reciprocal situation where the more powerful people are more well known, and the more well known people are more powerful. They may not be legislatively powerful, but pop culture celebrities hold a lot of sway over people’s opinions. For instance, if Oprah backs a product or person on her show, much of America tends to follow suit.
However, this system of a few well known people in power and many less well known people with less power is pervasive throughout all of society. In business, the CEO has the most power and is subsequently the most well known person in the company, whereas a desk clerk has very little power and is not very well known to everyone even in the clerk’s own office. In government, the president, congress, and supreme court are supposed to be equal in power, but looking at the coverage the recent elections have had it can clearly be seen that, at least in terms of being able to sway public opinion, the president has the most power by far. This is how pretty much every large scale national government is set up right now.
I cannot think of any truly egalitarian governments or societies. Even hippies had heroes.
In human history, this society is right now the globally dominating norm, or at least it is quickly becoming it. The spread of the West has brought its qualities of capitalism, democracy, and subtle imperialism to many countries. In fact, it can safely be said that Western culture rules the majority of the world. A person would be hard pressed to find a place without a McDonalds anywhere in the world.
Most of all, the West has brought consumerism to the world. People no longer subsist on only what they need, they consume more of what they want simply for fashion’s sake.
Looking at this modern societal world gives a good idea of the motives behind the spread of false celebrity rumors. For one, this makes the person a celebrity. If they tell their group of close friends that they started the rumor, and then someone hears the rumor from an outside source, the one who started the rumor turns into a small scale celebrity. They gain some recognition and power within their circle. It is also possible that these people just like entertainment information of any sort. In this age of universal information superhighways, information gets spread around fast, making it easy for a small town Joe, or at least his gossip, to quickly reach Internet fame, which is easily seen by small town Joe, his friends, and even the rest of the world. The actions of these rumor-leakers is a symptom of the society already discussed.
Mills, C. Wright. 1959 (2000). The Sociological Imagination, 40th Anniversary Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.