Cults of personality are defined as arising from the use of mass media to create idealized images. But that definition is incomplete because it neglects our agency in the process of idealization; that is, without our consumption of mass media — and without our choosing to idealize — there would be no such cults. So, why do we join them?
Idealization doesn’t offer us the hope that, even as fallible human beings, we can achieve great things. Rather, it offers us vicarious escape, a way to do nothing while believing we at least feel, if not achieve, something. Case in point: Kim Kardashian.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” (variously attributed)
Her recent exploits renewed the contention that such sensational narcissism is deviant. No, it isn’t. Our acceptance of it is deviant. Our collusive agency in the building of the Kim Kardashian brand is deviant. Like latter-day Victor Frankensteins, we’re helping her create — and we’re subjugating ourselves to — a monster. If we’d only read the novel, we might understand the extent to which we’re all thereby diminished.
This cult of personality also recalls the late Hunter S. Thompson. Like Thompson, Kardashian and others create — not personalities — but impregnable personae, behind which they hide (even in plain, naked sight) and within which they (and we by our collusive agency) are trapped.
These cultish personae evoke no sympathy. Yet they’re sympathetic. Like Victor Frankenstein’s creature, and despite the millions of people who constitute their legions, they have few human connections. Can money and celebrity worship provide fulfillment or purchase peace? Can the ego satisfy the soul?
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. (Henry David Thoreau)
No one has greater faith in brands, their power, their value, and the need for them than I do. But let’s remember: Brands are, to greater or lesser extents, chimerical reflections of their creators. To believe in them constitutes faith, of a sort. To believe in them without question or examination constitutes participation in deceit, as well as the abdication of our own songs.
The alternatives to lives of quiet desperation are celebrations of accomplishment, joy in our human connections, singing the songs of our hearts, especially against doubt, resistance, and adversity. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “Abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility — then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.”
In Kim Kardashian and her ilk, there is for us no celebration, no accomplishment, no joy, no connectedness, no song. Nothing to evoke or manifest the work of our hearts, our own brands. There is only avoidance, detachment, and vicarious, ephemeral titillation in the infatuation with others at the expense of ourselves. What in the world could be worth a price that high?
Let’s name our tunes and get to work singing them, shall we?
The cult of personality already has been sung.
By Kevin Andrew/Frontier Gap (933890_10151485140375785_1096853939_n), via Wikimedia Commons