In America, celebrity can get you anywhere. It can even win you the Presidency. Most importantly, it can maneuver you to a position in front of the microphone ahead of the other guys. The media turn to celebrities to offer their opinions on quantum mechanics and particle physics far more frequently than they turn to actual scientists because the responses of really qualified representatives wouldn’t be as entertaining. The public is encouraged to put its trust in figureheads whose entertainment value counterbalances any factual inaccuracies. Fame glamorizes opinion into fact.
Each discipline has its celebrity class to whom the microphone is handed, regardless of its level of competence. Recently (April 18, 2013,) for example, the Daily Telegraph, one of London’s right wing newspapers, printed an entertaining blogpost by a celebrity musician, Stephen Hough, who is a pianist with an international reputation, “a musician with a uniquely inquisitive personality.” Despite hundreds of comments for and against his opinions at the bottom of Do Musicians tend to be socialists? nobody noticed that the piece is illogical to the point of meaninglessness. They were perhaps diverted by the picture of Mrs. Thatcher’s funeral and by the enormous nostalgic shot of Noele Gordon, posing in her TV role as Meg Richardson, the proprietor of the Crossroads Motel. The picture’s propaganda value (happy ethno-chef and his proto-Thatcher overseer) masks its irrelevance.
For example – “I suspect that many readers of the Telegraph find annoying the preponderance of many artists’s (sic.) liberal, left-wing views, but it’s worth remembering that the superstar, highly-paid musician is a recent phenomenon.” What links that subordinate clause to the main clause, and why is it worth remembering? What does the whole sentence mean? How does this have something to do with artists’ being socialists? Does socialism in England mean not getting paid?
Then after a paragraph contrasting (I am being generous) the endorsement of donating to street musicians with the idea that a paid musician is more or less an overpaid musician, the next paragraph begins – “Whether such socialism is foolish naivety or heroic idealism is a matter of opinion, but what is certain is that, however many CDs are sold or tours sold-out, the soundwaves themselves are free.”
Such socialism? What socialism? Is he comparing generosity with the wage economy? Is he really advocating debating whether musicians should be paid or not? The soundwaves are free? Soundwaves are indeed free, but the soundwaves made by a musician are categorically different from disorganized urban noise. Does he mean that soundwaves are free in the sense that apples are free? Like cotton is free? Or would be, in some Arcadian Utopia? Linguistic sleight of hand robs the worker of the rewards of labo(u)r, which is why the idea is so fuzzily argued, and so welcomed in the pages of The Daily Telegraph.
What a coup for the right wing press – they have recruited a reputable nerdiac spokesman to spout earnest and heartfelt tosh about ‘socialism’, and the readers clap like they totally understand. By handing the microphone to a Specialebrity here the issue has been disingenuously trivialized and disempowered. The smoke screen of the Celebritocracy detracts from the real issues and discourages genuine discussion.
What we need is some honest and forthright writing about musicians and socialism, the likes of which The Telegraph would be afraid to print. Only then will the real dialogue begin. Socialism is about keeping the arts in the public sector so that they are not privately owned and operated. The arts are a public good that are too important to be left to private financing because if they are subject to market forces alone the easy, the nostalgic, the familiar will win out over the good and the true.
Socialism is indeed of vital interest to musicians because we believe that the arts are also a moral force. As Iris Murdoch said… “Art and morality are with certain provisos….one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is love….Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.” The arts enlighten us about truth, they immerse us in a world that is not ourselves, and they confront us with a reality that expands our own. Like many other provisions such as education, transportation, and the water-supply, they improve our democracy and should be furnished by the State as a moral good.
Rule #1 – A Celebrity trumps a Specialist, because what is Entertaining is of higher value than what is True.
Rule #2 – A Specialebrity trumps a Celebrity, because s/he who is Anointed is more true than s/he who is Entertaining.
Rule #3 – If you refuse to play Celebritocracy you will be forced to make up your own opinions.