All That Glitters is Not Good for Democracy


I’ve written here before about the toxicity of of celebrity and fame. But the election – or as I see it, electoralization – of Donald Trump to the presidency demonstrates just how serious this America disease has become. As American culture including politics become more and more a part of popular entertainment – where modern celebrity largely started – this will be a growing if not perpetual problem.

Fame appears to be nearly as important to Trump as filthy lucre in the double helix of his twisted desires. This is a man who years earlier in his ascent to celebrity pretended to be his publicist and called members of the media seeking coverage for himself.

He gained the stratospheric levels of public attention he lusted after thanks to a best-selling book that his co-writer has largely disavowed, “The Art of the Deal.” And then as a TV star in “The Apprentice.” But it wasn’t enough for him. His hunger for celebrity subsequently compelled him to go for one of the biggest prizes in the fame game: being the leader of the free world.

Along the way Trump sought to utilize his “brand” that celebrity gave him in a number of failed business ventures. First and foremost, his belly-up Atlantic City casinos. But also everything from Trump Steaks (reportedly low-quality) to a so-called university that “taught” how to gain wealth (for which he agreed to pay a $25 million fraud settlement) to a resort condo venture in Mexico that left many purchasers feeling bilked. To name some but hardly all.

Fame also seems to be one of the cluster of factors that seem to convince Trump that he is smarter, wiser and more well informed than everyone else. If he’s famous and rich, it must be because he’s better, I imagine his twisted mind thinks. So why shouldn’t he run the nation and dominate the globe? Anyone reading this can likely name scores of reasons why not.

There is little if anything about true, positive, mature and enlightened human qualities that one would ideally want in the leader of an actually democratic society that also contribute to gaining major levels of fame. Although some people do still gain fame through accomplishment, the desire for celebrity as best I can tell comes from needs and an emptiness within that results from unhappiness and dysfunction.

Of course, I have no desire for fame, and would consider it a curse if it ever happened to me. Don’t get me wrong here: I would be okay with becoming noted; it’s the sort of recognition that is largely positive affirmation.

But fame? It strikes me as a mighty pain in the butt. I’ve seen in my many years in and around the entertainment business how too many people want something when they encounter someone famous: an autograph, a picture with them, some time. And in more extreme cases. a piece of their soul. I’d never want to be unable to shop at the supermarket without being bugged.

I was uncomfortable in the 1990s when my byline was rather prominent in the then-much-smaller city of Austin in its weekly and then daily papers, and people would be impressed or single me out for a attention. I guess that’s because, as said in the Southern vernacular, my Mama raised me right.

But much of the public seems to be fascinated with and attracted to fame. That’s one of the reasons why too many of them in certain key states voted for Trump.

Perhaps by the time you read this he will be on his way out of power. And maybe, just maybe. Americans will have gained some perspective on how fame and some of those who are famous aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Populist Picks

CD: Don’t Stop Singing by Thea Gilmore – The wonderfully talented English folk-rock singer-songwriter already proved her deftly understanding way with songs by others on her magnificent album of Dylan covers, John Wesley Harding. She takes that talent even further on this masterful 2011 set where she put lyrics that never became songs by the late Celtic folk legend Sandy Denny to melodies she composed that serves as both a salute to Denny’s legacy and her own considerable gifts.

Documentary Film: Joe Cocker: Mad Dog with Soul – The life and music of the recently deceased R&B rocker are recounted nicely in this film that’s especially strong on its subject’s Sheffield, England roots.

Documentary Film: The Sunshine Makers – The spirit and atmosphere of the 1960s mind-expanding consciousness and its struggles with authority come alive in this look at the two chemists who synthesized Orange Sunshine LSD – I can attest to its power and purity – as they were then and now.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2017

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