Patterico's Pontifications

6/15/2005

Dafydd: “Mainstreaming Celebrity Decadence”

Filed under: Accepted Wisdom,Crime — Dafydd @ 11:02 pm



Mark Steyn was on Hugh Hewitt today (as is his wont on Wednesdays), and he used this phrase. I almost jumped, as this is just what I was reaching for in my previous post, Dafydd: Can Celebrities Be Convicted Anymore?, where I suggested it was no longer possible to convict important celebrities of any serious crime — a crime where being guilty means being evil (murder, attempted murder, rape, molestation, armed robbery, and so forth).

Steyn did not elaborate overmuch, but I understood he was inadvertently creating a general case from which my observation could easily be deduced… namely, that we have entered an era in which we simply expect our celebrities to be deviant, decadent, narcissistic, and even nihilist, and we do not hold it against them when they live down to our expectations.

Thus, most Americans don’t bat an eye when Russell Crowe, in a rage, heaves a telephone at some hapless hotel desk clerk, just as the last generation simply shrugged when Sean Penn would assault yet another photographer to whom he took a dislike. We barely even notice when Winona Ryder is convicted of shoplifting; and we’re simply titillated when multi-hundred-millionaire Paris “the Heiress” Hilton sluts and wets her hour upon the stage with all the dignity and modesty of a Penthouse Pet in heat… just as GenX hooted and pounded when Madonna published a book of naked pictures of herself.

It has become commonplace that former child actors get themselves arrested for drug possession, drunk & disorderly, or beating up a prostitute they didn’t realize was a transvestite. Male celebrities are busted for having anonymous sex with other men in public park restrooms, and their careers are not even dented. And how many stars and starlets act like treasonous rats and ratlets, championing the despicable causes of America’s enemies and expressing nothing but contempt for the traditional values of our culture? Yet they rarely suffer any public opprobrium for their infantile tantrums and teen logic (unless a celebrity is unwise enough to be both anti-American and country-western).

Heck, we even had a president who was literally shameless, showing not the least bit of embarassment as his extra-marital sexual escapades were paraded across prime-time television screens. And Democrats hotly defended his deviancy, as if it were a badge of honor. Or at least an enviable lifestyle.

To me, this implies the very unhealthy cultural mindset that celebrities are literally “our betters,” and that we have no business holding them to normal standards of decency, honesty, sobriety, or even loyalty to country. I suppose it’s hardly original to note the rich & famous are the new royalty; but they’re a royalty without even the nobless oblige that should come with the coronet: they are no longer classy Queen Elizabeth or gracious Princess Grace… they have become instead grotty Prince Charles and the decadent Bourbons of France, just before the Revolution.

It didn’t used to be this way. Celebrities used to be held to higher standards of public behavior than the great unwashed; and even their private behavior could damage their careers, if it became too well known. Movie stars and politicians would go to great lengths to conceal their decadence; and even the most aristocratic understood the concept of self-sacrifice: Jimmy Stewart was a bomber pilot in World War II, flying twenty missions in a B-24 Liberator; Hedy Lamarr, along with musician George Antheil, invented the concept of “frequency hopping” (now called spread spectrum) radio guidance, hoping that the Army could use it to guide torpedoes more effectively.

(The Army didn’t understand why it was so much better and they passed on the invention; Lamarr was persuaded instead to spend much of her time raising money for war bonds… that they understood!)

These two were exceptions, but only in degree: virtually all celebrities expended significant time and career opportunities — at considerable, even fatal risk — helping the common effort to defeat Hitler and Tojo. Several died in service, including Leslie Howard and Carole Lombard. And though there are a few celebs today who go on USO tours — singer Joan Jett and unfunny comedian Al Franken, for a pair of surprises — most others spend their time trying to help us lose the war. (In Bush’s immortal phrase, they’re “with the terrorists.”)

Today, it seems that no celebrity would ever dream of hiding his anti-Americanism, his narcissistic pursuit of the fruits of fame, or his self-indulgent sexual and intoxicational appetites; if you asked him (when he’s sober), he’d likely opine that it would be hypocritical, which is the cardinal sin these days. Evidently, the likes of Magic Johnson and Rob Lowe have never heard (or never understood) the idea that “hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” They wouldn’t understand why it’s important to publicly uphold important cultural standards, even if you have to lie to do so: wherever you draw the line, most folks will fall short… but if you make that miss the new mark, then the next generation will fall even farther below that; then down and down, until we finally find a ground we can’t fall off of (unless it’s a bottomless pit).

To the extent that juries are microcosms of America (with the right half of the IQ bell curve lopped off), they would share this mindset that famousness is next to godliness. In which case, it makes perfect sense that they cannot convict one of the pantheon of an act of evil: the lives of these “saints” literally define contemporary righteousness; and when you make-a da rules, you can break-a da rules.

Thus we legally enshrine decadence and even unadulterated evil as part of the mainstream of American culture. Goodbye, Founding Fathers; and hello Louis XVI.

27 Responses to “Dafydd: “Mainstreaming Celebrity Decadence””

  1. Daf Ab–

    You’ve just been kicked out of the libertarians. Welcome aboard the conservatives!

    See Dubya (053ad5)

  2. See Doofus, don’tcha know I was already cast into the outer darkness of Statism, with the weeping and wailing and the gnashing of teeth, because I actually support the United States — a somewhat statist state — going to war against Iraq, a massively statist state?

    And if the LP sounds slightly contradictory, well, L. Neil Smith is large; he contains multitudes, especially after a big meal (a frequent occurrence in his life, one surmises).

    (I think you’d better check with those conservatives before you put me up for membership… I have some peculiar ideas about drugs, abortion, and evolution!)

    Dafydd

    Dafydd (df2f54)

  3. I’m not positive, but to what exactly are you referring when you mentioned Magic Johnson? If you’re implying that he should’ve not publicly acknowledged the fact that he has HIV you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

    The fact of the matter is that the man has helped raise awareness of one of the most horrific and widespread epidemics of the last 50 years. Add to that the fact that he’s been a business leader, reinvigorating lower-class communities without the government (isn’t that precisely what conservatives want?), and I ask you what your great problem is with the man.

    Don’t worry, though, you don’t at all seem like a hysterical moron when you imply that shoplifting makes one “evil“. Also, have you ever considered the fact that perhaps your ideals of ‘cultural decency’ do not apply to all? Perhaps the problem is not Madonna’s ‘Sex’ book, but rather your over-the-top reaction to such things. After all, were there no controversy to be had in publishing it, I’m sure it would’ve never seen the light of day.

    wow (a6ab3d)

  4. I think you’d better check with those conservatives before you put me up for membership… I have some peculiar ideas about drugs, abortion, and evolution!

    So do I, and they haven’t kicked me out yet.

    Xrlq (e2795d)

  5. This post suffers one glaring flaw, namely, gross overgeneralization. Would it be too much trouble to mention the thousands and thousands of celebrities that do not get in trouble? I think you have a thumb on the scales.

    Pat (06a05f)

  6. You seem to be combining two arguments into one. You begin by lamenting the failure of the judicial system to convict celebrities, but then extend that into a moral area that has nothing to do with legality. Of course celebrities should be held accountable for their crimes, whether they be shopliftiing, assault, molestation or murder. But I like my Paris Hilton slutty. I like my Fiona Apple kooky. I like my Madonna naked in overpriced faux-artsy photography books. These things are not crimes, they are matters of taste. And while these behaviors may have become somewhat more accepted, if you scratch a little deeper into old time Hollywood, past Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, you can find some pretty seedy stuff.

    And as far as people not being convicted for their crimes, there is much more that plays into it, celebrity, I think, being a very small factor. Money is the biggest factor. Famous or not, if you’ve got money you can get off– unless you’re Martha Stewart and people WANT to see you in prison. If you’ve got money, you don’t even have to go to trial most of the time. Then you have social factors like race and location. And finally, you have the burden of proof, which the way our legal system is set up means that you have to prove they did it so convincingly that a reasonable person would have no doubt they are guilty. And that probably means that if your mom is a con-artist or your investigating officer uses the “n” word, you’d better have a videotape.

    Brian (c87282)

  7. daffy:

    what’s actually going on here, and your mandarin diatribe seems to exemplify the sad state of affairs, is metastatic obsession with increasingly untalented and uninteresting “celebrities” -who are celebrated primarily for their willingness to do just about anything to get noticed.

    winona ryder, robert downey, jr., and scott weiland (not to mention paul reubens) are just a few of the recent “celebrities” who come to mind to disprove your claim that famous people are not held accountable for their evil ways.

    nowadays the moral scolds who aspire to sit in judgment of what passes for acceptable behavior in the society are far more interested in approbrium for sexual peccadilloes than in holding anyone accountable for real crimes like looting the treasury (bush&co.), starting wars (ibid), ordering the torture of prisoners of war (rumsfeld), destroying the retirement savings of american workers (ken lay, bernie ebbers, united airlines, etc), poisoning america’s children (mcdonalds, big pharma), and far too many more to mention here.

    get a clue, pal: there are plenty of very famous people doing very bad things all around us and almost none of them are being held accountable, so your premise is actually right on -you and all the other prurient hacks out there are just looking in the wrong places for wrongdoers.

    lonbud (00bb01)

  8. Hey you forgot about the celebrity Rush Limbaugh and his dalliance with illegal drug procurement. And how about celebrity George Roche, President of Hillsdale College, and his multiyear adulterous affair with his daughter-in-law. And then there is Jack Welch ex-CEO of GE boinking a journalist while married to Mrs Welch. Then there is celebrity legislator Duke Cunningham taking big bribes from defense contractor MZM. Don’t forget married-Catholic celebrity Bill O’Reilly and his falaffel-sex talk with an unmarried female underling. Celebs Newt Gingrich and Henry Hyde were both very adulterous while bloviating about others’ personal responsibility and ethical/moral behavior. One could go on and on and on. Bad behavior knows no political limitations. Oh the shame! It can be spread far and wide, of course, but you are most selective within your editorial.

    theodore disante (24cd31)

  9. I write a post noting the hysteria with which people will defend their gods of the sluttybook page from any criticism, no matter how richly deserved. And the response consists of hysterical defenses of those same gods — mostly by pointing at other people’s gods and accusing them of being much worse.

    The irony here is thick enough to need a salami slicer!

    The only point that evidently needs a bit of clarification is the distinction between public morality and private morality. What one does privately, in secret, does not damage society, however destructive it may be to the individuals involved.

    But what one does publicly, openly, nakedly, and without apology — especially when personal popularity leads to it being lauded and applauded — can destroy society because of the model it sets.

    When stars like Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain, with millions of avid worshippers (including millions of children and teens), discuss the tens of thousands of women they claim to have bedded; and when the only reaction from a bored populace is faint tittering and a solid thumbs-up; then the damage to society, to public morals, and especially to the dignity of women, is incalculably greater than discovering that Henry Hyde had a brief affair decades ago.

    After Johnson admitted he was HIV-positive and argued he got the virus from sleeping with so many women (as hard to buy as that is), the most common reaction was sympathy. Even here, in this comments section. I suppose I’m just a “moral scold,” but I can’t help saying “Magic… you caught the Human Immunodeficiency Virus because you are a dumbass.” Let me check on that sympathy factor; hm… nope, nothing. To quote Larry Niven, “not responsible for advice not taken.”

    If a person like Chamberlain — wait, wasn’t his nickname Wilt the Stilt? — has sex with 20,000 women over a 20-year period, that’s nearly three different women a night, night in and night out, without even a vacation. How personal could all this sex have been? What are women to him but ambulatory sex dolls?

    Is that the interpersonal-relationship lesson we should teach teenaged boys? Or to put it another way: would you like your daughter or sister to be number 12,302?

    Would you throw her a congratulations party?

    Dafydd

    Dafydd (df2f54)

  10. daffy:

    you exemplify my point precisely.

    you wrote, “what one does publicly, openly, nakedly, and without apology — especially when personal popularity leads to it being lauded and applauded — can destroy society because of the model it sets.”

    but when “stars” like W, Rummy, Uncle Dick and the rest of their junta run roughshod over the constitution and cause the death and maiming (rooted in lies and all done without apology or question) of tens of thousands of America’s sons and daughters, and the only reaction from a hoodwinked, scared populace is “4 more years,” the damage to society, to public morals, and especially to the dignity of the republic, is incalculably greater than discovering that Bill Clinton liked to moisten his cigars in the vaginal fluid of a nubile White House intern.

    lonbud (00bb01)

  11. “Hypocrisy is the homage…” that the guy who wouldn’t bother to show up for the national guard position that his rather more honorable father secured for him pays to the national guardsmen and women he abandons in somebody else’s nation long after their scheduled contracts have expired.

    Oh, sorry, was that not where you were going with that line?

    I do agree that the rampaging decadence is a problem. The nation has been saturated by it and is now divided into liberals that claim that the swamp is the highest of moral high-ground and the conservatives that believe that the swamp is the higest of moral high ground.

    But ultimately I’d rather be hopeless than dellusional… so I guess I’m a liberal.

    JM (2959d8)

  12. lonbud — not it’s not the same thing.
    You may not like the Bush Admin but it made a political decision, backed by the Congress (voting overwhelmingly to support military action against Afghanistan and Iraq). Yes many on the Left hated the invasion of Afghanistan and believed 9/11 our “just desserts” ala Ward Churchill, but that view is not shared by most Americans and our system of checks and balances insures that GWB will be leaving office after 8 years.

    Don’t like the election results? That’s a political result from the decisions by party leaders and media mavens. Perhaps the Democratic Party might try changing it’s policies (I’ll note that Dems compared Lincoln to an ape and bemoaned the bloody sacrifices of the Civil War and his “tyranny” which led to a Dem assassinating him; most Dems were very sympathetic to the “peculiar institution” of slavery and were often members or founders of the KKK, see Sen Byrd, the “conscience of the Senate”).

    Politics has always had mudslinging, FDR, TR, LBJ, Clinton, all came in for their fair share of mud taken and thrown, Bush is no exception. What IS different is the coarsening of American life and the idea that universal standards of personal behavior don’t matter. I don’t care if a celeb gets implants, botox, or whatever, that’s his/her business. What is damaging is celebration of behavior that is awful and harmful.

    Phil Spector for decades abused women and threatened folks with guns, including Joey Ramone. But his celebrity and wealth left him immune to any consequences. He’ll walk from the murder of Lana Clarkson just like OJ and Blake walked. When you can walk away from murder, with no consequences, this undermines faith in the justice system and the rule of law. With two sets of laws, rules, and behaviors the damage to society is great. It is fundamentally different than politics because change in politics is just around the next election corner. Getting away with murder however literally just encourages more of it.

    Jim Rockford (e09923)

  13. that’s a thoughtful post, jim rockford, but you’re lost in the weeds with daffy.

    of course manners matter, and behavioral standards ought to be met and encouraged in any aware society. even in these decadent times, i believe universal standards of personal behavior DO matter, and i believe i’m in the decided majority on that score in virtually every society on the face of this earth.

    celebrity and wealth have always been concomitants of immunity from the consequenses of human frailty.

    how can anyone be bothered with concern about phil spector’s guilt in the death of one waitress (and the what, torture, abuse, inconsideration, ignorance, of women and others in his little life), when the very president of the nation gets away with the murder of countless numbers of people, the torture of unknown thousands more, and the squandering of a nation’s entire store of good will toward men -to vindicate his own misguided, vengeful, paranoid view of the world?

    pass the dutchy, bro.

    lonbud (3c1f0c)

  14. I dont mind my entertainers being entertaining. It would suck if they all acted perfectly.

    They aren’t role-models, my parents are my role-models, hopefully yours are too, if they aren’t, that isn’t the entertainers’ fault. Entertainers are there to entertain. Sure they make too much money, but thats not their fault, its what the market bears, so be it.

    Certainly they are NOT immune from our legal system, but like other wealthy individuals, they can purchase influence and attorneys.

    If you dont like how entertainers are able to skirt the legal system by use of money and influence, you are now complaining about money. So, what is your suggestion? Socialize the legal system?

    goyen (cb1572)

  15. You forgot to mention when the daughters of Presidents (who were themselves arrested for drunk driving) are arrested for public intoxication, and everyone shrugs.

    zen_less (c125b7)

  16. “Wherever you draw the line, most folks will fall short… but if you make that miss the new mark, then the next generation will fall even farther below that; then down and down, until we finally find a ground we can’t fall off of …. ”

    Really? You really believe that human nature ever changes?

    Would that were true – it would be more cause for optimism than for the defeatist spin you’ve put on our culture.

    The Tonic (dd2009)

  17. Dafydd, I think this song summarizes your point. (I will post only part of it)

    Brad Paisley – Celebrity Brad Paisley Lyrics

    Someday I’m gonna be famous,
    Do I have talent, well, no.
    These days you don’t really need it,
    Thanks to reality shows

    Can’t Wait to date a supermodel,
    Can’t Wait to sue my dad.
    Can’t wait to wreck a Ferrari
    On my way to rehab….

    Chorus-
    Cause when you’re a Celebrity
    It’s adios reality
    You’ can act just like a fool
    People think you’re cool
    Just cause your on TV.
    I can throw major fits
    When my latte isn’t just how I like it….

    I get to cry to Barbara Walters,
    When Things don’t go my way.
    I’ll get community service
    No matter which law I break

    I can fall in and out of love,
    Have marriages that barely last a month.
    When they go down the drain
    I’ll blame it on fame
    And say it’s just so tough.
    Being a Celebrity

    Jackass Millionaire
    Hey, Hey, Hollywood
    Here we come!

    “Where’s my coffee?”

    oxnardnokakashi (dc3f83)

  18. So what’s new?

    Can you say, “Jane Fonda“?

    Can you say, “John Kerry“?

    These two seditious ass hats should’ve been arrested, tried, and doing time since the early seventies…

    russ (2d4887)

  19. but when “stars” like W, Rummy, Uncle Dick and the rest of their junta run roughshod over the constitution and cause the death and maiming (rooted in lies and all done without apology or question) of tens of thousands of America’s sons and daughters, and the only reaction from a hoodwinked, scared populace is “4 more years,” the damage to society, to public morals, and especially to the dignity of the republic, is incalculably greater than discovering that Bill Clinton liked to moisten his cigars in the vaginal fluid of a nubile White House intern.

    Talk about “runing roughshod” over the facts. Your screed is so laden with hyperbole that one can be tempted to take it as satire.

    Did we lose our tinfoil hat?

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

  20. “Hypocrisy is the homage…” that the guy who wouldn’t bother to show up for the national guard position that his rather more honorable father secured for him pays to the national guardsmen and women he abandons in somebody else’s nation long after their scheduled contracts have expired.

    Same song, second verse.

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

  21. how can anyone be bothered with concern about phil spector’s guilt in the death of one waitress (and the what, torture, abuse, inconsideration, ignorance, of women and others in his little life), when the very president of the nation gets away with the murder of countless numbers of people, the torture of unknown thousands more, and the squandering of a nation’s entire store of good will toward men -to vindicate his own misguided, vengeful, paranoid view of the world?

    third verse

    You forgot to mention when the daughters of Presidents (who were themselves arrested for drunk driving) are arrested for public intoxication, and everyone shrugs.

    chorus

    I’m off to purchase more shares of Reynolds. Perhaps y’all should try aluminum foil.

    Harry Arthur (b318a5)

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    Lakeisha (12c731)

  23. What about the previous post? I think that’s an important note as well.

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  24. Nice site I found … Plan on coming back later to spend a little time there.

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