12 January 2008

Celebrity scapegoats

Some months ago Celia Green wrote about Paris Hilton, suggesting that the case involving her imprisonment could be interpreted somewhat differently from the way most commentators were suggesting. Interestingly, this aroused negative reactions in at least one reader, who complained that Green should not defend a "mediocre airhead". The same person argued that Hilton should be viewed critically because "she never earned her fortune, she inherited it".

This misses the point. Hilton is a celebrity because she is good at pretending to be mediocre or 'stupid'. Contrary to prejudice, it actually takes a good deal of talent to do that. If this isn't talent of the most interesting kind, blame mediocracy not Miss Hilton. The demand that advantages be "earned" is also illustrative of mediocracy, which insists that only those who satisfy mass taste should be allowed to be significantly better off than average — partly, perhaps, because it makes it easier to insist that they should be answerable to society for their privileges. (The mass giveth, and the mass taketh away.)

Of course, blaming the individual is precisely what mediocracy is about, and it will deliberately create opportunities for doing so. Setting up royalty for the purpose of knocking them down later is a human motivation recognised since Frazer's Golden Bough, but it reaches a shrill extreme in a mediocracy.

More recently, we had a repeat of the hate-Hilton effect, with Britney Spears, who unlike Hilton did derive her position entirely from 'earning it'. Green has just written a piece about the case here. Hate can take subtle forms, such as being assessed and evaluated by supposed experts. In this case, the 'experts' include our old friend Oliver James.

Someone points out that Miss Hilton's current fortune has in fact been 'earned'. Of course, whatever her talents, I have little doubt she faced an easier ascent than someone with the same talent but no rich and/or influential relatives. I think it's a shame if equally talented people don't have those advantages, but I certainly would not support any collective intervention to do something about it. Though awareness of the problem, including re-acceptance of the idea that there is such a thing as innate talent, might be nice.