The cults of personality that surround our “faves”— political, entertainment, or otherwise — are a result of misguided worship of wealth and status.
By Adrie Rose
Once again, Nancy Pelosi did something entirely boring, commonplace, and—frankly—insignificant that has white liberals frothing at the mouth. Nancy Pelosi has had a career characterised by violent indifference to suffering and mediocre attempts at meaningful gestures, carefully crafted to generate just enough internet buzz to hide her continued refusal to do anything which so much as a whiff of radicalism. Honestly, the only thing that could have approached a radical move for Pelosi would be throwing the torn halves directly into Mike Pence’s face and at the back of Donald Trump’s head. And yet, we’re being asked to prostrate ourselves on the altar of liberal ineffectiveness and carefully crafted posturing because it represents the “lesser of two evils.”
The base idolatry afforded to Pelosi is nothing new of course, nor is it solely reserved for her. Rashida Tlaib was taken to task in the most infantalising of ways for booing at the mention of Hillary Clinton during a pro-Bernie Sanders rally. This comes after Clinton has continued to mock and diminish Sanders’ campaign at every possible opportunity, ostensibly because it’s easier than losing a presidential election for the third time in a row and reconciling your quasi-feminist rhetoric with your violently racist, homophobic past. Elizabeth Warren, a “capitalist to her bones”, is enjoying support and praise despite past support and sponsorship of legislation that has contributed to the censorship, financial oppression, and death of sex workers across the country and inconsistent political messaging on healthcare despite acknowledging the categorical failure of multi-payer systems and claiming that “health care is a human right.”
If this craven sycophancy was strictly reserved for political candidates and elected officials, I think I could try to understand. American politics are something of a spectator sport for me as a first-gen citizen, so I understand just how much is at stake in a country where healthcare is considered a piecemeal collection of privileges rather than a whole right, housing eats up anywhere from 50-80% of the population’s income, and so-called inalienable rights to press, speech, and bodily freedoms are being eroded at a breakneck pace. Any politician that offers even the barest glimpse of hope or relief, no matter how insubstantial the platitude, is proffered up on an ideological platter, bolstered by irrelevant claims of “girl power” or misuse of the word intersectional.
But fanatical devotion to larger-than-life personalities is commonplace, even for entertainment figures like musicians and actors. The artist formerly known as Nicki Minaj, now Mrs. (Kenneth) Petty, has been unironically slut-shaming her fans, despite commodifying sex and sexuality for years; encouraging, if not outright directing, fans to harass, threaten, and insult her critics; and defending convicted predators. Despite this, Mrs. Petty’s stans are fervid, obsessive even, in their devotion to her. Across social media, less than fawning posts are frequently censored with asterisks to keep her fanbase from finding and dogpiling the original poster and commenters or mass reporting the post to game automated algorithms and force an account suspension.
Crowd favourite Jameela Jamil appears to have an army at the ready to defend her every word and action, with the oft-repeated twin refrains of “SHE’S ONLY HUMAN” and “SHE’S LEARNING!” (Ask me how I know). This is despite continued refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing or make meaningful progress towards being no terrible. Megan thee Stallion was recently seen in a Super Bowl commercial for Sabra Hummus, a company that offers financial and material support to the Israeli Defense Forces, namely the Golani Brigade. Any time a hint of criticism levelled at Beyoncé surfaces on the internet, her fans descend on the hapless originator with all the energy of junior high students on winter break. This is despite the casual indifference both adult members of the Carter family have shown towards any cause or concern that might jeopardise their continued accumulation of wealth. I don’t consider calculated business deals that pad the pockets of “hip-hop’s first billionaire” and oppressive institutions like the NFL to be radical, progressive, or forward-thinking.
“How are these two things related? Politicians and famous people are not the same.” Ok, sure. I guess you could make that argument, but even if they do not fit into the same occupational or social categories, the impetus for the hero-worship of specific figures is the same. The cults of personality that surround our “faves”—whether they’re a political, entertainment, or otherwise public figure—are a result of misguided worship of wealth and the status it affords and a near-pathological inability to understand how far removed from the same we are as “common” folk. It’s hero worship at its most myopic—baseless and completely unmoored from the reality of everyday existence in this capitalist hellscape that sells us the dream of eventual success if we just “keep grinding.” It’s a projection of our wildest dreams of financial and political stability onto the individual representations of a system that exists to keep us in a state of constant distress.
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Capitalism breeds poverty while feeding on it. You cannot hustle your way to multi-millionaire or billionaire status. You can, however, criticise your faves and ask them to do better. It is not a betrayal of your love for a person, or what they represent, to point out that their shortsightedness and behaviour cause you harm in ways small and large. It is not a crime for others to criticise your faves, punishable by doxxing, harassment, personal attacks, and coordinated attacks with other fans. If you find yourself venting your spleen at people on social media for their valid criticism of a celebrity or political figure that you love, take a step back and ask why you feel so entitled to your rage that you would threaten someone else’s mental and emotional stability.
Ask yourself if the person or people you expend such a great deal of energy to defend would spit on your body even once should you spontaneously combust. Ask yourself if the rabid, obsessive devotion you show would gain you any tangible benefit or the attention you so desperately crave. Are you being paid for the overtime work you put in on their behalf or are you running the propaganda machine for free? What did you win, what did you gain, what did you affirm by trading your individuality and critical thought processes for the idolatry of a complete stranger?
I can’t place a value on your peace of mind and well-being, but take my advice as it was hard-won. Kill your heroes. Demolish the mental shrine you’ve constructed. People are fragile, frail, and fallible, They will inevitably fuck up and get it wrong, no matter how much their lyrics resonate with you and how deeply their speeches touch you. Your faves won’t save you. They won’t sacrifice their wealth and prestige as a reward for your service. You will go unrewarded for your endless work. And you will have nothing to show for your weeks, months, and years of dedicated devotion.
Adrie, Sociology student, book hoarder, and mother to Oscar (5) and Misty (15). I believe in the power of the glitter accent nail, sex workers, and black people.