Is it any wonder that celebrities believe themselves to be special when we constantly tell them that they are?
The scandals of the last few weeks involving Prince Andrew, Boris Johnson (and his entourage) and Novak Djokovic might seem unrelated but they all have one thing that brings them together – an arrogant belief that the rules that govern the rest of them do not apply to them. I’m hardly the first to make this connection, but I do think that the reason often given for this arrogance is slightly misplaced. This is not simply down to wealth and power. It’s an unfaltering belief endemic in celebrity culture that they are better than the rest of us – superior beings who are not only above the rules that the rest of us are expected to obey but who can also preach at us with their superior knowledge.
You might question the use of ‘celebrity’ in this case, but of course, politics, sport and the monarchy all thrive on celebrity culture – otherwise, we would barely know who any of them even were. The thing that connects all three is fame more than money – and fame is where the power and privilege really lies. It’s why world leaders and billionaire industrialists – people with real money and power – are still dazzled by passing celebrities. The importance that comes from everyone knowing your name cannot be understated. Even the Epstein/Maxwell scandal is awash with famous names that the pair cultivated – proximity to the famous gives a prestige and a sense of worth that mere money never can.
Is it any surprise, then, that people who have their every move and utterance fawned over by adoring fans consider themselves to be part of a superior species, immune from the laws that control the rest of us? That they know better and should be treated differently? Of course, Johnson would think that it was OK for him to have boozy parties in the middle of lockdown even as ordinary people were being questioned by the police simply for walking their dog. Of course, Djokovic would attend events while Covid-positive and think that immigration rules didn’t apply to him. Of course, Prince Andrew believed he could do anything he wanted without consequence because the royals have been allowed to break laws, large and small, without confidence for centuries.
We should hardly be surprised by this because we have enabled it. We’ve told these people that they are special and better than everyone else, so why should we be surprised that they believe it? While the current scandal has some people hoping for an end to deference, it’s not going to happen. Just as the tone-deaf behaviour of some celebrities at the start of the pandemic provoked a brief backlash, before long everyone – even those who are now expressing disdain for the antics of the entitled – will be back tugging the forelock and crying “we’re not worthy” as they determinedly retweet and comment on the pronouncements of pop singers and TV stars as somehow being evidence of superior knowledge from people better than us, excitedly hoping that the object of their adulation will throw them a bone – perhaps liking their tweet saying that said celebrity has nailed a complex and divisive situation in their quickly tossed off one-line takedown.
Of course, the three men caught up in the current scandals have all, one way or another, been caught in the act – like others before them, their bad behaviour, rampant hypocrisy and sneering disregard for anyone they consider to be beneath them has been so blatant that is was eventually exposed. But let’s not pretend that they – or any of the other celebrities who have been brought down in various outrages over the last couple of decades – are all that unusual. Their behaviour might have been particularly flagrant but it is not that much different from the celebs who believe that they should get special treatment – the ‘don’t you know who I am?’ attitude – and demand online censorship of anyone who had the audacity to ‘troll’ them – which in most cases is simply disagreeing with their half-baked pronouncements. The people who believe themselves to be more important than everyone else are especially irked by criticism from the hoi-polloi, because just who do we think we are, questioning their superior knowledge?
We can hardly blame them for thinking this when so many people will leap to their defence, making excuses for them and attacking their critics. The fact that they wouldn’t do this if it was a member of the general public behaving this way is fascinating – bad enough that the celebrities believe themselves better than the rest of us, but what sort of Stockholm Syndrome is at work to make so many people apparently agree with them?
There are those who claim that Johnson et al should be held to a higher standard than the rest of us because of their positions of power. But that’s not true. What we really need to be is much more equitable – to stop believing that these people are somehow more important than the rest of us simply because they appear on the TV. At the very least, we need to remember that these are very, very privileged people and that their attempts to claim otherwise are laughable. If you follow celebrities of any sort on social media, perhaps ask why you’ve joined the fan club of someone who already considers themselves much more important than you. Sure, some might have social media accounts that are entertaining and interesting… but most are just empty self-promotion and ego-stroking from people who believe themselves to be above the general public who gave them their fame and power to begin with- and why encourage that?
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