1776 is generally regarded as a pretty big year for America. There were several folks hanging out in Philadelphia that declared the far-flung colonies were no longer part of the British Empire that July. Leaving any empire is often considered a big deal, but when the price for such a declaration is invasion, probable defeat, whereupon you’ll most likely be drawn and quartered, well then it takes things to a whole different level. History tells us that these revolutionaries were peeved at excessive taxation without fair representation and various stamp related injustices.
We all know the outcome of their squabble. There were guys in red coats shooting at colonists, there was a brave Virginian with wooden teeth, and after five years the French eventually showed up and helped win the war (there’s no real way to explain that part of things, but I read somewhere that it happened so it must be true). And all of a sudden, you had a new and independent country.
Although most of the folks who’d fought for independence were ticked off that they weren’t being treated as Englishmen should be, what’s fascinating to note is that they didn’t carry over some of the most ingrained aspects of British-ness. In America, there would be no king. There would be no nobles – lords to rule over the rest. This fair minded sort of equality wasn’t really the goal of the revolutionaries. In fact, many of them had a really tough time turning against King George, who they’d been brought up to see as their rightful king and sovereign. But while it wasn’t what they set out to do, the class-less society they created would come to characterize much of what being an American is all about. How many times have you read in a book or seen on the moving picture box an iconic American character telling a foreigner that the good old USA is all about people being whatever they want despite where they born or who’s child they were? This whole freedom business has worked well.
Incidentally, I think the whole thing has now come full circle. *As the great NBA play Jason Kidd once said – “We’re going to turn this team around 360 degrees’* Now, we are voluntarily setting up a new class system. We are intentionally declaring that there are a class of people better and more suited to awesomeness than we regular folks. Who are these chosen ones? Celebrities.
Think I’m losing it? Well… that’s… Just think about this for a moment. Do you know what three of the most popular websites are on the internets (as George Dubya Bush [good gravy we miss you] once said in a debate with AlGore) today? TMZ, Radar Online, and People Magazine. All that happens on these pages is reports on what is currently going on in the romantic relationships of Hollywood stars. Millions of people visit these sites relentlessly to catch the latest info on Lindsay Lohan’s latest breakdown or Paris Hilton’s most recent indiscretion.
TV is the same story. There are myriad ‘news’ shows dedicated to providing the latest and greatest info on the private lives of the stars and then offering up expert analysis on what this new information will mean for the famous person’s image in the future. TV advertising also offers a glimpse into the phenomenon. Companies have realized we will buy their product if they show us a picture of an actress eating, shaving with, or applying said product to her hair (hopefully not the same product and hopefully not at the same time, but you get the picture). They do this stuff because it works! There are whole multi-million dollar industries built on following around famous folks.
The question I most often ponder when I have moments of clarity and look at this phenomenon: why the Dickens does anyone care? Really?! It turns out this is actually quite a profound question and the answers aren’t as simple as I might like. And I really like simplicity. Bisquick.
On the one hand people like watching trainwrecks. That’s not to imply people want trainwrecks to happen, but when they do it’s awfully difficult not to watch with rapt attention. So when you have a group of people so public and oh so prone to personal fireworks of epic proportions, people are going to be interested. That part of it makes some sense.
But what doesn’t make sense to me is what I believe is the chief reason America is so obsessed with the Hollywood elite. We want to be like them. They have fame, fortune, good looks and oh so wonderful fashion sense. We have come to believe they are better than we are, and so we now seek to be like them. You’ll note here the parallel to pre-1776 America, where there was in fact a group of folks who were considered to be better and more important than the rest. Today’s America has voluntarily replaced the British aristocracy with the Hollywood / New York gaggle of stars. We’ve substituted Paris Hilton for King George.
You’d think if we had to set up a new upper class we could have made a better choice?