Undue Influence in the Summer of 2016


An Intersecting World of Celebrities, Selfies, Cynicism & Saviors

by Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed., August 9, 2016

(First published on the Open Minds Foundation website)

Throughout history, after twisting and turning on a particular path, unique cultural phenomena can intersect for a moment in time and create a dynamic larger than the sum of the parts. This could be the case in this Summer of 2016.

One phenomenon now intersecting with others is a populace preoccupied with celebrity and holding aspirations of becoming famous themselves. It is no secret that we live in a “culture of celebrity”. Celebrities are admired and revered by the population and many admit to wanting to attain celebrity themselves.

Reality television now invites ‘regular folks’ to appear on programs with competitive themes, exposing the best and worst of themselves – while harboring the secret hope that producers and directors might notice them and spin them off into even higher levels of acclaim. While at first reality television programs were interesting as examples of charged, contrived group dynamics, these programs soon spiraled down into the worst common denominator on almost every level.

Even narcissistic, high-profile notables have put themselves and their families on display in reality programming, becoming even more of a household name than they were before.  Platforms such as Facebook encourage and allow anyone to self-promote. We live in a pervasive atmosphere of self-promotion, glorification of celebrity, and personal aspirations for celebrity.

A second phenomenon present in this Summer of ’16 (though not new) is the recent, widespread use of cell-phones with imbedded digital cameras and the explosion of social media networks that publish the photographs, resulting in the phenomenon of “selfies” – self-portrait photographs. Selfies are a way that one can insert oneself in any photograph and add the important aspects of inclusion and convenience to photo-taking.

The popularity of selfies has exploded as people use them to indulge needs to be noticed, to gratify needs for self-expression, to make instant social connections, with the ever-present secret desire that these selfies will push them into public prominence. Selfies have become ubiquitous in the midst of a culture inordinately preoccupied with celebrity. Perhaps we could better designate the use of selfies to try to attain celebrity, by marrying the two words into one: “celfies”!

Now, celebrities who claim to be jealous of their privacy, post selfies for their followers on public internet platforms such as Myspace, Snapchat and Facebook. Beyond celebrities, anyone can now aspire to more than a mere fifteen minutes of fame.

When preoccupied with their own self-promotion and fame, would any member of the general population be suspicious of a powerful celebrity’s preoccupation with, and promotion of self?

A third, significant phenomenon occurring during this same time period, is that certain forms and functions of government, social stability and even democracy are being tested to their limits. Governments now have to prepare for whistleblowers, cyber-attacks, infrastructure attacks, internet-recruited terrorists, war declared on ideologies more than on borders, combative gridlock in governmental systems, and much more.

The world has gone topsy-turvy with planes purposely crashing into corporate towers, buildings imploding in city centers, suicide bombers everywhere, anyone and everyone having access to assault weapons, migrants flooding across borders fleeing from extinction into countries ill-prepared to contain, let alone welcome them. Airplanes have been bombed out of the sky. Airports, stadiums, nightclubs, hotels, restaurants, boardwalks and even schools have proven vulnerable to attack.
Horrific images of terrorist atrocities have spread through the ether of the internet like a viral contagion. In the midst of such horrors, selfies (and celfies) are momentarily abandoned for digital-verité films of the terrorism, instantaneously uploaded for all to see – with the resulting sense that it is impossible to feel safe in a world ever-threatened by attack. With everything now being captured in an image or on film and immediately uploaded to internet platforms, fear has gone viral and infected every corner of the psyche and the globe.

And … as any riveting tale of a particular point in time would have it, a savior appears at the intersection of the unique phenomena of the day.

In our Summer of ’16 a few of the components intersecting are the above-described celebrity, cynicism about government, fear of terrorism, and preoccupation with self-promotion. This intersection of cultural phenomena could be the perfect storm inviting an unlikely champion to emerge offering a unique alternative that fits this ‘all-me-all-the-time’ and ‘all-fear-all-the-time’ zeitgeist.

A savior at this intersection of events could be appreciated and welcomed only if they had already achieved the revered, obligatory status of celebrity and have a veneer of strength and the audacity to give the middle finger to traditional ways of interacting, helping, competing and governing.  The self-appointed savior would have to be a master manipulator of social media platforms, news media outlets, self-promotion and, of course, their own self-serving propaganda. Without celebrity how could such a savior command the respect of the celfie-centered voter?

At this crucial intersection of time, space, self, celebrity, fear, terrorism, and instantaneous digital access, everything it seems, is primed for the materialization of a self-promoting savior – for the emergence of a digitally-driven cult of personality or perhaps more accurately, a cult of celebrity.

Unfortunately, those most vulnerable to the persuasions and influence of a celebrity seeking power, and a person desirous of his or her own cult following, may find they have invested their hopes and votes in someone who:

  1. is an opportunist – with experience exploiting situations and people, and who can see the opportunity to influence and exploit a convergence of global circumstances to elevate his or her position, consolidate his power, and promote her brand
  2. is at the very least a narcissist – ready to exploit his or her existing celebrity and ever-trumpeting his innate superiority, list of accomplishments and unique ability to lead the population through the dangers that surround them
  3. though famous and successful, is immature, unethical, lacking impulse control and therefore unpredictable and unmanageable
  4. is uninterested in studying anything new or in learning the lessons of history – is ignorant about anything outside of his or her own domain of operation and yet completely unaware of his or her ignorance
  5. is pretentious – believing that only he or she has the answers and the power to effect solutions
  6. while claiming to be a populist who has come to fight for the common folk, is in reality lacking in empathy and is uninterested in anyone beneath his or her own elevated status
  7. conveys a false, contrived sense of concern and interest, whereas in truth is concerned about no one but him or her self
  8. in a charming, ‘every person’ sort of way, presents oneself as an ‘ultimate rescuer’ for the fear-driven populace – the only one who can lead the endangered population to ‘perfect safety’ and fantasy utopian peace and prosperity
  9. is a charismatic, skilled salesperson (confidence artist) who claims to have all the ‘street smarts’ and connections to be able to provide the populace with whatever they need (product, person, situation, government, social change, safety, etc., etc.)
  10. makes people feel a part of, and involved with, a self-promoting ‘movement’ by engaging with them on social media platforms and probably posing with them for the ever-ubiquitous selfies
  11. secretly relishes, seeds and stokes the fear and anger of the public hoping to channel them into helping with his or her self-deification, creation of a cult following, and expansion of power
  12. knows how to manipulate the emotions of the population, appeal to popular desires and cultural prejudices, while at the same time diminishing the need for any critical thinking on the their part, which if activated, might keep followers from marching in lock-step behind
  13. knows how to influence and encourage the anti-establishment and anti-tradition leanings of the populace
  14. knows how to instill fears with a view to creating a dependent population unable to think for themselves
  15. knows how to manipulate the media into disseminating propaganda by purposely saying things that pique curiosity, boost media ratings, and ensure public appeal and more media attention
  16. has no qualms about degrading, dehumanizing, or humiliating opponents, nay-sayers or competitors
  17. cannot tolerate any form of attack and usually counterattacks to exact revenge on anyone who contradicts, corrects or humiliates him or her
  18. is incapable of imagining how his or her actions may affect others. This lack of normal empathy may foster cruelty. While this celebrity cannot bear public humiliation, he or she enjoys inflicting it on others – probably placing this savior wannabe at the extreme of the narcissistic spectrum as either a sociopath or psychopath
  19. easily uses the tactic of “divide and conquer”, encouraging attitudes of “us vs. them”, portraying anyone ‘different’ as a potential threat or enemy
  20. is isolationist and exclusive, rather than open and inclusive
  21. projects (throws onto others) the very qualities he or she is unaware of (e.g. liar, cruel, amoral, intolerant, criminal, homophobic, misogynist, bigoted, racist, etc.) onto those who offer any opposition – while at the same time mirroring unsavory qualities back to the population that we are, as yet, unable to acknowledge as part of our own grievous profile
  22. is likely to be a pathological liar who believes his or her own lies and feels no shame in publicly proclaiming them. Once said, views it as truth and becomes indignant when others don’t
  23. as a narcissist, feels exceptional, superior, incapable of being wrong, incapable of making mistakes and, therefore, feels no need to attend to the feelings of those around him, apologize for anything, or ask for forgiveness
  24. has learned how to use manipulative techniques in order to embed the beliefs and fears he or she wants to instill in the minds of potential followers. Once the fears or beliefs are imbedded, the population becomes more susceptible to this kind of influence and exploitation. (One of these methods is using “loaded language”, and trumpeting the same phrase over and over again in the same sentence, e.g. adversely labelling opponents and repeating the label until it sticks.)
  25. is really a dangerous demagogue manipulating the emotions, passions, fear
    s, ignorance and prejudices of the people to lead them into unquestioning allegiance

In the convergence of these above-named, societal phenomena of:

  • political cynicism
  • terrorism
  • fear
  • ability to photograph and film at will
  • 24/7 internet access for everyone
  • public media platforms
  • obsession with self-promotion
  • obsession with celebrity

large segments of the population are vulnerable to the possibility of being manipulated, unduly influenced and conscripted by such an unscrupulous, self-trumpeting, celebrity con artist who can mesmerize and prevaricate but is incapable of human empathy, understanding complexity, or governing responsibly.

At this unique intersection of time, place and circumstance it would not be surprising if a self-obsessed, developmentally-challenged, power-hungry celebrity emerges claiming to be the only one who can restore safety, prosperity and peace – and is welcomed with open arms by a frightened, dissatisfied, celebrity-obsessed populace.

With manipulative, cult-like strategies and the ever-available public platforms, a self-proclaimed, modern-day messiah could con and conscript fearful citizens as “true believers” for the supreme cause – a cult of self – a cult of personality – a cult of celebrity. The followers’ current culturally-driven conviction that only wealth, power, brute strength, and cultural prominence can save them, could be embodied by this one egomaniacal, possibly sociopathic, self-appointed savior. As history tells us, this is an
intersection and prescription for disaster.

If this should happen, we will have no choice but to intersect with the convergence of these unique phenomena in this Summer of 2016 by taking a stand, speaking up, casting a vote in our own way, to prevent a self-christened, ‘savior’ from imposing his or her impoverished, power-driven, culture-of-celebrity values on society. It is up to each one of us to do our part to prevent dangerous demagogues, surfacing from this unique intersection of cultural phenomena, from creating a cult of personality reminiscent of ones from decades past, but now with the possibility of catastrophically propelling the globe into a doomsday scenario.

© Bonnie Zieman