A Modest Proposal for curbing the cult of Celebrity, and for making better social use of existing Celebrities.
(With apologies to Jonathan Swift.)
It is a melancholy object to those, who happen to possess televisions or iPads or other electronic media platforms, when they see their screens crowded with sharp-elbowed contestants in search of Celebrity, or glossy stars preening in Celebrity’s possession. These persons instead of being able to work for an honest livelihood, are obliged by their sordid compulsion to employ all their time in the attainment or the maintenance of this rank, notwithstanding that Celebrity’s chief value to the publick comes in the general satisfaction produced when it is turned into Notoriety and Failure.
I think it is agreed by all parties, that the nature of Celebrity, until it is lost, is to belittle by implication those who do not have it; and moreover, that in the modern media marketplace, many more have Celebrity than have earned it. And therefore whoever could find a fair, cheap and easy method of putting these Celebrities to better social use, would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.
The number of souls in this republic being reckoned slightly above three hundred millions, of these I calculate there may be about five thousand Celebrities, nationally and in local media markets, whose renown and corruption are sufficient to cause a significant demoralization of our citizens, with particularly adverse effects upon our impressionable Youth.
I do therefore humbly offer it to publick consideration, that without undue delay, these persons of spuriously elevated rank should be forcibly employed in Entertainments that neither increase nor maintain their rank, but rather, graphically strip them of it.
I have been assured by learned sociologists as well as by experienced gossip-site proprietors and SEO-specialists that the publick punishment and humiliation of a Celebrity provide a deeper and more genuine pleasure, and therefore greater social utility, than our traditional Entertainments which elevate the Celebrity at the expense of the viewer.
There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will influence our citizens, and especially our impressionable Youth, to abandon their misbegotten misty-edged “dreams” of winning American Idol or having their own show on The Disney Channel, and will substitute for these aspirations myriad aversive nightmare-images of their erstwhile role models being publickly slapped, stoned, shaved, branded, soiled, boiled, bespittled, broiled, skewered, truncated, disemboweled, decapitated, drawn-and-quartered, and otherwise comprehensively cut down to size.
I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are already obvious, as well as of the highest importance, and yet they may be augmented in a number of ways. The publick Punishments may be held in local parks, athletic facilities and community centers, without general media broadcast, to encourage citizens to attend in person and thereby regain some of that sense of natural Community, of which the growth of media and cult of Celebrity have largely deprived them.
It would also be to our nation’s considerable benefit to export some of these unwanted Celebrities, for direct profit and improvement of our trade balance, to countries where these famous persons’ publick utilization would be even more thorough and spectacular than in our own; and additionally as a diplomatic goodwill offering, to certain conservative societies where our own decadent and encroaching culture has lately given offense. I have it on good authority from officials of our State Department that, for example, a quiet annual tribute of one or two well-known “tween” stars, in good health and fresh from rehab, would go a long way towards alleviating our present difficulties with the Taleban and their tribal allies.
I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found of equal constructive value, yet shall abstain from using these few thousand Celebrities in the rough manner I have described. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider one point: As things now stand, not a few thousands but tens of millions of our citizens, comprising the youthful especially, but also the middle-aged and even elderly, will squander sizeable portions of their remaining lives and fortunes in fruitless, miserable pursuit of—or, at least, in slack-jawed, depression-inducing spectation of—this mirage-like attribute, whose existence depends entirely upon the foolish faith of those who do not have it.
Originally published June 1, 2011