Monday, August 8, 2011

Celebribility, Electability

A headline in today’s New York Times: “Where Cubans Can Meet the Beatles at Last.” The story deals with a bar in Havana that features the images and music of the Beatles. But never mind the story; the headline caught my attention. The writer and editors presumably have some sort of vague conviction that Cubans had been deprived, until the opening of this bar, called The Yellow Submarine, of some kind of transcending value by never having experienced the Beatles—thanks to repressive communist manipulations of the media. Certainly the writer, probably the editors too, associate rock ’n’ roll with revolution, leftist politics, and rapture. And emotion, however produced, is the accessible form of transcendence these days. Therefore that phrase, “at Last” in the headline. One almost hears a sigh.

Got me thinking. Got me thinking that gifts that enable a person or group to achieve celebrity (“celebribility”) might have the same functional characteristics that enable a politician to be electable (“electability.”) That word has surfaced yet again and will be much repeated in the coming months. And then I got to musing about the differences.

Celebrities become celebrities because of what they actually do—they sing, act, sway their bodies, beat guitars, wiggle their leg (Elvis), or bare their body parts. This arouses emotions in the population, sells records, results in TV appearances, vast concerts (Woodstock), etc. The celebrity and the skills these people have are one and the same thing.

But the same is not true for the politician. Yes. Politicians also connect to people by their personalities, by what they say, by the colorful clouds of emotions they generate, by projecting images of glowing futures that they promise to create. But these gifts—attractive family, forthright visage, eloquence, passion, the hands reaching to touch other hands that hold cell phones to photograph the celebrated image—all this, while it produces electability, has almost nothing to do with the actions promised.

When the celebrity has projected his or her image of desirability and roused vast primitive emotions (rock ’n’ roll indeed)—his or her job is already done. In the case of the politician, the projection merely enables an ability to try to deliver. Oh yes. Eloquence, truth, a glowing future. I watched President Obama at his 50th Birthday fundraiser do his electability bid again in Chicago last Wednesday. And afterwards contemplated Grand Canyon-deep gorges that separate these acts of projection and any delivery at all.

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