Words by Sebastian Frame - @sebastianframe
Yes, you have read the title correctly, I have used the title to Paula Cole’s big hit as the title to this article. My apologies to the Cole Estate. But the question posed by Ms Cole is still pertinent in these times of "cancel culture", as we watch our heroes fall from grace under accusations of sexual misconduct and unsavoury opinions espoused into the Twitter-sphere; what happened to our heroes?
The latest victim thrown into the bellowing flames of Cancel Hell was Chris D’elia, American comedian and now exposed creep who is guilty of soliciting the very type of underage fans his humour is geared towards. Don’t get me wrong, the point of this article isn’t to lament his possible career demise or highlight the disappointment we feel when yet another of our heroes fall from grace, quite the opposite, I’ve come to argue that we need to stop putting these people on a pedestal and immediately brandish the famous class with the impossible task of being the moral compasses for the rest of us.
On March 27th 1973, Marlon Brando was awarded Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance in The Godfather. Brando, however, was not in attendance. Instead, he sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to read a speech on his behalf in criticism of the depiction of Native Americans in the film industry. In addition to the onslaught of boos and heckles that rang out during her speech, Littlefeather told the press afterwards that the angriest response she received for her speech was from none other than the quintessential cowboy John Wayne, who was apparently being held back by six security guards as he tried to drag her off the stage. Sometimes art really does imitate life.
The prophet Bill Murray once said, ‘I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’’. Psychological literature across the board and photos of celebrity meltdowns point towards the self-evident truth that fame does not necessarily lead to one living a balanced; happy life. In a culture of ‘get-rich-quick’ and the chase for public admiration, it is ingrained in our collective psyche that money and fame will fulfil us entirely. But yet the rich and famous seem to be plagued by loneliness and insecurity. With social media now a platform available to everyone, we are left with a culture that craves attention and thrives off of tedious virtue-signalling; and celebrities are the biggest perpetrators of this tedious virtue signalling. More importantly, everyone seems to accept their roles as cowboys sitting on their high horse watching over them with little concern for the high price that is paid for the lip service rendered.
A prime example of this is the embarrassing rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ by Gal Gadot and all her famous friends in response to the global pandemic. Instead of dipping into their accumulative vast wealth to donate to a worthwhile cause that would actually help the situation, Gadot and all her dim accomplices decided to record a version of the hit ‘Imagine’, a song that provokes the idea of a world without material possessions or religion. Can you imagine it? A world without nutritionists and personal trainers? No gated mansions and tax havens? If Gal really is trying to change the world, she might have simply shot from the hip and banished a chequebook.
Following the death of George Floyd and the ongoing protests happening across the globe against police brutality and institutionalized racism, I notice amongst the worthwhile conversations celebrities jumping in trying to hog the limelight once again. Why do we view these people as brave when they hop onto a cause only when it becomes popular to do so? Were there these many celebrities coming out in support of black lives after the Rodney King beating? I don’t see them as a lot of brave activists seeking to circle the wagons to combat the problem but as shameless opportunists simply along for the ride.
It is a perfectly natural instinct to admire greatness in others. Now, we could go into how it all boils down to the hunter/gatherer thing and how we look to the alpha of the group to guide us and that has evolved in modern times to people in positions of power, but that point has been rustled up in other articles. Perhaps curiously, it is this human trait of admiration that we all hold to some degree that allows us to be inspired and develop those traits in ourselves, I mean, Yves Saint-Laurent wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Christian Dior, right? And how would the cowboys in the white hats be inspired to righteousness without their black cladded counterparts?
We have always viewed the celebrity class as royalty in the western world. Scratch that, they are royalty now, there’s a retired reality TV host in the White House. Just as the concept of royalty is archaic and immoral, so is the impermeable and sacrosanct status we have given to the celebrity class. This is the status that allowed Bill Cosby to drug and rape hundreds of women and Kevin Spacey to assault any young man that came his way without ever appearing on any wanted poster.
Not only are these people royalty, in some rare cases they achieve god-like status. It’s somehow grotesque to be quoting Bible verses in an article geared towards my secularly minded peers, but in the Ten Commandments, one of the commandments that God imparted to Moses was to ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. In this culture, we have replaced celebrities for any God, not religion per se but the idea of a personal moral compass or faith.
Its time now to stop worshipping celebrities and start admiring people who are worthwhile. Scientists, activists, educators, workers, these people make a difference, not children’s authors who tweet blatantly transphobic comments or shallow celebrities singing out-of-tune anthems of peace into their iPhones. These people should not be seen as heroes, because they’re not, they’re entertainers. We must remember that though we can be awestruck by the talent of artists, musicians, comedians and filmmakers, these people are fallible, complicated human beings; just like the rest of us. Where have all the cowboys gone? The answer is they were never there, they were just people wearing cowboy outfits.