May 20, 2013: Writing an opinion piece in yesterday's New York Times, George Packer, at left, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America" (which will be released today), articulates a phenomenon most of us have uncomfortably been experiencing over the last twenty years. Below is an excerpt; reading the full column is recommmended.
Our age is lousy with celebrities...There is a quality of self-invention to their rise: Mark Zuckerberg went from awkward geek to the subject of a Hollywood hit; Shawn Carter turned into Jay-Z; Martha Kostyra became Martha Stewart, and then Martha Stewart Living. The person evolves into a persona, then a brand, then an empire, with the business imperative of grow or die — a process of expansion and commodification that transgresses boundaries by substituting celebrity for institutions. Instead of robust public education, we have Mr. Zuckerberg’s “rescue” of Newark’s schools. Instead of a vibrant literary culture, we have Oprah’s book club. Instead of investments in public health, we have the Gates Foundation. Celebrities either buy institutions, or “disrupt” them.
After all, if you are the institution, you don’t need to play by its rules...The obsession with celebrities...obliterates old distinctions between high and low culture, serious and trivial endeavors, profit making and philanthropy... An activist singer (Bono) is given a lucrative role in Facebook’s initial public offering. A patrician politician (Al Gore) becomes a plutocratic media executive and tech investor. One of America’s richest men (Michael R. Bloomberg) rules its largest city.
This jet-setting, Davos-attending crowd constitutes its own superclass...far more exclusive and decadent than even the most potent magnates of Hollywood’s studio era could have dreamed up. Their superficial diversity dangles before us the myth that in America, anything is possible — even as the American dream quietly dies...
... their advent suggests that, after decades of widening income gaps, unequal distributions of opportunity and reward, and corroding public institutions, we have gone back to Gatsby’s time — or something far more perverse. The celebrity monuments of our age have grown so huge that they dwarf the aspirations of ordinary people, who are asked to yield their dreams to the gods: to flash their favorite singer’s corporate logo at concerts, to pour open their lives (and data) on Facebook, to adopt Apple as a lifestyle. We know our stars aren’t inviting us to think we can be just like them. Their success is based on leaving the rest of us behind.