Duck! It’s Open Season on Celebrities

Regular fans—and citizens—have always had their own opinions. Now they’ve got the platforms to speak their minds.

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Zack Dilgard / A&E / AP

From left, Phil Robertson, Jase Robertson, Si Robertson and Willie Robertson from the A&E series, "Duck Dynasty."

Between the suspension by A&E of Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson for anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ, the firing of actor and MSNBC talk-show host Alec Baldwin for his own homophobic ranting, and the Food Network’s cutting ties with chef Paula Deen due to racially insensitive remarks that came to light during a lawsuit, it seems like it’s open season on celebrities.

That’s even more true than it seems at first blush — and it extends all the way into the world of politics. Even there, the ability of leaders to control messaging and the story line on any given topic is breaking down with remarkable speed. Thanks to a wide range of ever increasing new media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram  and more, it’s easier than ever for regular people — and voters — to speak out and voice opinions about the rich and powerful. Our gain is their loss. And often, our enjoyment.

(MOREThe ‘Duck Dynasty’ Fiasco Says More About Our Bigotry Than Phil’s)

Here’s how the new dynamic works. Earlier this month, the best-selling and controversial pop singer R. Kelly released his latest album, Black Panties. (Understatement and restraint have never been his strong suit.) For years, Kelly has faced numerous legal issues related to battery, sexual assault, statutory rape and even the production of child pornography. (He was found guilty of battery but acquitted on the sex and porn charges; he also has settled some claims as well.)

To celebrate Black Panties, Kelly hosted a chat on Twitter for his fans and followers. “Getting ready to answer some of my favorite #AskRKelly questions!!” he wrote, “Start tweeting!” Almost immediately, the singer was deluged with snarky comments related to his past indiscretions and scandals. “My lil cousin jus bout to finish 10th grade … Seems like she ready?,” wrote one correspondent. “What’s your favorite bedtime story to read a date?” read another. “So @rkelly only answered 16 questions, the perv really cannot do anything over 18,” summarized one commenter, while another asked, “Were you high off something when you started this hashtag? Where tf is your PR team?”

(MORER. Kelly: Does Liking His Album Mean You’ve Forgotten His Child Porn Charges?)

While heckling is as old as the hills, this sort of unmediated access to superstars simply didn’t exist before. As important, these conversations can be conducted only in full public view, so there really is no place for the besieged celebrity to hide. If artists want to engage their audience (the better, one assumes, to sell more albums, or movie tickets, or novels, or whatever), they increasingly have to do it on the audience’s terms.

Something similar is happening in politics too. Earlier this week, President Obama — whose political success is often attributed to his masterful use of social media — tweeted a postcard featuring a smug-looking, 20-something hipster dude wearing an adult onesie and holding a mug of hot chocolate. “How do you plan to spend the cold days of December?” queried the President, who added the hashtag #GetTalking.

Almost immediately, the image went viral, though not in the way Obama meant. “PajamaBoy” became its own hashtag, and countless parodies and reappropriations spread across the Internet. “Mommy Said I Could Stay Up Late,” read one, while another attested, “Why Yes I Am a Thought Leader,” and a third asked, “How did you know I went to Oberlin?”

At the dawn of the mass-media age, critics such as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer fretted that powerful new tools such as radio, film and tabloid newspapers would create perfectly effective propaganda capable of fully molding public opinion while suppressing dissent. They pointed to the way Hollywood manufactured seamless fantasy worlds and public personae for their stars and how Hitler, Mussolini and even Franklin Roosevelt used radio and film to move the masses. “Donald Duck in the cartoons,” wrote Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, gets his “thrashing so that the audience can learn to take their own punishment.”

Such worries are largely beside the point in today’s new media landscape. To be sure, slick marketing campaigns and programs — even, and perhaps especially, ones that seem “genuine” and “authentic” — are still with us and often effective at getting votes and ratings. But the relationship between star and fan, and between political leader and voter, is rapidly changing in fundamental ways.

Power is shifting from the top of the pyramid down to its lower reaches, where anyone with an opinion and an Internet connection can at least speak her mind and circulate that opinion to an audience that is potentially in the millions. In his prescient 2000 study of celebrity culture, What Price Fame?, economist Tyler Cowen wrote, “Contemporary stars are well-paid but impotent puppets … [who] serve their fans rather than making their fans serve them.”

Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, R. Kelly and Barack Obama might want to pick up Cowen’s book and give it a close read. There’s a lot they could learn about how to engage an audience that has not only a mind of its own but also the ability to make its opinion known loud and clear.

MOREWhy Phil Robertson Got Suspended From Duck Dynasty

9 comments
k.kaprow
k.kaprow

“Mommy Said I Could Stay Up Late,” read one, while another attested, “Why Yes I Am a Thought Leader,” and a third asked, “How did you know I went to Oberlin?”

Hilarious! But this level of wit, superlative as it is, has nothing on libertarian humor. Check out the Oscar Wilde wannabees at Gillespie's Reason.com as they mercilessly skewer President Obama as only side-splittingly uproarious libertarians can!

http://reason.com/blog/2013/12/20/president-obama-holding-friday-afternoon#comments

mary.waterton
mary.waterton

It's always open season on Christian and Conservative celebrities. Liberals get a free pass.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

THE NEW TESTAMENT RESPONSE TO HOMOSEXUALS

by Babu G. Ranganathan

There is much to be said concerning certain Christian attitudes towards homosexuals. Some who claim to be Christian have taken a militant approach to homosexuals and used the Bible to justify persecuting them and denying them of all rights. Whether their case is supported by the Bible shall be examined.

First, however, it is important to point out that homosexuals need to respect the right of heterosexuals, particularly Christian heterosexuals, to reject homosexuality as sin, as biologically abnormal, and as biblically and morally wrong. On the other hand, it is also important that homosexuals not be persecuted by Christians or be denied their basic civil rights and liberties.

What is unfortunate is that many Christians believe in applying Old Testament justice to people today who commit particular sins. In the New Testament Christ changed the treatment towards such people. Was Christ then implying that the Old Testament system of justice was wrong? Absolutely not! God's purpose in the Old Testament was to emphasize His justice through the uniquely theocratic relationship that He had with the nation of Israel at the time. Why did God do this? One reason for why God so emphasized His justice in Old Testament times is precisely so that we can appreciate more His undeserving mercy in our present New Testament times. This is why Christ forgave and released the woman caught in committing adultery. According to Old Testament standards this woman should have received the death penalty.

Ultimately, God's justice against sin was finally and fully satisfied in the death and atoning work of His Son Jesus Christ when He died for our sins on the Cross, and through genuine repentance and faith in the resurrected Christ we imperfect humans (who will always have some sin) are freely forgiven and receive the promise of eternal life.

Ultimately, both sides must respect the basic civil and constitutional rights of the other, and this includes the right of the majority (heterosexuals) to determine public policy concerning issues such as marriage or civil unions.

The author, Babu G. Ranganathan, has his bachelor's degree with concentrations in theology and biology and has been recognized for his writings on religion and science in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who in The East."

k.kaprow
k.kaprow

"It’s easier than ever for regular people—and voters—to speak out..."

Indeed. Too easy, as "speaking out" in social media invariably devolves into brainless shouting matches, crude and unimaginative insults and adolescent violence fantasies. Is this kind of behavior actually moving our culture forward, as Gillespie claims? Take a look at the commentary at his mother ship, the libertarian Reason.com, for the answer.

permagrin
permagrin

@k.kaprow To easy for folks to speak out?  Man you control freaks are creepy.

k.kaprow
k.kaprow

@permagrin

It's also easy for humans to masturbate, as you are undoubtedly aware. Too easy? That depends on the frequency. So yes, when bored narcissists (e.g., Reason.com's Hit & Run commentariat) spend the whole day squatting in a chatroom, repeating the same gossip, stale memes, insults and violence fantasies over and over again, spouting crackpot pronouncements at their fellow chatters and presuming to speak for the world's Enlightened Class, then "easier than ever to speak out" becomes a masturbatory obsession, a sick lifestyle, a one-way trip to psychosis. These people don't need social media. They need a good shrink.

http://reason.com/blog

k.kaprow
k.kaprow

@permagrin

Looks like I hit a nerve.

permagrin
permagrin

@k.kaprow Face it, you are even more creepy now.  You appear to be obsessed with what people write on some web site comment boards.  Perhaps some masturbation is in order for you.