Watching Barack Obama’s speech at the culmination of the DNC, one could perhaps sympathize with the McCain campaign’s allegation that Obama is a celebrity. The event was masterfully staged and choreographed. Insofar as all political speech is a kind of theater, Obama performed exceptionally. Of course, McCain means something specific when he calls Obama a celebrity. He means that Obama thinks he’s better than you. Obama, the subtext goes, isn’t one of “us” — he is one of “them.” The elites, the wealthy, the snobs, the lazy heirs and heiresses. One could spend a long time noting the irony of this, but let this brief pop quiz suffice:
1) How did John McCain come into his own personal fortune?
2) Which major party has run a presidential candidate in the last thirty years whose prior occupations included Hollywood Movie Star?
Now on to the more relevant matter for our purposes. Something has changed about what it means to be a celebrity. It has become a dirty word. And yet, as Barack Obama pointed out, fame is not about the famous, it’ about the audience. In Obama’s speech, the point was that he is not some selfish elitist hell bent on power; rather, he sees himself as a representative of the people, his popularity attendant on their desires and his effectiveness in realizing them.Just so for other types of celebrities. Paris Hilton is only popular because we make her so. By understanding this, and learning why, we can choose different celebrities.