Wholeness and Alienation
In this essay, I will show why his argument may be dated and no longer correct, that the desire for fame and having celebrity idols is not as alienating or detrimental as it once was, and that with the right mindset, it can actually be enriching to constantly challenge oneself, to try harder, and to reach out to more people. First, I will examine the theoretical perspective through which Stuart Ewen views celebrity culture, and I will further examine his theory of the “dream of wholeness” and why he believes it can be alienating.Next, I will briefly juxtapose Ewen’s theory to Karl Marx’s theory of the estrangement of labor, which will shed light on precisely what type of alienation to which I am referring in my argument. I will then provide a modern-day social context for these theories using statistics about celebrity culture and the demographics of those who follow it.
Finally, I will back up my argument with excerpts from and photographic portraits of seven interviews I conducted with students who have aspirations of becoming famous. The first part of Stuart Ewen’s theory suggests that the dream of wholeness begins with a dissatisfaction with the self.In advertisements, when we see “perfection” in the images of models, we idolize these figures and subconsciously relate them to ourselves. This is silly of us to do, first of all, because stars are constantly told what to say and their photos are edited to the extreme. They are then mass-produced, at which point, Ewen suggests, the “aura” or intrinsic value of the original images are lost (Ewen 1988, 93). Still, as a result of these images, we Simonetti 2 constantly keep a tab on the way we look, and we start to see ourselves as “objects” rather than “subjects” (Ewen 1988, 89).We become more and more uncomfortable with our own skin, and in a very capitalist way, we thus buy products to fix what now seem to be mistakes on our bodies until we live up to the “beautiful thinghood,” or the fake perfection, of the images we see (Ewen 1988, 89).
Wholeness and Alienation Essay Example
Because of these perfect, air-brushed images in the media, he argues, we are essentially dreaming of perfection in our own physical image. And because this is impossible, Ewen says, we are essentially alienated from our true selves (Ewen 1988, 91). Next, Ewen continues to focus on how celebrities affect style.He says that the “style market capitalize[s] on something ‘hot,’ to turn popular desires into demographics” (Ewen 1988, 97). When the public seems to like the clothing style on a celebrity, manufacturers make sure the style is available for the public to wear. Ewen also cleverly observes that for both middle class citizens and celebrities, the primary expression of wealth is consumption, so celebrities become models of a seemingly attainable but ultimately ridiculous way of life for the middle class (Ewen 1988, 100).Celebrity lifestyle is portrayed in movies as lavish, unrestrained, and endlessly wealthy, so these ways of life modeled for the middle class tend to be very gaudy and expensive.
People then start to buy knock-offs to make up for styles they don’t have, become over-obsessed with their appearance, and so on until they grow even more alienated from their true selves. Moreover, according to Ewen, capitalist consumer culture, which provides compensation for nearly any request in exchange for a sum of money, gives us all the freedom to desire (Ewen 1988, 100).As examples, if we want to look a certain way, we can buy into that image; if we want to fix the problems in our lives, we can pay others or buy products to solve those problems; and of course, if we want to be “famous,” we have (or at least we think we have) the ability to become famous. At the same time, the media constantly feeds us with images of cultural norms Simonetti 3 that dictate what we should “want,” such as clothing styles, products, services, and lifestyles-specifically, the celebrity lifestyle.We are bombarded with the notion that anyone, if he/she plays his/her cards right, can become a celebrity if they work hard and develop enough of a following. However, Ewen suggests that “becoming ‘someone’ is a gift bestowed upon people by the image machine,” so only a select few are “discovered,” and it is not nearly as easy to achieve as the middle class sometimes pretends it is (Ewen 1988, 96). Ultimately, though, our capitalist culture almost inherently forces us to imagine our lives differently, or to dream of a more “whole” life, and to strive to change our lives based on those new possibilities with which we are presented.
Later on, I will refute these and a few other of Ewen’s points by examining interviews with students from my generation who, as we will see, have slightly different views about fame. Ewen believes as well that because our society makes us all feel extremely alone and our voices are seldom heard, we have more of a “desire ‘to be somebody,’” but perhaps a skewed view of the process to becoming “somebody. ” (Ewen 1988, 94). This is also one of the main themes in Charles Derber’s study, The Pursuit of Attention, the first sentence of which reads: “Psychologists have treated attention as a fundamental human need” (Derber 2000, 9).If we need attention, it’s only natural for us to want to become famous, as famous people receive plenty of attention without even trying. Ewen also alludes to the image of, for example, a concert where an audience is at the feet of a celebrity, which symbolizes the “extrication [of an individual] from a mass of unknowns” (Ewen 1988, 95). This is a common discontent among young middle-class Americans: the tragedy of being part of the crowd–a “nobody” (Ewen 1988, 95).
Success stories of “lucky breaks” and “chance meetings,” he argues, lead many who will probably never be recognized to believe that one day they might (Ewen 1988, 96).He notes that to become famous, once must find a way to stand out in institutions that are structured and have Simonetti 4 little room for individuality. The example he uses is Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player, who by simply playing the structured game of baseball became an individual by topping charts and creating statistics (Ewen 1988, 96). In a similar way, a singer, for example, can become an individual and stand out in the structure of a theory-based music industry by having a unique voice and making excellent music.In addition to our freedom of desire mentioned above, Ewen refers to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, which presents a different way of thinking about freedom. Sartre believes that freedom is not simply being, but is maintaining “active, self-determined engagement within the world” (qtd. in Ewen 1988, 102).
Further, Ewen adds that the structures of work in America, which “are encompassed by acts which have little meaning in and of themselves,” can “fill a person with an … insatiable hunger: … to make meaning in one’s life” (Ewen 1988, 103).This notion that work is so dull that one becomes alienated from any meaning in one’s life is very similar to Marx’s theory on the estrangement of labor, in which he argues four key points: 1) In much of capitalist labor, man is alienated from the product of his labor because he is simply creating a product thought of by others, and being created for others. 2) In capitalist labor, man is alienated from the labor process because he is simply repeating the same actions over and over for the purposes of mass production. ) In capitalist labor, man is alienated from himself because “when he is working, [the worker] does not feel himself” (p. 3). 4) In labor, man is estranged from others in the labor process because he is working only as a means to happiness (for money, so that he can buy pleasurable commodities), instead of as happiness itself (for fun, to enjoy working with and for others) (Marx 1844). Marx’s theory of the estrangement of labor is similar to Ewen’s theory of the alienation of celebrity culture in that both labor and celebrity culture force us to aspire to a lifestyle that we do not currently have.
Simonetti 5 However, Marx’s theory is about how man is alienated from his true self when he is making things for other men, while Ewen’s theory is about how man is alienated from his true self when he is consuming things made by other men. Put this way, it is a rather disheartening contrast because it implies that man is always alienated from his true self. Fortunately, though, I will show later on why Ewen’s argument may be considered slightly dated and thus no longer valid.Finally, Ewen finishes his argument about the dream of wholeness by referring to the “dream of identity” and the role of style in forming and expressing that identity. He goes on to make the connection that style fills the void described above that is created from meaningless work by providing some meaning in life through expression of one’s self (Ewen 1988, 106). He notes that “[s]tyle is a realm of being ‘exceptional’ within the constraints of conformity,” so it ultimately acts as the expression of those who long for the wholeness that they believe would come with fame (Ewen 1988, 108).The last point Ewen makes is that as a result of our dreams of wholeness, alienation from our true selves, and overall discontent with the here and now, we are “caught between the polarities of doing and having,” which is to suggest that our competition for attention ultimately leads to consumption (Ewen 1988, 108).
Now that I’ve established the theoretical basis of my argument, I will provide some information to help us see the modern-day implications of these theories and to show how dated and hyperbolical they can be in the context of today’s society.Being famous today is far different than it ever has been. If we like a musician, dancer, filmmaker, writer, or any other type of celebrity, we have the ability to follow every move they make with their lives’ increased coverage by “TMZ,” “Extra,” and other such entertainment news companies. According to Hall’s Reports, “entertainers and other celebrities appeared on the covers of nearly 40 percent of all American magazines in 2004…, while only 6 percent of covers were related to national Simonetti 6 affairs” (Altman 2005).In addition, “the percentage of pages in news magazines dedicated to celebrities and entertainment doubled from 1980 to 2003, while coverage of national affairs dropped from 35 percent of all pages to 25 percent” (Altman 2005). This alarming amount of celebrity coverage is a clear indication of how much more prevalent celebrities are today than they were when Ewen wrote his book. Further, a consequence of this prevalence is that we inevitably see more celebrity scandals and mistakes, which allow us to see them as they are: human.
We are thus no longer alienated from them and we begin to see them as people, just like us. As well, the dream of becoming famous becomes less and less glorified as we see the lack of privacy and mystique that, in Ewen’s time, were so closely linked to the dream. Another consequence is that we start to see stories on celebrities that really are not important, such as meaningless gossip about which celebrities were with whom and when and where, etc. This can allow us to place less importance on and “see through” celebrity news as simply the desperate work of celebrity publicists.Comedian and pop-culture commentator Mo Rocca expands in Howard Altman’s essay, “Celebrity Culture”: “‘I have a strange faith in college students. They are both more optimistic and skeptical than everyone else. … Essentially, students know it is all BS — they revel in the cheesiness of it.
’” According to Altman, celebrity gossip can bring people together: In a study published in March 2004, a group of British researchers found that gossiping about celebrities took up most of the social time of nearly one-third of a sample of 191 English youngsters ages 11 to 16.But these young people were far from being isolated; in fact, researchers found the gossiping children had a stronger network of close friends than their peers who were less interested in celebrities. Simonetti 7 Clearly, in today’s world, young people grow up very rationally, with most of Ewen’s illusions of celebrity culture exposed. When I was a preteen, for example, my mother told me her prediction of former superstar Miley Cyrus: “In a few years, she won’t have this much clout anymore. She’ll have grown up and moved on from stardom, just like her father. Sure enough, she was right. As a result of this common knowledge and long-term observation about celebrity culture, today’s generation of college students have a better value system when it comes to personal success, in that they want less to be a “celebrity,” but more for their voices to be heard, whatever that may mean.
Quite nobly, they care less about being famous and more about doing what they love: performing for others and expressing themselves. Most people with dreams of becoming famous also have celebrity idols.For the purposes of this paper, an idol is a figure in popular culture whom one has respected tremendously for a long time (i. e. , 5-6 years) and whom one will continue to respect after they are out of the public spotlight. Those who have celebrity idols normally have a standard for themselves to try to live up to those idols in some way. Whether they are trying to emulate their idols’ personalities or to sing, dance, write, or otherwise perform like their idols, the seven students I have interviewed all seem to be better people as a result of their idols.
Josh, for example, who idolizes dancers Brian Puspos and Mike Song, thinks he would be a different person without them: “The way Brian and Mike are–they’re goofy. That’s why they’re so relatable and that’s why I love them. Even when they’re dancing, they’ll do a silly move which shows they love what they do. It shows me Josh, dancing like Mike Song Simonetti 8 that no amount of fame should change who you are, which has a big impact on my everyday life. ” Next, Molly regards her idol, British actress Gemma Arterton, just as highly, if not moreso than Josh regards his: “She’s the person that I would like to be.She is a great role model figure for young women. I used to go to school for acting, and I was too afraid to do things because I thought I would fail so I transferred schools, but looking at her gave me the push to go forward with it and to do more with my life–to take more trips and chances.
She also doesn’t take crap from anybody and is very eloquent, which are both Molly, admiring Gemma Arterton qualities that I need to work on. ” Finally, Zack idolizes WWE wrestlers Ray Mysterio, John Cena, and C. M. Punk, not for their time in the ring, oddly, but for their contributions to charity and for their efforts in preventing bullying.